Spectrum critical to SA LTE expansion plans

2014-03-05 12:35
MTN has stated its case that MTR cuts are being introduced with little justification. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

MTN has stated its case that MTR cuts are being introduced with little justification. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The lack of spectrum plays havoc with the future plans of mobile operators in SA, and may impact on the potential rollout of high speed mobile services.

Mobile operators MTN and Vodacom have been racing to build LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks that are aimed to deliver the next generation of mobile data access.

However, these plans are severely constrained by the failure of the regulator, Icasa (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) to award spectrum in the critical 800MHz band.

"I can say that it's not necessarily having a significant impact but definitely, in due course, we will start having significant implications - not just from an LTE rollout point of view, but all other mobile services," said Sifiso Dabengwa MTN Group president and CEO at the company's annual results meeting on Wednesday.

MTN said that it had built out its LTE network to 761 sites, including Port Elizabeth, which went live last week. In the last year, the operator also initiated 1 133 3G sites, representing a significant investment into the network.

Key priority

Vodacom said that its investment into the network would be upscaled to R9bn as the growth in data demanded a more robust infrastructure.

"We're ramping up our capital investment from around R7bn in the last two years to around R9bn in the current financial year to handle the increased data demands and to allow us to continue to bring the cost to communicate down," Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman told News24.

South African political leadership has identified expanded broadband access as a key priority.

"The benefits of pervasive and affordable broadband are now well understood: Research suggests that a rise in broadband penetration is linked to economic growth and job creation," said Department of Communications Minister Yunus Carrim in 2013 at the South Africa Connect: Creating Opportunities, Ensuring Inclusion workshop.

While the Draft National Broadband policy was generally welcomed because of its proposals to create an open infrastructure, there are still concerns about its implementation.

International organisation the GSM Association agreed with the government's goal of broadband inclusivity, but warned against people who would exploit a national programme for profit.

"Governments and those within governments who have an interest in positioning themselves between the mobile sector and the economy - we will see more of this kind of discussion; in some countries there's a kind of nostalgia for the days of telecom monopolies," Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSMA told News24.

Part of the reason that the regulator has been unable or unwilling to award spectrum may lie in the fact that the SABC, which broadcasts in the key band, has not migrated to digital terrestrial television.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    mtn  |  icasa  |  vodacom  |  mobile  |  broadband

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