All About African 4G LTE
Updated June 10, 2013.
2012 turned out to be the year of 4G. Forty-nine countries had at least one commercial 4G LTE network. Impressively, 4G service can be found in a bevy of African nations. Operators in Liberia, Namibia, Angola, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mauritius, Uganda, and South Africa all claim to offer 4G-LTE service (and most truly do). The technological ability and the user demand for such services signal a step forward for African business. Nations with 4G service – even in part of a capital city – are heralded as globally-competitive economic players. At home, the promise of 4G fuels nationalism and hope for social change via technology.
However, the potential speed and affordability of 4G will not be realized for years to come. 4G is never as grand as it seems on a billboard or a television advert. Everyday speeds are well below what is possible and coverage can be spotty. In all likelihood, a mobile user in Africa cannot tell the difference between 3G and 4G. Plus, users need a 4G-enabled device to utilize the high transfer speeds. Most devices in Africa are still only capable of 2G or 3G. Think Africa Press, referring to Angola’s 4G, aptly notes the nation “might be trying to run before it has learnt to crawl”. Cited are a lack of technicians, unreliable existing 3G coverage, and an erratic power supply.
Still, mobile operators are keen to implement 4G as it has potential to increase declining average revenue per user. It also comes in handy for advertising purposes. After all, telecoms competition is extremely fierce and simply saying “we have 4G” sounds better than “we have 3G” – even if the quality of both services is nearly identical.
To complicate matters, there are two technologies within “4G” – LTE and WiMAX. Both offer fast speeds in theory (LTE can sustain 100Mbps; WiMAX usually 40Mbps) that become similar in real world scenarios. Think of LTE as a form of cellular techology and WiMAX as wireless broadband. LTE, however, is becoming the global standard and is expected to receive the most support. Accordingly, 4G LTE has become the gold standard of mobile Internet technology.
Many regulators in Africa are starting to issue 4G LTE licenses. Operators are competing to be the first to deploy the fastest mobile Internet speeds in their respective markets.
- Namibia: MTC began 4G LTE service in May 2012, claiming speeds 10x faster than before. Additionally, the company promised no latency and 45% population coverage in the next 12 months. Of course, the speeds in the coverage areas could range widely, but for now, MTC says users are pleased with speeds in Windhoek.
- Angola: Movicel is taking a top-down approach to its deployment of 4G LTE. The company claims it is “building an elegant network” to expedite growth in Angola.
- Tanzania: Smile Telecom is aiming to use 4G LTE to improve socioeconomic conditions in the country. Speeds are said to be four times faster than competitor’s 4G. Tigo rolled out 4G technology in May 2013. Telesis Tanzania is to shortly launch 4G LTE using Alcatel-Lucent technology.
- Mauritius: Orange launched 4G LTE in May 2012.
- South Africa: Vodacom launched 4G in selected parts of Johannesburg in October 2012. 500 base stations will be operational by year-end. MTN, Cell C, and 8ta will soon launch 4G LTE as well.
- Uganda: MTN launched a 4G LTE network in April 2013. Smile launched 4G LTE in June 2013.
- Liberia: Cellcom Liberia is accused of never securing a 4G license from the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA). This despite a ceremony in June 2012. Cellcom seems to claim that 3G and 4G technologies are so similar that the company doesn’t need another license to use 4G technology. To complicate matters further, Cellcom may not even be running 4G LTE technology, but HSPA+ (perhaps 3.75G). Still, when Cellcom launched 4G in Liberia earlier this year, the company touted speeds “100 times that of our competitors and 10 times of 3G network”.
- Nigeria: Globacom launched 4G LTE in 2011 with the hope of empowering consumers to “rule their world“. Corporate customers were key target demographic. Also in 2011, Mobitel launched 4G WiMAX.
- Egypt: Announced July 2012 with help of Ericsson
- Kenya: LTE later in 2012 following approval of PPP by Treasury
- Morocco: Service expected in 2013, following licensing by the end of 2012
- Botswana: Spurred by regional competition (Angola, Namibia) Mascom began a 4G pilot project in mid-2012
- Mauritus: Emtel was expected to begin commercial 4G service in July 2012
- DRC: Cielux signed contracts to buy equipment to roll-out 4G in 2013
- Zambia: MTN is reportedly testing LTE as of October 2012
- Rwanda: Rwanda has signed a deal with South Korea’s KT Corp. to roll out 4G to 95% of its citizens within three years
- Algeria: Algerie Telecom is to launch 4G later in 2013