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All About African 4G LTE

September 12, 2012  »  Mobile5 Comments

Updated February 2017: Last year saw 4G LTE launches in 9 countries: Somalia, Burundi, Tunisia, Liberia, Sudan, Djibouti, Reunion, Mayotte, Congo. 19 African nations have no 4G LTE service (6 or so of them should this year) and the truth is 3G uptake and quality are still lacking in many areas, especially outside of major cities. The most current resources still include Wikipedia and Steve Song.

Globally, 2012 was considered the year of rapid 4G adoption. Forty-nine countries had at least one commercial 4G LTE network. This year appears to be the year many African mobile operators are launching LTE service in the largest markets. Impressively, 4G service can now be found in a bevy of African nations (28 of them and counting). Another handful should have commercial 4G LTE service within months. 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 multiple technologies within “4G” – LTE, LTE-Advanced, VoLTE and WiMAX, to name a few. All offer fast speeds in theory (LTE can sustain 100Mbps; LTE-A 1Gbps) that become similar in real world scenarios. On top of what type of 4G service is available, operators in Africa are utilizing at least 7 different frequencies for their LTE offerings.

Most regulators in Africa have issued 4G LTE licenses, but many are still in the process of assigning spectrum. In turn, operators who receive a coveted license are competing to be the first to deploy the fastest mobile Internet speeds in their respective markets. As of early 2013, there were an estimated 300,000 activated LTE SIM cards on the continent, with 94% of those found in South Africa. By 2016, there should be 11 million LTE subscriptions, up from 1.6 million in the first quarter of 2014.

Active (in chronological order of 1st deployment):

  • Namibia: MTC began 4G LTE service in May 2012, claiming speeds 10x faster than before. TN Mobile offered a competing 4G LTE product in November 2013.
  • 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 and has expanded to three provinces. Unitel has also offered LTE since December 2012 and is testing LTE-Advanced as of early 2014. Multitel has deployed 4G LTE in Luanda as of November 2015.
  • Tanzania: Smile Telecom is aiming to use 4G LTE to improve socioeconomic conditions in the country and in late 2015 rolled out VoLTE service. Tigo rolled out 4G technology in May 2013 and plans nationwide coverage by the end of 2016. Smart Telecom offers LTE. TTCL launched 4G LTE in late 2015 (and offers LTE-A). Zantel launched 4G for Zanzibar in early 2016 and will soon have LTE service in the rest of the country. Vodacom launched LTE in June 2016.
  • Mauritius: Orange launched 4G LTE in May 2012. Emtel began commercial 4G service in July 2012. MTML launched LTE in May 2015.
  • South Africa: Vodacom launched 4G in selected parts of Johannesburg in October 2012. MTN, Cell C, Telkom (8ta), and Neotel also have 4G LTE offerings. Multiple operators have deployed LTE-A in select cities. MTN and Vodacom tested LTE-U in 2016.
  • Uganda: MTN launched a 4G LTE network in April 2013. Smile launched 4G LTE in June 2013. Orange launched in July 2013. Vodafone launched LTE in February 2015. Airtel was expanding its LTE network to rural areas in mid-2016.
  • Nigeria: Smile has operated LTE service in Ibadan since January 2013. Swift and Spectranet both launched LTE in mid-2013. Airtel, Etisalat, Glo, MTN, and ntel all offer LTE as of 2016. As do Bitflux, Cyberspace, and InterCellular.
  • Zimbabwe: Econet Wireless has 19 LTE towers operational as of late 2015. NetOne also offers LTE. Telecel is yet t launch LTE. As of Q3 2015, there were 26,185 LTE subscriptions in the country after experiencing 5,400% growth over the quarter. A year later the number stook at 205,082 LTE users.
  • Zambia: MTN launched 4G LTE in Lusaka, Kitwe, Ndola, and Livingstone in January 2014. Zamtel launched nationwide service in 2015 through Cell Z. Vodafone launched LTE-A in 2016.
  • Cote d’Ivoire: YooMee officially launched TD-LTE for consumers and businesses in April 2014. Formal use of 4G by other operators will be granted in early 2016.
  • Algeria: Mobilis, Djezzy and Ooredoo Algeria launched 4G LTE in 2016 after a long wait for regulatory approval.
  • Ghana: Alcatel-Lucent and Surfline Communications launched 4G LTE in August 2014. Blu also offers 4G. BusyInternet launched LTE in early 2016. MTN launched LTE in 2016.
  • Rwanda: Rwanda has signed a deal with South Korea’s KT Corp. to roll out 4G to 95% of its citizens by the end of 2018. Service began with Olleh Rwanda Networks in November 2014. Tigo now offers 4G. MTN launched LTE in March 2016.
  • Senegal: Orange launched a 4G pilot trial in September 2014. Tigo had a test running through March 2015. The regulator is calling for 4G license bids by the end of Q1 2016 after the three current mobile operators boycotted the initial request.
  • Gabon: Gabon Telecom launched 4G in Libreville in October 2014. In November 2015 the company announced 4G+. Airtel followed suit in December 2015.
  • Lesotho: Vodadcom has offered 4G LTE since October 2014.
  • Morocco: Maroc Telecom tested 4G in Rabat in November 2014 and offers LTE-A in select cities. Meditel and Inwi also offer LTE in select cities as of June 2015.
  • Seychelles: Airtel deployed a 4G/LTE network in November 2014.
  • Kenya: Safaricom launched LTE-Advanced in December 2014 and has 500 4G base stations as of early 2017. Airtel and Orange are allowed to test 4G.
  • Madagascar: Blueline launched 4G LTE (Wi-Fi) in January 2015 in select areas (mainly the capital). Telma launched 4G in 50 cities in June 2015. Orange began testing LTE in 2016.
  • Botswana: Spurred by regional competition (Angola, Namibia) Mascom began a 4G pilot project in mid-2012 and launched commercial LTE in February 2015. Orange also launched LTE in early 2015. BTC will soon launch 4G LTE.
  • Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom launched 4G service in March 2015.
  • Malawi: 4G LTE is available in parts of Blantyre from Access Communications. Tazca Connects offers similar service in Lilongwe. TNM launched LTE in four cities in 2016.
  • Gambia: Netpage launched LTE fixed-wireless in April 2015.
  • St. Helena / Ascension Island: Star launched a combined GSM/LTE solution for these islands in September 2015.
  • Benin: be.Telecoms officially launched commercial LTE in December 2015 after deploying throughout the year. Numerous cities have coverage.
  • Cameroon: MTN launched 4G LTE in four cities in late 2015 and reached 53% of the population as of mid-2016. Vodafone followed in 2016. Viettel is launching a 4G LTE trial in early 2017.
  • Guinea-Bissau: Orange launched LTE in Bissau on December 23rd, 2015.
  • Somalia: Somcable launched 4G LTE-A in January 2016.
  • Burundi: Lumitel launched 4G services in six provinces in February 2016.
  • Tunisia: Ooredoo, Tunisie Telecom, and Orange all offer LTE services after getting approval in March 2016.
  • Liberia: Cellcom (now owned by Orange) launched 4G LTE in Monrovia in April 2016.
  • Sudan: Zain launched 4G LTE in 4 major cities, reaching 20% of the population in April 2016.
  • Djibouti: Djibouti Telecom was testing 4G in 2016.
  • Reunion / Mayotte: ARCEP authorized LTE on December 1, 2016. Orange and SFR launched LTE at that time.
  • Congo: MTN launched commercial 4G services in December 2016 for parts of Brazzaville and Point Noire.

Coming Soon

  • Egypt: Three mobile network operators are testing but the regulatory authority requested a halt given questions of whether 3G service quality was suffering as a result.
  • DRC: Smile had plans to launch LTE in 2016. Afrimax Group is planning to deploy a TD-LTE network.
  • Libya: Al Jeel, a smaller ISP, talked about launching LTE in the near future, but it won’t be until at least 2017.
  • Guinea: Sotelgui expects LTE soon.
  • Togo: 4G licensing talks were in progress as of October 2016.
  • Chad: Tigo was testing 4G LTE in N’Djamena in July 2014.
  • Cape Verde: The regulator is taking steps to issue 4G LTE licenses and spectrum.
  • Comoros: Telma was to launch 4G at the end of 2016.
  • Burkina Faso: Airtel requested a 4G license in 2014.
  • Equatorial Guinea: WiMAX is utilized but no true 4G.
  • Sierra Leone: NATCOM was to launch 4G service in 2015.
  • Swaziland: MTN was preparing a 2014 launch.
  • Central African Republic: No word.
  • Eritrea: No word.
  • Mali: No word.
  • Mauritania: No word.
  • Niger: No word.
  • Sao Tome: No word.
  • South Sudan: No word.
2G, 3G, 4G speed and features

2G, 3G, 4G speed and features. Click to enlarge. {3G Life}

For another great source on Africa’s LTE Future, check out Steve Song’s January 2014 post on the subject. Balancing Act does great research on 4G/LTE deployments as well.

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