Vodacom has beaten rivals to ‘4G’ by switching on South Africa’s first LTE service in Johannesburg, promising that other cities will benefit from the service in the near future.
The Vodafone (Newbury, UK) subsidiary has activated 70 base stations in Johannesburg and plans to fire up 500, out of a total footprint of 9,000, by the end of the year.
Although it can boast a first-to-market advantage over MTN (Johannesburg, South Africa) and smaller rival Cell C (Morningside, South Africa), it said the primary motive for investing in the technology at this stage was to ensure it could handle rising volumes of data traffic.
“Our challenge isn’t keeping ahead of the other operators – it’s keeping ahead of the tidal wave of data demand,” said Shameel Joosub, the company’s chief executive, in a statement.
Indeed, Vodacom (Johannesburg, South Africa) has been forced to refarm existing spectrum assets in the 1800MHz band for use with LTE because of delays to the auction of new spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.
That auction is not expected to take place before a policy review due in 2014.
The use of 1800MHz spectrum, which is used in a number of countries to support LTE services, will allow Vodacom to offer Apple’s iPhone 5, which is not compatible with either 800MHz or 2.6GHz frequencies.
But it presents other challenges. While Vodacom aims to provide LTE services in Pretoria and Durban by the end of the year, according to local press reports, it will not be able to serve Cape Town so quickly because of difficulties regarding the refarming of spectrum.
Joosub has urged the regulator to free up additional airwaves. “To unlock the full potential of this technology and transform connectivity in South Africa, we still need additional spectrum to be released by ICASA,” he said.
Even with 1800MHz spectrum, another concern is whether there will be enough LTE devices at affordable prices to satisfy South African customers.
Joosub believes that being part of the Vodafone family will help in this regard. “LTE devices are in short supply worldwide, but thanks to Vodafone’s global purchasing power we’re confident that Vodacom will have the best possible selection in stores in the very near future,” he said.
Vodacom finished the recent quarter with more than 56 million customers, while MTN had around 23.5 million and Cell C just 8 million.