South Africa is slipping behind some other African markets in providing mobile broadband, Tom Allen, the chief operating officer of Smile Telecommunications, the telecoms operator founded six years ago by former MTN executive Irene Charnley, warned on Wednesday.
Allen, speaking at an Alcatel-Lucent press conference at the annual Africa Com telecoms event in Cape Town, reiterated comments he made at last year’s show that Smile is keen to enter the South African mobile broadband market if it can get access to radio frequency spectrum, particularly in the 800MHz band currently used by analogue terrestrial television broadcasters.
“Smile is very interested in South Africa, if we could get spectrum,” said Allen. “We wouldn’t be interested in 2,5GHz. We have 800MHz everywhere else. If we could get 800MHz here, then we’d be keen to go for that. If there’s a competition, we’ll be there to play.”
The relatively lower frequencies at 800MHz offer better propagation than signals at 2,5GHz, which is seen as more appropriate for use in dense urban areas.
“If the regulator was to realise how far behind South Africa is compared to what’s happening in Tanzania and Uganda, I would have thought they would have moved quicker than they have,” Allen said. “The 3G network in South Africa is not great, to be honest. Compared to Europe, it’s poor.”
Smile Communications operates fourth-generation (4G) broadband networks in Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company is backed by Saudi Arabian firms Al-Nahla Technology and Atheeb Trading Company.
Smile started life as a WiMax operator but moved to 4G long-term evolution technology by 2009 when it “became obvious” that the digital dividend band around 800MHz was the “place to be”. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media