4G network infrastructure in Africa and Middle East

Posted on October 9, 2011 08:03 am

On Friday evening, I spent ample time with a senior expert in mobile industry working with Millicom which provides cellular telephony services to more than 30 million customers in 13 emerging markets in Latin America and Africa.The company is listed on both Nasdaq Stock Market and on Stockholmsbörsen. Apart from discussing business, we talked about LTE network that has made headlines all over the world over the last year or so. What is LTE and why is the world so excited about it?LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is the next generation in telecommunications standard and is among the two 4G standards in the world with the other being WiMAX. I have looked at the evolution of telecommunications standards in the world over but LTE is the best of them all.While at the university, I read that it all began with the 1G analogue standard in the 1980s which was then replaced by 2G well known as second generation digital telecommunications which included GSM1.The current generation of mobile telecommunication networks is collectively known as 3G well known which is the third generation and encompasses various technologies and mobile cellular protocols such as GPRS2, EDGE3, CDMA4 and HSDPA5.Over the last few years, the world has embraced WiMAX, which was first fully commercialized 4G wireless network telecommunications standard.The focus has now shifted globally, with mobile operators looking at the next generation of 4G in LTE. In Africa and Middle East, very few operators have 4G networks. As of 2010, the household broadband penetration in Africa  was only 2.3%  but African Governments through African Union have announced that their broadband initiative is to reach 50% penetration by 2018 which is commendable in a continent which lag behind in uptake of technologies despite being the next frontier of wealth seekers. Investing in LTE and WiMAX will push African countries into the global spotlight and in turn create millions of jobs. The whole world has been watching Africa to see how it would fare with new technologies.I am one of those impressed at the difference between 4G and 3G speeds and the difference is massive because the 4G is built for broadband while 3G is built for voice. 4G has a very wide pipeline to transmit data, so 4G speeds far exceed the 3G and CDMA options widely available now.

Most African Governments are planning to allocate about 20MHz of the 2.6GHz spectrum at their disposal which are currently being used by military in most countries across the continent to different service providers who operate both 3G and 4G operators.This spectrum allocation is expected to lubricate LTE deployment in African continent. There is no doubt most operators are going to use the spectrum to operate a dual 4G WiMAX and LTE networks and users in the continent will have the best of both 4G spectrums.The results are enormous because data and voice services will be delivered to subscribers at incredibly fast speeds. In one of the projects I was involved towards end of 2010, I did a trial on dual WiMAX/TD-LTE network and got speeds of 140 megabits per second.In my home country of Australia where am knowledgeable about the technologies, both the 3G and 4G mobile broadband networks we have in those two countries deliver downlink speeds of between 900kbps and 12Mbps respectively. From that, now consider what you can do with 145Mbps. In simple terms, you will be able to download a 1GB file in just six seconds and you can see why LTE gets everyone excited.Africa need LTE badly because the it’s dependency on mobile broadband is increasing every day with more and more people buying smart phones and Tablets which require mobile internet and data downloads.Also, the proliferation of rich media applications like video streaming, online gaming and online social-networking is driving the consumers’ desire for greater bandwidth and faster speed. High definition,larger displays,WiFi TV are also driving consumer demand. Consumers want high-speed data both at home and when they are mobile.According to statistics that I obtained few weeks ago,there are currently one billion subscribers using 3G networks worldwide and come 2014 that number will grow to more than 2.8 billion and Africa will account to 35% of that growth.Currently, networks in the continent cannot cope with this perpetual data tide and users will need more speed and need it now.I do believe with LTE everyone will enjoy high-speed broadband in Africa just like other places in the world. I can’t wait for the time when the whole world will have access to this incredible technology.

Contador Harrison