Vodacom yesterday launched the country’s first commercially available next-generation cellphone data network, known as long-term evolution (LTE).
“It’s live today, it’s commercially available. LTE is now officially launched in South Africa,” Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said at the MyBroadband Conference 2012 in Midrand.
Joosub has previously told The Times that “Europe is falling behind in LTE deployment”. Vodacom is launching this commercial network before the United Kingdom, home to its parent Vodafone. Only Portugal and Germany have launched networks.
These new networks are a major leap forward for data speeds. Currently 3G speeds reach 43.2 megabits per second (Mbps) but LTE offers double those speed, or about 100Mbps. A test at Vodacom World reached 63Mbps. About 80% of Vodacom’s networks offer 3G speeds of 21.6Mbps.
These data speeds are necessary for the kind of services that are becoming more popular on the internet, especially video.
MTN has announced its LTE will be available by the end of the year. Both Vodacom and MTN have said the networks will first be available in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. 8ta
Vodacom executive head of consumer data Jannie van Zyl said LTE represents a sea change in how networks operate.
“There is a new technology roadmap and that is LTE. It is important to note that the efficiency of LTE is much better than 3G,” he said.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the spectrum that other operators have but aren’t doing anything with it… like Sentech, WBS and Telkom. Give us that spectrum and we’ll do something with it,” he added.
LTE uses a specific range of radio frequencies, including the 800Mhz spectrum that is still being used by normal television signals. South Africa is behind schedule to switchover to digital TV signals that will free up this spectrum. Both Vodacom and MTN are reusing some of their existing 1800MHz spectrum. MTN has been running a LTE trial for the past 15 months, and have 200 base stations using it.
While the 3G services use current networks, which were originally designed to carry mostly voice calls, LTE is designed for data specifically. Voice calls will ultimately be a data service on LTE, using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) similar to other internet telephony services like Skype.
LTE will vastly improve the experience of the surfing the internet, watching video and other services, because of the speed.
Van Zyl showed a smartphone using LTE and said he was he was getting 60Mbps download speeds. “I’m carrying this in my pocket. A few years ago we couldn’t get 60Mbps on fibre,” he said.
He also mentioned that “Vodacom is the single biggest BIS [BlackBerry service] operator in the world,” demonstrating how popular the BlackBerry phone is.
This article first appearing in The Times on 11 October 2012.