LTE kingmakers in South Africa

Vodacom, MTN, and 8ta are all planning to launch commercial LTE services as soon as possible, but without spectrum they may have to partner with companies which hold spectrum to make this happen.

iBurst (1,800MHz), Neotel (800MHz and 1,800MHz) and Sentech (2,600MHz) all have LTE spectrum which is not used, which means they may hold the LTE cards in SA.

Vodacom and MTN have previously said that they are ready to launch commercial LTE services, but the lack of spectrum is holding back this process.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is often blamed for the delay in issuing this valuable resource to operators, but in this case the DoC is to blame.

ICASA said that it has made numerous attempts to make available the internationally harmonised access bands (including 2.6GHz and 800MHz which are suitable for LTE), but that they are awaiting a Ministerial Policy Direction on how to proceed with licensing of this high demand spectrum.

The licensing of LTE spectrum can take a long time to conclude, but there may be partnerships in the pipeline which will give the mobile operators access to the needed spectrum to launch commercial services.

LTE Spectrum Assignment Plan
LTE Spectrum Assignment Plan

LTE spectrum holders

Abid Lateef Qadiri, Neotel’s chief business solutions and excellence executive, told MyBroadband that Neotel is actively trialling LTE and are looking to offer a fixed broadband solution using this technology.

Qadiri pointed out that the company is exploring partnerships in the rollout of LTE, but that Neotel has not yet made any decisions on a potential partner.

Neotel is in the fortunate position of having 800MHz and 1,800MHz spectrum, both suitable bands for LTE deployments.

iBurst’s unused spectrum in the 1,800MHz band is also up for grabs, and iBurst CEO Thami Mtshali has previously confirmed that they are in discussions with the mobile operators regarding this spectrum.

iBurst is also actively trialling LTE, which is a suitable technology to replace the company’s aging iBurst network. iBurst may therefore go it alone if a suitable agreement cannot be reached.

Sentech, which has 2,600MHz spectrum, is the dark horse in the race. However, the state owned enterprise’s problems may mean striking a deal with it is challenging.

Possible, but not ideal, to launch LTE without spectrum

MTN has been piloting Long Term Evolution (LTE) for nearly a year, using 10Mhz of re-farmed 1,800MHz spectrum.

“Approximately 200 LTE sites are currently live and the pilot is running on 10MHz of refarmed 1,800MHz spectrum and boasts speeds of 70Mbps and a latency of under 15ms,” said Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, Chief Technology Officer at MTN SA.

However, Lambotharan previously explained that it is not possible to re-farm spectrum across its full network, which means that additional spectrum will be a great asset to the company in its LTE roll-out plans.

MTN said that it is exploring the possibility of switching on a commercial LTE network within 2012 and has identified 3 key urban cities for network roll-out.

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LTE kingmakers in South Africa