4G LTE rollout in Africa could be a challenge


Wireless communications have evolved rapidly since the emergence of cellular technology from 2G networks to LTE, which can allow users to stream high definition video through their smartphones.

With over 800 million mobile subscriptions in Africa, the wireless broadband market is set to take off.

 “Right now LTE is very topical, it’s a lot faster. Up to two to three times faster than current 3G and more importantly it’s actually more stable and a lot quicker to connect and a lot quicker to use than the current 3G platforms,” Strategy Worx managing director Stephen Ambrose told CNBC Africa on Wednesday.


“It also allows more connections at higher speed than the old 3G technology. So it’s a very relevant technology for the coming age because everybody’s usage of broadband is increasing exponentially as devices get better, as people download more Youtube videos, as their experience on the internet gets more and more rich.”

LTE is the next generation of wireless broadband technology that builds on the current 2G and 3G networks. LTE is designed to improve speed and quality for mobile internet users.

Many telecom operators on the continent have only recently begun rolling out their 3G services, and operators might not be able to afford the additional investment required to migrate to 4G LTE technologies.

“They’ve rolled out those networks and in many cases the demand has not yet materialised. The phones that can really take advantage of data networks are not quite there,” said Analysis Mason manager Robert Schuman.

“As a result, these networks are not heavily utilised, the investment still needs to be recovered, and now we’re asking them to invest in additional capital expenditure. At the same time they have the threat of new entrants, people who don’t have these issues about 3G investments, who can possibly come and snap up the spectrum and compete in a very difficult space.”

Radio frequency spectrum, which is used to carry electromagnetic signals to anything from a garage door to satellite television, is important in determining the coverage and speed of the network.  Government regulators generate significant revenue by auctioning spectrum to operators.

Delays in spectrum allocation in various African countries came under the spotlight at the LTE conference, where analysts urged government to speed up the efforts or risk hampering technological development on the continent. Spectrum is essential for all 2G, 3G and 4G LTE operation.

“When we talk about wireless technology I would say the spectrum is just the amount of oxygen you have in order to feed your customer. So this is absolutely key and what we’re discussing with regulators across the board is to try to find a best way to quickly allocate the spectrum, which is necessary for this type of technology,” said Safaricom technology director Thibaud Rerolle.