The arrival of LTE brings with it promises of simplified network architecture, lower cost per MB, higher throughput and lower latency. But deploying LTE services in Africa is not without major challenges, as MTN South Africa’s CTO Kanagaratnam Lambotharan outlined on the first day of the AfricaCom 2012 event in Cape Town.
The first challenge the operator faced in its approach to LTE deployment was the availability of the right spectrum. Lambotharan said that, as in Europe, the 2.6GHz bands and 800MHz bands were most suitable for deploying LTE services. However, it is currently unclear when 2.6GHz spectrum will be made available in South Africa, while 800MHz is still being used for terrestrial television services; the wholesale switchover to digital could take three to five years.
MTN decided that the only viable option would be to refarm its existing spectrum to speed deployment. But as well as challenges inherent in ensuring that the network would be future proof when 2.6GHz and 800MHz spectrum becomes available, this strategy was only be viable in areas of the country where 2x10MHz blocks could be refarmed; areas where only 2x5MHz blocks were available could not enable service as fast as HSPA.
There were also sales and marketing issues. In South Africa LTE remains out of financial reach for many consumers, and MTN is still very much dependent on its 2G network to provide service to the mass population.
While there has been a perceived early-mover advantage in deploying LTE in some markets, Lambotharan concluded that being the first to deliver LTE across South Africa is not as important to MTN as delivering the best quality of service.
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