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One year later, Namibian 4G still not operational

February 4, 2012  »  Business & MobileNo Comment

May 2012 Update: MTC has finally rolled out 4G LTE commercial service in Windhoek. The entire city should have coverage by the end of July 2012.

Talk of 4G service in Namibia has returned to the forefront after leading mobile operator MTC conducted a second series of public tests.

Nearly one year ago amid great hype, MTC, one of two mobile operators in Namibia (leo being the other), conducted 4G trials in Windhoek. Nothing has happened since. One year later, the mobile operator is still waiting on obtaining the appropriate spectrum license. Even if MTC secures more funding, the ball is in the national regulator’s court to green-light the request for 4G.

The writing has been on the wall from the beginning. How can the Namibian user-base immediately support 4G service if only five countries in the world had deployed 4G technology at the time of the first trial in Windhoek? At the time, MTC quoted 98% national coverage with 3G speeds of up to 7.2Mbps, but actual speeds were (and are) much lower. Comments on MTC’s Facebook page suggest 3G speeds are hardly at 2G levels. Multiple MTC users ask why 4G is necessary when enhancements to 3G would be the next logical step.

The New Era newspaper uncovered that, in addition to MTC’s lack of a license and the delays with┬áthe Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia in granting the license, the City of Windhoek is also slowing the process with demands of revenue from the yet-to-be-built network.

A timeline of events sheds light on the drawn-out situation:

  • February 2, 2011: “Prime Minister Nahas Angula has called on the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) to urgently award a license to MTC to implement fourth generation (4G) technology.” {Namibia Press Agency}
  • February 17, 2011: A 4G trial in front of government officials held in Windhoek showed speeds of “over 100Mbps, which is 20 times faster than the speeds churned out by the current 3G technology.” Streaming mobile video was also demonstrated. However, MTC acknowledged a need to build some more base stations, still was waiting on clear guidelines from the authorities, and stressed the need for fibre to carry the bandwidth. {MTC}
  • February 1, 2012: In a press release mirroring that of February 2011, MTC announces a second successful 4G trial. The results were identical to the test run in 2011. Now, MTC cites 29 nations operating 4G technology – but none are in Africa. The wording is very careful, but MTC says they are ready to launch and are waiting on the regulatory body to grant the proper spectrum. {MTC}
  • February 2, 2012: MTC told Namibia media that the company is “facing a number of challenges in implementing 4G technology.” {New Era}

The benefits of enhancing the quality of 3G service are more important than winning the race to see which nation and/or operator can first launch 4G in Africa. MTC would be wise to compete with leo for the most robust 3G network instead of competing for a title. What would happen if MTC were to end up with sub-par 4G service but leo were to deliver solid 3G bandwidth?

For your viewing pleasure, we’ve included video of 2011’s first round of public 4G trials: