MTN and 8ta are preparing to launch commercial LTE services at the end of 2012 and sometime in 2013 respectively.
MTN launched a Long Term Evolution (LTE) pilot in clusters around Gauteng in July 2011 with the aim of “revolutionising broadband provisioning in South Africa”.
“MTN is exploring the possibility of switching on commercial LTE network within 2012 and has identified 3 key urban cities to roll out the network. Pricing has not been finalised yet,” said Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, Chief Technology Officer at MTN SA.
“Approximately 200 LTE sites are currently live and the pilot is running on 10Mhz of re-farmed 1,800 MHz spectrum and boasts speeds of 70Mbps and a latency of under 15ms. The speed is almost twice faster than currently available on the market, therefore the network will enable faster download and streaming speed,” said Lambotharan.
“MTN believes that any significant increase in broadband penetration will be delivered through wireless services. In order to promote and encourage this uptake, mobile networks require access to the identified ‘high demand spectrum’ for the deployment of their LTE networks,” said Lambotharan.
MTN’s pilot network currently operates in clusters covering parts of Sandton, Fourways, Centurion, around OR Tambo International Airport, and additionally in the vicinity of MTN Head Office in Roodeport. These will be expanding depending on spectrum re-farming efforts.
While it is difficult to predict expected real world performance of LTE (because real live environment is different and user loading also has an impact), MTN is confident that LTE will give a great user experience.
“Depending on the network configuration, with a 2X2 MIMO real live speeds varies between 2Mbps to 66 Mbps (if you are the only user, latencies in a Fibre back-haul environment should be anything between 10ms to 50ms),” said Lambotharan. “The user experience is comparable to a high speed fixed line environment.”
8ta’s LTE plans
8ta head Amith Maharaj recently said that the company is building an LTE network, but that it will take some time before they are ready for a commercial launch. Current estimates are that 8ta will launch its first commercial LTE services in 2013.
8ta is currently upgrading their full mobile network, which includes the radio access network (RAN), the transmissions links which carry data from the towers, and their core network.
While these upgrades are partly geared towards getting the 8ta network ready for the launch of LTE, it will also benefit the current 3G network through the additional bandwidth capacity and network optimization.
8ta is also increasing the number of breakout points on its mobile network. The company is currently upgrading its network to support breakout points in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban.
Cell C and Vodacom
Vodacom said that they concluded their LTE trials quite some time ago, and as of May approximately 60% of their base stations were LTE ready. “The main thing we need in place from here is access to sufficient spectrum,” said Vodacom.
Cell C said it is not actively trialling LTE. “Our Radio Network equipment is LTE ready and can be upgraded to support LTE services depending on the spectrum allocated for trial and commercial service,” said Cell C.
Cell C reiterated that the biggest challenge in launching LTE commercially is the availability of spectrum.