Telkom’s mobile operator, 8ta, will double the number of base stations active in its network in the next nine months, increasing population coverage from 25% now to between 35% and 40% by the end of the first quarter of 2012.
The company plans to increase the number of base stations from 942 active sites today to 2 000 sites by March. In the next four years, Telkom plans to build about 3 500 8ta base stations. Between 40% and 50% of active sites are connected via high-speed fibre-optic links, with the remaining towers using new-generation microwave links for backhaul.
“New-generation microwave technology really is high capacity,” says Zoltin Miklos, Telkom’s executive for converged data networks.
“Telkom has good spectrum for microwave and we’ve leveraged that to get some of these sites up. If we had to wait to get fibre to every base station, we would have had to delay the roll-out, [but] fibre is our main goal.”
Meanwhile, 8ta will begin offering broadband services at theoretical speeds of up to 21Mbit/s within the next week. Until now, 8ta has offered a 7,2Mbit/s radio access network only. The 21Mbit/s network has been operational for the past two months, but has not been made available to subscribers while Telkom tests it.
8ta managing executive Amith Maharaj confirms that the faster network will be launched to consumers in the coming days.
Brett Nash, national executive in charge of 8ta’s radio access network, explains that Telkom has focused on building its mobile network in SA’s major metros. It will continue to rely on roaming partner MTN to provide access in rural areas and smaller towns.
Nash says that because Telkom has built a new network, it has deployed technologies that give it advantages over its mobile rivals. These include a single radio access network that offers both second- and third-generation services and “software-definable radios” that provide “flexibility to change between different technologies and [radio frequency spectrum] bands as we see fit”.
The network can also be upgraded to long-term evolution, the next-generation mobile broadband standard, and uses the latest base station technology, which means less power consumption and smaller computing cabinets.
He says 8ta is at a disadvantage in that it doesn’t have access to spectrum at 900MHz — which is better for providing broader coverage around base stations — but he says the company has tried to turn this to its advantage by building a “denser” network at the 1,8GHz and 2,1GHz bands, meaning that in some urban areas it has more base stations than its rivals, providing what it believes is superior coverage.
The company has struck agreements to erect radio equipment on advertising hoardings alongside roads, which has reduced the time to build sites, says Nash. Also, environmental impact assessments and approvals from local authorities — typically time-consuming processes — are not necessary to install equipment on these billboards. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral