42Mbps HSPA+ in South Africa: Surprising news

Vodacom reveals surprising news about their 42Mbps HSPA+ and LTE trials

February 7, 2011
42Mbps HSPA+ in South Africa: Surprising news

21Mbps HSPA+ broadband services have hit South Arica in 2010 with Vodacom, MTN and Cell C investing heavily in rolling out evolved 3G networks.

It is well known that Cell C is spending billions of Rands rolling out an HSPA+ network, with a 2011 target of reaching country-wide population coverage of 97%.

MTN SA CTO Lambo Kanagaratnam also revealed recently that they have aggressive 21Mbps HSPA+ rollout plans in South Africa.

Not to be outdone, Vodacom currently has around 2,100 live 21Mbps HSPA+ sites of which around a third already have enough transmission capacity to support the higher speeds.

While local cellular providers are still trying to boost 21Mbps HSPA+ coverage, 42Mbps services are already in the pipeline.

Cell C is planning to bump up speeds in certain areas, and Kanagaratnam said that MTN currently have ‘tens’ of live 42 Mbps trial sites in the Sandton area which is used to test the performance and viability of the service.

Vodacom is however the leader when it comes to live 42Mbps HSPA+ sites with numerous sites active in four cities.

Vodacom’s live 42Mbps HSPA+ network

Vodacom CTO Andries Delport revealed that Vodacom already has 80 commercial 42Mbps HSPA+ sites live on their network. These sites are based in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.

Vodacom staff members are currently using the 42Mbps broadband offering, and according to Delport, average real world speeds of between 20Mbps and 28Mbps are standard, with peak speeds of around 36Mbps to 37Mbps.

These speeds are however significantly lower for users on the edge of a cell or during periods where traffic volumes are very high.

Good news for Vodacom subscribers is that the cellular provider has ordered ‘lots’ of 42Mbps HSPA+ modems which will become available to consumers.

Despite the fact that current Vodacom broadband users’ SIMs only have 22Mbps profiles (and are hence restricted to peak speeds not exceeding 22Mbps), Delport said that it is very easy to upgrade their full subscriber base to 42Mbps, which will be done when needed. Users with 42Mbps HSPA+ modems may still benefit from the higher speeds the technology has to offer – just not higher than 22 Mbps.

Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys said that they will not actively market its broadband offerings as 42Mbps, instead focusing on the overall customer experience throughout its network.

Uys said that while technology innovations like 42Mbps HSPA+ are important to them, their focus is the overall experience by consumers rather than the bragging rights of having the highest peak speeds in a small number of areas.

Live LTE testing

Delport further revealed that they have a few live LTE sites on their network for trialling purpose, using 2 x 10MHz of spectrum in the 2100MHz band.

Delport said that they are currently seeing speeds above 50Mbps in live LTE testing conditions, but consumers should not get too excited just yet.

Uys made it clear that they will not roll out LTE anytime soon without 2.6GHz spectrum. The handing out of 2.6GHz spectrum is however tied up with ICASA which is set in the coming weeks to say how it will dish out this valuable resource.

Even in the event of a speedy spectrum allocation process and Vodacom receiving 2.6GHz spectrum, LTE is only likely to become commercially available in 2012.

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