Written by Benny Har-Even
Miguel Geraldes, CEO, MTC Namibia is speaking on the subject of LTE launch strategies in Africa at the second annual LTE Africa conference, taking place on the 11th-13th November 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.
You’ve already launched LTE in Namibia? What have you learned from the experience?
Indeed, MTC launched LTE in May 2012, with an aim to increase speed and capacity, especially for mobile broadband users (dongles and routers), as well as the new smartphone users. MTC’s strategy since 2008 was to compete in the broadband market, first using 3G, and thereafter LTE to fight against ADSL. To become the market leader in the broadband segment using mobile pushed MTC to deliver a more efficient service in terms of speed and latency against the fixed services, and against WiMAX in the wireless. But as a third of the customer base was already using advanced smartphones, not providing LTE was not an option.
What makes launching LTE in Namibia different and more challenging than doing so in Europe?
The main challenge we had was delivering the backhaul and the international bandwidth. Fortunately, in 2008 MTC decided to enter into the WACS (submarine cable), which went into operation in Namibia in May 2012, and also the national fibre backbones using DWDM 40G technology that connect the main cities to the core systems. Currently we have more than 4,000Km, which resulted from an agreement with the power utility in order to light OPGW (optical ground wire) fibres in the high voltage network.
Another challenge successfully negotiated was spectrum availability; in particular 1800MHz. In Namibia the regulator and government provided a tremendous amount of support in order to accelerate Namibia to become the LTE leader in Africa.
Is the affordability of connectivity a concern for your business strategy?
We know that mobile bandwidth is doubling year by year and that this process is even accelerating – usage could increase give to ten-fold over the next five years. Therefore, in terms of maintaining business mobile sustainability into the future the price-per-gigabyte is critical. From our perspective the price-per-gigabyte is actually more critical than the speed we provide to users, because the network is providing more speed than what is needed in reality, even for video. We have to understand that LTE has an equivalent OPEX as 3G and sometimes the CAPEX is in some circumstances even lower than 3G, but LTE is able to process ten times more than 3G.
What are the challenges around backhauling from remote areas and what technologies come into play to do so?
Currently, we are not providing LTE in rural areas. We are waiting for the release of the 800Mhz spectrum, which will be perfect for providing the same coverage area for LTE as we have today with 2G.
When we do go rural, it will reopen the backhaul challenge because the traditional copper E1, or even old microwaves will not be able to accommodate LTE. However, a wide backbone with a huge capacity will be critical for the future upgrade backhauling. We should be able to connect to the existing backhaul easily, using IP microwave, and in some cases fibre, resolving that challenge.
In conclusion, for rural areas it is mandatory to have lower frequencies—800MHz—which is what was defined for our region, and also to have a wide backbone for backhauling, but it should not be too dramatic a challenge to overcome.
What are the most interesting and exciting network technologies coming down the line?
Technology is not exciting per say, but what is really exciting is how we can improve people’s lives with the technology. We have to understand the network holistically, and the different layers of the network—2G, 3G and LTE—in order for the components to synchronize perfectly. And for that, it is critical to understand all-IP networks.
In that light, at MTC we implemented the EPC (converged data core) using all of the different data technologies under the same roof. This was a huge step for our network, providing all of the data traffic flowing through the same core systems, from the GSM Edge to LTE. It is critical how the IT systems work within this new context, in particular the business support systems (BSS/billing and CRM).
The last point is how the operator can provide devices to the market, in terms of routers and dongles, but also in terms of a variety of the latest smartphones, because without that the customer cannot benefit from the significant investments in the network, and the operator from the benefits of monetizing the data in order to deliver a return on investment.
Additionally, we believe the virtualization of network components will happen in the medium and long terms.
Is your data traffic mainly internationally driven or local and how will that change over the next few years?
Our data traffic is mainly international. Local traffic is of a very low quantity, but it is very important in terms of relevance to our customers—for example, internet banking. We believe that most content, which included private information, will soon be in the cloud.
What are you most looking forward to with regard to the LTE Africa conference?
While AfricaCom is the main initiative, the LTE Africa conference is, in my opinion, the most valuable event, which any serious operator should not overlook. The panels and the speakers represent the most advanced information in the region, and I look forward to them sharing their views and experiences of what they are generating from LTE. For me that is of the most importance for us all—to understand the challenges and help provide success for the others.