Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), the parent company of South African wireless broadband provider iBurst, has announced plans to roll out a ‘fourth-generation’ Long Term Evolution (LTE) network by mid-2012. According to an official WBS press statement, the company will begin building the LTE network later this month, and intends to deploy a total of 2,500 base stations during the first phase of the rollout. The announcement reads: ‘WBS expects that this will provide a huge growth opportunity in the country’s broadband market. This development will afford the company the opportunity to decongest the 3G demands of areas in Gauteng such as Sandton, Randburg, Westcliff, by offering high speed mobile services, and should help WBS realise revenues of approximately ZAR3 billion (USD379.2 million) per annum … WBS will be able to offer users a mobile broadband service over a truly 4G network, and we will not have to completely upgrade our entire network infrastructure. This is because we have an evolution path towards 4G in our network allowing us to offer users a whole range of benefits and new facilities so that they can get far more out of their mobile broadband service … We estimate that approximately 1,000 direct and 5,000 indirect jobs should be created through this initiative … This will accommodate the government’s and the regulator’s objectives of ensuring that our rural areas are brought into the information super highway in a manner that will leapfrog current technological development trends to deliver true broadband … WBS has already signed agreements with reputable international partners for equipment supply and equipment funding. We envisage commencing the LTE deployment this October, and will continue until the first phase where 2,500 base stations are to be built’.
To date, mobile operator MTN South Africa has been the most notable telco to throw its weight behind LTE, with 100 base stations deployed in the Gauteng province, as part of an extensive July 2011 pilot project. Previously, rival cellco Vodacom launched a LTE trial in Midrand in June 2010, expressing its intention to deploy the 4G technology on a commercial basis by the end of 2011. However, with LTE-capable spectrum currently scarce, operators must wait for telecoms watchdog Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to stage its long-delayed tender for vacant 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz frequencies before finalising their plans. The auction was originally scheduled for July 2010, only to be postponed indefinitely due to ‘technical issues’. Rather than wait for ICASA to stop dragging its heels, WBS has said that it will deploy the network in both urban and rural areas using its existing spectrum allocations in the 1.8GHz and 2.6GHz bands. WBS’ LTE network will coexist with the current iBurst network in the 1.8GHz frequency band.