about spectrum availability will hold up progress

anisesecretaryMobile - Wireless

Dec 12, 2013 (4 years and 6 months ago)


Vodacom unveils South Africa’s first LTE service, but uncertainty
about spectrum availability will hold up progress


South African mobile market leader Vodacom finally launched the co
untry’s first LTE network last
month, putting an end to a long period of speculation and putting South Africa back in the league of
African technology pioneers.

The launch came at a time when industry commentators and operators themselves seemed to have
me to believe that LTE belonged to a distant and uncertain future in the country. LTE in South
Africa has been awaiting the outcome of regulatory processes that even close observers have
struggled to understand. ICASA has postponed its 2.6GHz
spectrum auct
ion a few times and has not
released an updated schedule. The digital migration is on course, but delays in the process might
challenge the ITU’s 2015 deadline for all countries to migrate all TV platforms to digital. In the
meantime, operators have starte
d trials mostly in the 1800MHz band. ISP iBurst seemed to be in
pole position, holding frequencies in suitable bands (1800MHz and 2.6GHz), and had said it would
launch in 2012. IBurst’s launch was first scheduled for 1Q12 and then postponed to 2H12. IiBurs
t has
not yet unveiled its LTE services.

Eventually, and against all odds, Vodacom became the first operator in South Africa to launch LTE,
overturning its own initial downbeat assessment of the prospects for LTE in the country. As recently
as end
2011, th
Vodacom CEO Peter Uys said publicly that LTE was unlikely to happen in South
Africa in 2012. It took a new CEO, Shameel Joosub, and noises from MTN about its own plans to
launch LTE in 2012 to spark some action from Vodacom.

Marketing exercise and patch
y coverage

I’m happy about the opportunity to at last comment on actual LTE networks in South Africa, rather
than on potential launch dates. But I fear that we are still experiencing marketing exercises, which, if
not backed by strong network performances,

will leave us with a lukewarm impression.

On the other hand, the lack of spectrum

decried by operators, including Vodacom

is still a
problem. This could for the time being limit network
expansion plans and leave us with the patchy
coverage experienced

on 3G networks. In any case, LTE launches in Africa so far have more to do
with improving network performance in some business hubs than promoting broadband for all. In
the case of Vodacom SA, the service is limited in terms of coverage but also in terms
of usage, since
it is available only to Vodacom postpaid customers.

Vodacom’s LTE network is running on 1800MHz frequencies and is accessible via 70 enabled base
stations, or less than 1% of Vodacom’s base stations. The operator plans to have 500 enabled b
stations by end
2012. There is no extra charge to use LTE. Vodacom intends to benefit from its
Vodafone affiliation and promote as many de
vices as possible.
Six devices were available at launch
including one handset, the Nokia Lumia 820.

Vodacom bucks

4G branding trend

Besides the launch itself, the branding of the service also came as a surprise. When, almost
everywhere in the world, operators have associated their LTE brands with 4G, Vodacom has decided
to drop the 4G label and stick to “LTE.” This i
s a courageous move, with, according to Informa
Telecoms & Media data, 86% of the more than 90 LTE networks in operation being branded 4G. It is
also a cautious move, since the ITU recognizes only LTE Advanced as 4G. But there is an industry
consensus to b
rand early LTE versions as “4G,” while the advanced versions would be branded “True
4G.” This consensus is endorsed by the same ITU. If the standard
setter itself sends mixed signals, it
is probably better to simply use the name of the technology. Avoiding

the “4G” label could also
become a safety option, should complaints about poor network performance arise.


Thecla Mbongue

is a Senior Analyst within Informa Telecoms & Media’s Industry Research division
and is a key contributor to Informa
Telecoms & Media publications.

In her role, Thecla is responsible for researching and analyzing the telecoms industry in sub
Africa. Thecla also manages World cellular Data Metrics, in which Informa tracks mobile data usage
and up
take, including S
MS and MMS traffic volumes, mobile data/broadband subscriber
information, MMSC contract awards, mobile data deployments and non
voice revenues.

A native French speaker, Thecla is a regular speaker and moderator at international conferences in
Africa and i
s often quoted in the regional and global business press.

Thecla will be a panellist and contributor at the upcoming AfricaCom 2012 conference and exhibition
at the CTICC on the 13
15 November 2012.


Media Accreditation

AfricaCom 2012


15 November 2012, Cape Town International Convention Centre

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About AfricaCom


AfricaCom is Africa’s largest communications conference & exhibition.

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year, this
trailblazing event gathers together 7,000 senior decision
makers from the telecoms, media and ICT

This year a record 200+ speakers will share th
eir vision of Africa’s future communications
landscape and the agenda has expanded to incorporate 11 co
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audiences from the apps development, broadcast and business sectors. For more info see:

For more information,

please contact:

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