MTN champions LTE in rural South Africa

November 30th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

The 65 m high tower triumphs over the rural nature of the area. To the green-minded it may be environmentally disturbing but to the people of Qatywa it is “just beautiful!”

MTN has become the first mobile operator to give 90% of South Africans access to long-term evolution (LTE/4G) coverage through the development of its 11 000th LTE site in the heartland of the Eastern Cape.

This significant landmark site in Qatywa near the birthplace of former president, Nelson Mandela, shows that the extensive LTE rollout has not only extended population coverage, it has also secured coverage in key strategic areas, such as along national routes and at border posts. In July 2011, MTN was the first network operator to launch a high-speed mobile LTE. LTE offers a better data experience, with faster download and upload speeds, less buffering, better streaming and better video calling or conferencing quality. In addition, LTE is more spectrally efficient.

While MTN celebrates this achievement, the ECA Amendment Bill is experiencing further hick-ups. It appears that the draft bill was incorrectly tagged when submitted into the parliamentary process.

According to the Faculty of Law at University of Cape Town, the constitution provides two procedures for passing ordinary bills in Parliament. Under the section 76 procedure, the provinces have real influence through their participation in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). Under the section 75 procedure, provincial influence is very limited. The constitution stipulates that bills that fall within an area of concurrent provincial/national competence must follow the section 76 process. Because the draft bill includes a section dealing with rapid deployment, the bill has to be discussed in the provincial legislature and in the NCOP. Having to follow this process, the bill is unlikely to be passed before the election. The DA recently questioned the constitutionality of the bill as it impacts on the neutrality of  the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which is enshrined in the constitution.

The new minister of the combined ministries of Communication and Telecommunication and Postal Services, Stella Ndabeni-Abraham, has certainly landed up with some hot potatoes. Dr Cwele ill-considered the wireless open-access network (WOAN) and a digital migration project fraught with conflict and endless delays. A clear way forward for the minister is to scrap the bill and start from scratch and to fast-track those aspects of the bill that are truly of industry value to build and maintain a healthy consumer-centric communication industry.

MTN, Vodacom and others have vehemently been opposed to large portions of the bill. At a recent media briefing Godfrey Motsa, CEO MTN SA, said, “The ECA bill is harmful to our sector, it destroys the incentive to invest in infrastructure, it destroys competition at the infrastructure level and will not reduce retail prices. The hybrid model should be aimed at promoting both service-based and infrastructure-based competition. There should be a balance of spectrum allocation between WOAN and others. MTN will buy capacity to support the hybrid model but the WOAN must operate at a competitive level!”

LTE in the 900 MHz band made the difference

“Achieving 90% population coverage is particularly significant as we have been able to achieve this performance, despite the spectrum-constrained environment within which we operate. By deploying LTE in the 900 MHz band we have been able to achieve two important objectives, to further grow LTE coverage in rural areas while also boosting indoor coverage in the metros,” Motsa said

MTN has refarmed two slots of 4,4 MHz from its 900 MHz allocation which was primary used only for 2G and 3G services. “We had to employ some advanced technology to achieve this as the world standard is a minimum of two 5 MHz slots”, MTN CTO Giovanni Chiarelli said.

“We are clear that the release of spectrum remains a key element to help us and the industry further drive down the cost of data. We should not underestimate the urgency with which that release is required,” Motsa told EngineerIT

In Qatywa, the impact of the LTE rollout is plainly evident. During the rollout, local businesses from across the broader Port St Johns area were employed to help with the development of the site, while numerous opportunities were created for local entrepreneurs to thrive. Ancillary businesses from retailers to manufacturers have been established in the wake of the ongoing development around the site in the area. Roads were built, electricity was installed, which in turn opened access to these businesses and to tourism opportunities.

MTN has donated laptops to local schools in the area through the MTN Foundation. This is in line with a broader initiative to improve information and communication technology (ICT), connectivity in rural schools, building educator capacity in maths, science and languages, supporting existing science centres, building tele-teaching aids and skills amongst educators and learners and making infrastructure improvements in schools.

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