LTE in Africa : Getting ready to rock n roll !!

Presentation1The Africa LTE Congress in Cape Town was a well organised and well executed Event. The 2-day assembled over 300 attendees from across the continent to hear insightful presentations, network and discover the future of LTE in Africa . The general ambience was cautiously optimistic even exciting since there is so much riding on LTE to bridge the growing Digital Divide in Africa.

It seems South Africa is clearly taking the LTE lead in Africa with a reported 94% of Africa’s 300,000 activated LTE SIM cards earlier this year. However, the rest of the continent is quickly catching up with Econet wireless confirming they are testing their LTE network in Zimbabwe, Surfline Communications announcing an LTE rollout in Ghana next year and MTC Namibia reporting 33% of data currently used on the network is already from LTE. And more projects in the works including Govt backed Open Access Model in Rwanda and Kenya.

It was widely discussed that there are still several hurdles to overcome before LTE in Africa can become truly mass market, mainly spectrum availability, affordable LTE devices and backhaul infrastructure requirements. Despite these challenges, a clear consensus was that LTE is on the minds of all operators in Africa with the CEO of Smile Communications ( who are rolling out LTE across 5 nations ) inspired the audience by stating that LTE is the only technology fast enough to truly open the doors to the digital revolution in Africa.

Key Highlights of LTE Africa included:

Telkom Mobile live LTE network demonstration, wowed the audience when it reached downlink speeds of over 210Mbps. A Telkom Mobile executive explained that they used an LTE modem connecting to their LTE TDD network in a 4×4 MIMO configuration supporting dual carrier downlink to achieve these speeds.

Huawei claimed to have 44 LTE networks across Africa, many of which are inactive but can be switched on immediately once the operators are ready. In a roundtable discussion with reporters leading global figures from the giant Chinese communications solutions provider painted a positive picture as to just how close major commercial rollouts are on the continent. The Vice president for Huawei, emphasised LTE TDD is the right solution for Africa because it is available across 200 different devices and it is rapidly being adopted on a global scale, which translates to 44 different networks to date confirming TDD viability.

The Samsung Rep informed VoLTE in South Korea, was first optimised and commercialised last year in August. He said VoLTE call setup time is significantly shorter as opposed to VoIP. It also allows for “one touch” switch over from a voice call to a video call. He enthused how Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) is a viable solution for African communications given there are 800 million mobile subscribers on the continent.

Alcatel-Lucent and Surfline Communications have announced a partnership that could provide Western Africa with its first commercial 4G LTE network – operational in Ghana – by the first quarter of 2014. Their model is primarily to focus on the high end market targeting high potential residential areas and small to medium sized enterprises. The Ghana Regulator made a conscious decision not to award any LTE licenses to the current crop of mobile operators in a bid to promote competition in the industry as well as recognise the poor quality of voice services they currently offer the public.

Successful LTE networks are implemented using inductive thinking ( as opposed to deductive thinking ). The end result is envisaged ( nationwide coverage ) and then worked backwards on how to get there. Worldwide LTE operators can learn from the competitive success of the US , Korean and Japanese operators’ aggressive national build-out plans and evolving pricing strategies focused on multi-device usage and the role that devices play in the take-up of LTE.

Yours truly expounded on the vital importance of Policy Control and Charging in LTE Networks. Policy function is crucial to a number of mobile data billing models that operators expect to become much more widespread in the near term including the control of bandwidth according to application, service tier or customer profile.So what’s all the buzz about policy management? Policy has been around for years as a tool to enable traffic prioritization, particularly among cable operators looking to better manage broadband usage.

The current iteration of policy ( Policy 2.0) is dynamic and real-time is multi-dimensional, meaning the operator can incorporate multiple inputs into a policy decisions—for example, combining time of day with content type and device type to determine whether a teenager has access to a certain service under a parental control offering. Telcos can support virtually any service model strategy for data, based on advanced customer models combined with dynamic contextual network-level information.

In value-based pricing enabled by new Policy Control platforms linked to the OCS the feedback loop into creating new services and price points can be a lot faster; different value-based opportunities can be created and launched in weeks and not months. Value-based or Dynamic plans allow subscribers and providers to take advantage of new, innovative forms of mobile data consumption and pricing. These types of plans allow service providers to offer a mix of data packages to match user context , needs , propensity to pay and accurately charge for the data used on their networks.

While bandwidth management has been the primary policy control use case of the past few years, policy control is fast becoming table stakes for enabling rich, dynamic services and models that keep consumers and business users engaged.Policy control’s reach will extend beyond the network to business support systems (BSS), to enable complex service definition and real-time charging controls in innovative data services and plans.

The availability of real-time data in the post-paid billing system is essential to the future of mobile data billing. The integration of that real time data with the operator’s policy function is fundamental to the creation of the kind of diverse network controls that will enable more sophisticated data billing solutions. Bills should be presented to users on the device to increase customers’ control over their own usage and to create lucrative opportunities to sell them extensions and upgrades on an ‘as-needed basis’.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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