Mobile networks in South Africa are busy testing the latest and greatest in mobile broadband technology, but when will the average subscriber be able to use the technology, and what will it cost?
MTN recently unveiled their pilot project for a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network consisting of 100 sites in 4 coverage clusters around Gauteng.
LTE is widely seen as the successor to 3G technologies such as HSPA and Evolved HSPA, with the Global mobile Supplierís Association (GSA) reporting earlier this month (July 2011) that 218 operators in 81 countries are investing in LTE.
According to the GSA, 24 commercial LTE networks have been launched in 16 countries around the world and 91 networks will be in commercial service by 2012.
MTN LTE pilot
MTN said that they envisage their pilot project transitioning into a commercial offering in 2-3 years. They explained that they donít want to rush into rolling out such a new technology to subscribers as it would be expensive.
MTN said it is important to ensure that consumer uptake would be high enough for them to recuperate the investment and turn a profit from an LTE network.
Though not all of MTNís 100 LTE test sites were online at launch, Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, CTO of MTN South Africa, said that they expect all of their sites to be up and running by the end of August 2011.
The network wonít available to the general public, Lambotharan said, explaining that they are going to select testers based on where they live and work.
Vodacom LTE trial
MTN is not the only mobile network operator in South Africa trying out LTE.
Vodacom announced their LTE trial in June 2010, where they also demonstrated the high speeds and low latencies offered by LTE.
It is understood that their trial contains 100 to 150 towers to date, operating on spectrum in their 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands. Vodacom has also said that they have network refresh efforts under way which has enabled many of their sites for 84Mbps HSPA+ in addition to making them LTE ready.
Cell C testing LTE
Cell C CTO, Ron Reddick, previously told MyBroadband that their focus for future network upgrades will be on LTE.
Reddick said that they were testing LTE on their existing 900MHz spectrum and in 850MHz with test spectrum.
Spectrum, or lack thereof, causing delays
Both MTN and Vodacom have highlighted two major obstacles to rolling out LTE in South Africa: Affordable end-user devices and lack of spectrum.
Ideally the networks would like to make use of the lower frequency spectrum around 800MHz, which is set to be freed up when South Africa migrates from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasting.
This spectrum is known as the digital dividend, but the migration is only scheduled to be completed by December 2013.
Another portion of spectrum that is highly sought-after for LTE network deployments is the 2600MHz band.
A number of problems have plagued the allocation of this spectrum, most notably Sentechís previous allotment of 50MHz in the band which would prevent LTE networks from being rolled out in its more popular (and therefore arguably less costly) configuration.
ICASA have previously said that maintaining the status quo in the 2.6GHz band is not an option, but almost a year on there has been no mention of Sentechís spectrum being migrated or reclaimed.
Source: My Broadband