South Africa’s LTE kingmakers

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 (1800MHz), Neotel (800MHz and 1800MHz) and Sentech (2600MHz) all have LTE spectrum which is not used, which means they may hold the keys to commercial LTE 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 the internationally harmonised access bands (including 2.6GHz and 800MHz which are suitable for LTE) available, but it is awaiting 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 holders

Abid Lateef Qadiri, Neotel’s chief business solutions and excellence executive, told MyBroadband BusinessTech that Neotel is actively trialing LTE, and is 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 made any decisions on a potential partner yet.

Neotel is in the fortunate position of having 800MHz and 1800MHz spectrum, which are both suitable for LTE deployments.

iBurst’s unused spectrum in the 1800MHz band is also up for grabs, and iBurst CEO Thami Mtshali has previously confirmed that the company is in discussions with the mobile operators regarding this spectrum.

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

Sentech, which has 2600MHz spectrum, is the dark horse in the race. However, the state-owned enterprise’s problems may make any deal-making problematic.

Possible, but not ideal, to launch LTE without spectrum

MTN has been piloting Long Term Evolution (LTE) using 10Mhz of refarmed 1800MHz spectrum for almost a year.

“Approximately 200 LTE sites are currently live, and the pilot is running on 10MHz of refarmed 1800MHz 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 refarm spectrum across it full network, which means that additional spectrum will be a great asset to the company in its LTE rollout plans.

MTN said that it is exploring the possibility of switching on commercial LTE network within 2012, and has identified 3 key urban cities in which to roll out the network.

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South Africa’s LTE kingmakers