Smile Telecoms, the company launched five years ago by former MTN executive Irene Charnley, has announced an extension to its current working partnership with Alcatel-Lucent to deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks in Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Under the latest deal, the French-US vendor will design, build and operate services for Smile’s 4G network infrastructure as part of a five-year agreement to bring fixed and mobile broadband services to Africa. Smile Telecoms says it envisions a three-year rollout to achieve nationwide coverage in all three countries with full commercial 800MHz or 2600MHz LTE services. The group’s local units will cover the whole of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and the Ugandan capital Kampala by end-March 2013; near-national coverage is scheduled in both markets in 2014. Smile intends to offer what it terms of ‘ADSL-type connectivity speeds’ to homes and businesses at that date, as well as offering full mobile broadband access at speeds of up to 20Mbps.
Smile Telecoms is backed by Saudi Arabian firms Al-Nahla Technology and Atheeb Trading Company. Its COO Tom Allen says that the group is also keen to add South Africa to its footprint if it can secure frequencies there. The Tanzanian service is up-and-running and according to Allen, has signed up 400 customers in its first six weeks; in Uganda it has 180 customers after four weeks. Smile has four base stations in Tanzania and three in Uganda. This will be expanded to 120 towers in each of those markets by February 2013. ‘Alcatel will give me the whole of Dar es Salaam and Kampala by February,’ Allen said. Although Smile has not yet inaugurated a commercial service in the DRC, it intends to have 30 4G base stations operational in the capital, Kinshasa, by Q3 2013.
Smile’s focus is squarely set on the data market, with the COO noting that anyone trying to make a business model based on mobile voice faces ‘a hard road’ to survive in a competitive market. The group started life as a WiMAX-based services provider but switched to LTE technology by 2009 when according to Allen, it ‘became obvious’ that the digital dividend band around 800MHz was the ‘place to be’.