MTN looks likely to be the first mobile operator in SA to be able to take advantage of the advanced wireless broadband functionality built into the latest iPhone from Apple.
The US company on Wednesday said the iPhone 5 supports next-generation long-term evolution (LTE) wireless broadband networks offering download speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. LTE is often referred to as 4G.
Apple said the new phone would work on the LTE network built by the UK’s Everywhere Everywhere (EE), which operates in the same 1 800MHz band that MTN is using to build its LTE network. Until now, MTN’s LTE network has been available on a trial basis only, but MD Karel Pienaar revealed to TechCentral in August that it would switch on commercial services in the fourth quarter of 2012.
If Apple keeps to the same launch timeframe as the iPhone 4S, then it appears likely that the iPhone 5 will go on sale in SA in November or early December, around the same time as MTN is expected to launch commercial LTE services.
MTN SA chief technology officer Kanagaratnam Lambotharan says the operator certainly didn’t plan it that way.
“We’re expecting the iPhone 5 to support 1 800MHz. EE does operate in that band, but that doesn’t guarantee that the devices we get will support LTE here.”
Lambotharan says MTN is positioning its LTE network more as a data-only offering and anticipates selling more LTE dongles and modems than handsets.
“3G still works very well for voice, as does 2G,” Lambotharan says. “For most customers, there’s no need for bleeding-edge technology like LTE.”
MTN expects LTE to be a niche offering at its launch and can’t yet say what the commercial offering will look like in terms of pricing or coverage.
Lambotharan says there is scope for LTE to act as a replacement for fixed-line broadband in some places.
In anticipation of its commercial launch, MTN has turned off the trial LTE network that it had been running in parts of Gauteng.
“We have to migrate tower sites to the live commercial network to be able to do billing and so on,” Lambotharan explains.
At present, MTN has between 200 and 250 towers equipped for LTE and Lambotharan says the company wants to increase this to between 400 and 500 base stations across four cities before the end of the year. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media