Vodacom, MTN 'desperate' for spectrum

SA mobile operators are urging the government to move faster in the delivery of LTE spectrum. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
SA mobile operators are urging the government to move faster in the delivery of LTE spectrum. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Cape Town - While mobile operators have been rolling out higher speed Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, the lack of appropriate spectrum continues to hamper expanded services.

"To be frank the situation is not optimal from the perspective that we do need more spectrum," Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub told News24.

LTE is much faster than 3G services, and only Vodacom and MTN currently offer the service, although the range is limited to urban centres in SA.

Vodacom has been preparing its network for the mass rollout of the higher speed network, which could also see higher revenues from data.

"What we've been doing for the last three or four years in readying the network for LTE, so 77% of our sites already have what we call Single Band Technology, which is LTE ready," Joosub said.

Ideal spectrum

He added that though, that the allocation of the two critical frequencies was stalling the operators' ability to expand services.

"The only missing ingredient is spectrum and the big thing is the 2.6[GHz] spectrum, which government can allocate but the more worrying part is that the 800MHz has not been cleaned up."

The 800MHz spectrum is seen as ideal for mobile technology but analogue broadcast TV occupies it. It is expected that once the migration to digital terrestrial television (DTT) is complete, the spectrum will be freed up for mobile use.

However, the DTT process which was initially scheduled for completion before the 2010 Soccer World Cup, has been hit by delays.

"The SABC and e.tv have yet to advise us on the set-top-box control system... this has resulted in the current delays we are facing," Communications Minister Dina Pule said.

"I hope the SABC and e.tv are listening. You are holding us up," she added.

"The digital migration needs to happen; as a country, we need to get the broadcasters off the 800MHz so the digital migration needs to happen so that spectrum can be freed up to be utilised for LTE," said Joosub.

Upgrades

MTN said that it was focused on lobbying regulator Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) to release additional spectrum.

"MTN has always maintained that the allocation of additional spectrum is critical to the rolling out of a LTE network enabling the provisioning of much needed mobile broadband access at significantly higher speeds," said Lambotharan Kanagaratnam, chief technology officer at MTN SA.

Joosub said that it had upgraded its base stations to handle high speed transmission.

"And then, we've been upgrading the number of sites that have high speed transmission. Sixty-six percent of our network already has high speed transmission to it, which can handle LTE."


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