Is Telkom LTE-A as good as fibre broadband?

Telkom recently announced the expansion of its LTE-Advanced network to 22 more suburbs in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape.

In addition to its wider coverage area, Telkom also made a number of claims regarding its LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network, among them that it offers a “compelling alternative” to fixed-line broadband.

The telecommunications provider made the following statements:

  1. Telkom was one of the earliest adopters of LTE-A technology in the world.
  2. The size of Telkom’s LTE-A network is unrivalled in Africa.
  3. Telkom’s LTE-A speeds are comparable to speeds available over a fibre network.
  4. Telkom’s LTE-A speeds offer a compelling alternative to fixed-line broadband for high-speed connectivity.

We investigated each of the claims, as detailed below.

Telkom an early adopter of LTE-A?

Verdict: True. Telkom was one of the earliest adopters of LTE-A in the world.

MyBroadband investigated how many networks had commercially launched LTE-Advanced services around 14 November 2014, the day Telkom unveiled its commercial LTE-A offering.

According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), there were 49 commercially-launched LTE-Advanced systems in 31 countries at the start of January 2015.

In contrast, there were 360 commercially-launched LTE networks in 124 countries around the same time.

Ignoring Yota in Russia, which reportedly launched LTE-A services in 2011 on base stations around Moscow, the first LTE-A networks came online in South Korea between June and September 2013.

It is worth noting that Telkom’s LTE network uses time-division duplex, and there were only 48 commercial TD-LTE networks launched in 30 countries at the start of January 2015.

The fact is that Telkom commercially launched LTE-A 18 months after the first networks came online in South Korea, and was among the first 49 commercial LTE-Advanced networks in the world. Its claim is therefore claim true.

Telkom LTE-A size unrivalled in Africa

Verdict: True. Telkom has the largest LTE-A network in Africa.

According to the GSA, only Safaricom in Kenya has rolled out LTE-A, with coverage limited to parts of Nairobi and Mombasa – offering speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Telkom covers 27 suburbs across Johannesburg, the Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal, and offers speeds of up to 150Mbps.

Are Telkom LTE-A speeds “comparable” to fibre broadband?

Verdict: Debatable. Fibre broadband connections are available at speeds from 4Mbps to 1Gbps, but what you pay for you expect to get. Telkom LTE-A speeds vary significantly “up to 150Mbps”, but you don’t pay less if you get slower speeds.
Telkom LTE-A speed tests
Telkom LTE-A speed tests

It is more difficult to verify Telkom’s claims of how good an alternative LTE-Advanced is for fibre broadband. Much of this claim hinges on the interpretation of what “comparable” means.

Fibre-to-the-home speeds range between 4Mbps and 1Gbps.

LTE-Advanced is an enhancement of the LTE standard, and is designed to one day offer speeds of up to 1Gbps (when stationary).

Telkom only advertises speeds of “up to 150Mbps”, though, and it is possible that you will not get speeds anywhere near those levels.

In that sense, Telkom LTE-A is not comparable.

If you buy a fibre connection rated at a certain speed, it is reasonable to expect it to perform at or near that speed most of the time.

With a wireless broadband service such as LTE-A, you’ll only know what speed you can get once it’s installed, and throughput might vary based on the number of subscribers using a tower.

There are also neighbourhoods in South Africa which can get 1Gbps FTTH connections. Telkom LTE-A does not currently offer such high speeds.

Is Telkom LTE-A a compelling alternative to fixed-line broadband?

Verdict: Depends on context. Unless you are in an area where you consistently get speeds of 100Mbps, it is just a wireless alternative for areas that don’t have 100Mbps FTTH. If you have access to FTTH — or even VDSL — it is often a far more “compelling” option than LTE-A.

While Telkom’s claims that compare LTE-A to fixed-line focus on speeds, to be a “compelling alternative” the relative prices need to be taken into account.

As the table below from a recent MyBroadband comparison shows, Telkom’s 100GB LTE-Advanced package is priced at the upper end of the scale when compared to similar fibre services.

It is then difficult to argue that LTE-A is a “compelling alternative” to fixed-line broadband.

When only slower fixed services such as 2–40Mbps DSL are available, it can be a higher-speed alternative for those who fall in good coverage areas.

If you do have access to an open-access fibre network, there is no compelling reason to consider LTE-Advanced as an alternative to 100Mbps FTTH.

Line speed Data allocation Price
Web Africa 100Mbps 90GB + 360GB night-time data R1,148
MWEB 100Mbps 100GB + 100GB night-time data R1,199
Web Africa 100Mbps 120GB + 480GB night-time data R1,248
MTN 100Mbps 100GB R1,334
Telkom LTE-A Up to 150Mbps 100GB R1,399
Vox Telecom 100Mbps 300GB R1,449
MWEB 100Mbps 200GB + 200GB night-time data R1,599
Vodacom 100Mbps 200GB R1,799
Cool Ideas 100Mbps Uncapped R1,999
Cybersmart 100Mbps Uncapped R2,899

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Is Telkom LTE-A as good as fibre broadband?