MTN To Launch LTE In South Africa

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VENTURES AFRICA – MTN South Africa has announced that 400-500 Long Term Evolution (LTE) sites will be live by the end of the year, in the company’s push to provide continuous high-speed internet and network coverage across the country.

The commercial launch of new LTE sites will happen across the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban over the next three months, with 250 LTE sites already ready to go, Chief Technology Officer of MTN SA Kanagaratnam Lambotharan told the media on Tuesday. Cape Town is on the list of potential launch cities although the company is encountering difficulties which may mean that Cape Town will not see LTE technologies until next year.

Introduction of LTE to the South African sector is intended to enhance the user experience across the country, with the wireless technology providing a stable and continuous mobile network alongside high-speed internet connection for devices.

MTN has been running pilot schemes of LTE technology in clusters around Gauteng since mid-2011. Such pilot sites can be found at Centurion, Fourways, Sandton, OR Tambo International Airport, and in the area around the MTN Head Office in Roodeport.

This announcement comes in a long line of upgrade initiatives rolled out by the company over the past two years. In 2011 MTN reported the spending of 2 billion rand ($243 million) on the expansion of its network coverage, adding 314 new 2G sites around the country and seeing 598 new 3G sites established. In 2012, 204 more 2G sites were rolled out by the company, and an impressive 696 new 3G sites have been made available through a 5 billion rand ($607 million) push. With these efforts, the company claims that it has now made 2G technology accessible to 98.6 percent of the country’s population, with 3G technologies available to 65 percent.

This coincides with a surge in recent user trends in South Africa, the company explained, with data consumption having spiked by 200 percent over the past year, and Smartphone use increasing by 128 percent over the same time frame. The number of data users across the country has risen to approximately 12 million, Lamborathan added, saying: “…given that South Africa’s consumer appetite has tripled… the continued evolution of data speeds will bring massive changes to the user experience over the coming years. MTN is making inroads towards ensuring an enhanced user experience in this space that allows for fast connection as well as accelerated download and upload speeds.”

The company made public its plans to bring LTE to the whole of South Africa in August of this year, although no launch dates were finalised at the time. Lambotharan yesterday was able to surprise the sector with the promise of such an imminent roll-out.

Making the announcement, Lambotharan told those present: “With the increase of mobile and data usage, and an aggressive approach to providing access to broadband to more areas so as to narrow the digital divide, it was important that we focus on expanding our network and coverage to ensure capacity to carry traffic seamlessly and therefore enhancing our customers’ experience.”

LTE, marketed as 4G LTE, is a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals. According to Informa Telecoms & Media, only two African countries – Angola and Namibia – have launched 4G mobile, though the services are tilted towards marketing than offering high-speed internet and mobile network coverage.