The mobile communications world is experiencing an increase in data traffic of tsunami proportions, mainly caused by the fast adoption of smart phones.
Apple may have started this revolution with the iPhone and iPad but it is now being followed by an ever-increasing number of smart phones and tablet brands.
This huge increase in the use of mobile data and the internet is resulting in network congestion, dropped connections and rapidly increasing customer frustration. One just has to read the blogs or listen to talk shows!
One of the interesting features of Telkom Mobile’s network is the use of billboards to house their base stations and antennas. There are 22 000 billboards in South Africa and Telkom Mobile has signed a long term agreement with the owners to collocate their base stations on these sites. This is quite a strategic move as billboards are mainly located along busy motorways and main roads where coverage is most needed.
Base stations at billboard sites reduce the visual impact associated with mobile radio networks. The total antenna solution fits over the billboard without any invasive measures to secure it.
The antennas are equipped with remote tilt functionality to allow vertical adjustment of the radiated pattern in the field. This unique facility allows the signals to be “beamed” to the target area, increasing efficiency and focusing signals where it benefits users of the network most.
The base station equipment is housed in a small cabinet, as small as 44 cm2 at the foot of the billboard. The billboard site is fed by optic fibre cable, thereby increasing reliability and doing away with additional dish antennas traditionally used to link a base station with the core network. It is also totally immune to signal fading during inclement weather.
Application of modern technology has the additional benefit of being environmentally-friendly. The equipment has a lower mass and footprint and, by the utilisation of natural methods of cooling, the equipment is also energy-efficient.
The base stations are built to support voice and high speed data products at increased customer volumes. The radio network is built on a flexible technology platform that allows it to switch between multiple technologies such as GSM, UMTS and in the near future to LTE, operating on the network’s currently operating frequency bands. This also offers the flexibility to respond to changing customer demand for newer products and services.
One of the challenges in developing a mobile network is the availability of radio frequency spectrum. Cell C used their access to the 900 MHz band to their advantage by being able to roll out fewer base stations as the 900 MHz band covers a larger area and has better reach inside buildings – signals are less attenuated when travelling through walls and concrete structures. They however still had to deploy on the higher bands in dense traffic areas.
Telkom Mobile on the other hand does not have access to the lower frequencies but turned the lack of the 900 MHz band to advantage by installing more base stations, increasing its traffic handling ability.
Telkom Mobile has deployed an end-to-end routed IP network leveraging on the latest technologies set up by Telkom, which proved quality and reliability of service during the Confederation Cup and FIFA World Cup. For the backhaul, metro Ethernet is used and where it is not yet available, traditional TDM fixed links are deployed.
The Telkom mobile core routers interconnect to the core Telkom IP network. The IP quality of service design extends from the base station routers to the mobile IP core, enabling differentiation of IP traffic in order to cater for various services and traffic types.
Although the 8.ta services roam on the MTN network in some areas, Telkom Mobile is fast expanding it own network. Currently over 1000 base stations have been installed in metropolitan areas. Roaming on the MTN network means that where there are no Telkom Mobile base stations yet, access to the network is via MTN and from there is routed to Telkom Mobile’s own network for call handling and break out into the internet.
Over the next four years Telkom Mobile expects to have around 3600 base stations in the field.