Monday, July 28, 2008

South Africa - broadband

MTN’s broadband drive

MTN South Africa is investing in more 3G/HSPA coverage and better backhaul

MTN South Africa’s managing director, Tim Lowry, says that the company is focusing heavily on broadband and that it is showing very strong growth in this sector.

Over the past few years MTN has lagged Vodacom in the mobile broadband market, but with a R7.1 billion network investment in 2008 and a strong focus on pushing its broadband offerings MTN is taking the fight to Vodacom.

In the beginning of 2008 MTN indicated that it had around 120 000 data card users, and although Lowry could not give exact figures as the company was in a closed period he said that they were very rapidly growing their broadband numbers.

MTN has also started to expand its 3G/HSDPA footprint, and is planning to grow the number of 3G towers by 50% during 2008. MTN currently has around 2 000 3G/HSDPA towers, but this number can be expected to grow rapidly, the company said.

MTN’s full 3G network is already HSPA enabled – which means all towers are HSDPA and HSUPA capable – with minimum download speeds of 1.8Mbps and upload speeds in excess of 1Mbps.

Many of the company’s towers are also 3.6Mbps and even 7.2Mbps capable, but the commercial rollout of higher speed downlink and uplink speeds are being hampered by a lack of transmission capacity which up to now was supplied to cellular providers by Telkom.

Both Vodacom and MTN have previously indicated that Telkom’s inability to provide transmission capacity in a more timely manner means was holding them back when it came to launching higher-speed broadband offerings.

Own fibre backbone

To alleviate this problem both cellular providers are investing in their own fibre networks, something that will also save both companies billions of Rands in the long run.

MTN estimates that its metro fibre network will result in R2.8 billion in savings over the next 10 years while its national network will save the company R6.3 billion in Telkom fees.

Cost savings are however not the only benefit. Control over its own network should mean better service levels and less downtime.

MTN SA’s Chief Technology Officer Sameer Dave highlighted that Telkom’s service levels started to deteriorate recently, with up to 60% of all of MTN’s downtime being caused by problems on services like transmission links supplied by Telkom.

The company is also investing in projects which will increase its international bandwidth capacity. It is currently the biggest investor in the East African Submarine System (EASSy) and it is also discussing a new West Coast cable with partners.

The company put a Request For Service (RFS) date of 2011 on EASSy, but hopes that it may be completed in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Logistical issues like getting vessels to lay the cable may however mean that the cable deployment is delayed.

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