Smile to pump big money into 4G - TechCentral

Smile to pump big money into 4G

Smile Telecommunications, the telecommunications operator started five years ago by former MTN executive Irene Charnley, has signed a deal that will see it investing hundreds of millions of dollars to build fourth-generation (4G) broadband networks in Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Smile, which is backed by Saudi Arabian firms Al-Nahla Technology and Atheeb Trading Company, has appointed French firm Alcatel-Lucent to build the networks. The exact value of the deal has not been disclosed.

Smile chief operating officer Tom Allen explains that the networks will be built using spectrum that Smile has access to in the 800MHz and 2,6GHz bands. He says if Smile were able to get access to similar spectrum in South Africa, it would consider building a 4G network here, too.

For now, the company is offering prepaid-only fixed-wireless broadband for people looking for Internet access. It offers speeds of 20Mbit/s or more, with a guaranteed minimum speed of 2Mbit/s at the edge of coverage areas.

It launched commercial services in Tanzania six weeks ago and has signed up 400 customers so far; 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. “Alcatel will give me the whole of Dar es Salaam and Kampala by February,” Allen says.

Though the company hasn’t yet launched commercial services in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it intends to have 30 4G base stations operational in the capital, Kinshasa, by the third quarter of 2013.

Allen says Smile doesn’t want to play in the competitive mobile voice market. “Anyone trying to offer mobile voice, that’s a hard road,” he says.

Smile started life as a WiMax operator but moved to long-term evolution (LTE) technology by 2009 when it “became obvious” that the digital dividend band around 800MHz was the “place to be”, Allen says. “From 2009, we started to evolve into an LTE player, simply because WiMax will never be what the world will use. It will start to fade away rapidly now that LTE is out there.”  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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