Tech-neutral licences issued; MTC enters 4G negotiations with city council

2 Apr 2012

Namibian cellco Mobile Telecommunications (MTC) has taken steps towards its planned 4G LTE network launch after the Windhoek City Council passed a resolution allowing the municipality to negotiate with the mobile operator on its proposal to install underground ducts for fibre-optic transmission infrastructure supporting its 4G base stations in the capital, local newspaper The Namibian reports. Also helping to bring a commercial LTE launch a stage nearer, on 30 March 2012 the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) converted the operating licences of MTC and other companies to technology- and service-neutral concessions, meaning that existing wireless frequencies can be utilised for any purpose, including re-using 2G or 3G spectrum for the launch of 4G services in the absence of new licence awards.

As previously reported by CommsUpdate, MTC has suffered delays in its LTE rollout partly due to stalled planning applications, while rival Telecom Namibia opposes MTC’s fibre-optic backhaul plan on the basis that it should use Telecom’s own existing transmission network as a wholesale customer instead. However, MTC’s managing director Miquel Geraldes has told the Windhoek council that Telecom had failed to make its fibre infrastructure in the capital available to MTC despite a wholesale access agreement being signed between them six months earlier. The Windhoek council’s latest decision permits the municipality and MTC to negotiate a technical agreement setting out the route of the underground pipe, timeframe, standards and quality control of the construction work.

CRAN last week issued service- and technology-neutral licences to MTC and two other telecoms licensees, AfricaOnline and Wireless Technologies Namibia (WTN). Miguel Geraldes told newspaper The Economist that, equipped with its new licence, MTC was considering future moves such as connecting users to direct fibre-optic triple-play broadband, telephony and TV services, in addition to its LTE plans. Barney Harmse, CEO of WTN – reportedly part of a group with operations in twelve African countries – said that his company was rolling out a ‘national 4G network’. According to CRAN’s website, WTN previously operated under three licences covering VoIP telephony (‘trial’), international data gateway (VSAT) and wireless broadband internet services. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that Telkom South Africa-owned AfricaOnline (including the former MWeb) operates internet/data services including VSAT in Namibia and also operates a fixed-wireless WiMAX-based broadband access network covering the Windhoek area.

The country’s second largest GSM provider, Powercom (Leo), had also applied for technology/service neutral licence conversion, but was not on the list of successful applicants announced by CRAN. Also reportedly failing to meet the regulator’s transitional deadline for licence conversion were two other operators, CTS and iBurst. CRAN said that all three of these applicants had so far failed to comply with necessary conditions due to ‘various financial, technical and procedural issues.’

In response to MTC’s previous complaints of slowness in allocating 4G frequencies, CRAN has assured the market that it will issue new 1800MHz bandwidth which will be earmarked for LTE. However, TeleGeography notes that the regulator has also stated technical issues must be ironed out before the ‘digital dividend’ 800MHz band is issued to cellcos for expanding 4G services, under its draft national frequency allocation plan, which is designed to take into account prospective new market entrants.