MTN's plan to go live with the commercial availability of a 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network in Uganda over the coming months is another signal that telecommunications companies are getting serious about deploying the technology throughout Africa.
The planned rollout of the 4G network in Uganda comes a few months after MTN launched an LTE network in its home market of South Africa at the end of November last year.
LTE is increasingly considered the best network option for telecom companies in Africa, as it helps in conserving radio spectrum. The LTE network infrastructure upgrade will enable users to access speeds up to 100M bps, according to Mazen Mroué, the chief executive officer MTN Uganda.
Up to now, MTN's fastest Internet connection, based on its 3G+ network, gave users up to 21.6M bps -- capacity that is part of a network upgrade that was launched just last September.
"With the upgraded data speed, an MTN data customer will enjoy faster access to the Internet and superior quality live streaming and video chatting to mention a few," said Rami Farah, MTN Uganda's chief technical officer.
Over the last two years, MTN Uganda has made major investments in its Uganda operation aimed at serving an increasing number of customers of its voice, mobile money and data platforms. These investments have included the introduction of 3G+, enhanced radio capacity as well as an extension of its fiber network and built telephone switching centers across the country.
In 2013 alone, MTN Uganda plans to invest some US$70 million in infrastructure development, added to $80 million spent in 2012.
"This investment has been mainly in expanding the network infrastructure to support the mobile subscriber growth as well as roll out new innovative products and digital solutions," Mroué said.
The 3G+ network, which will now be supplemented by 4G, has given more than one million Ugandans Internet access for the first time. MTN Uganda has deployed close to 2,800 km of fiber, which boasts multiple layers and rings to provide dedicated business solutions institutional users, among other features.
"We would like to ensure consistently reliable network quality for all existing customers and also to enable many more new subscribers to enjoy the new technology when we launch," Farah said.
According to London-based research firm Informa Telecoms & Media, several LTE networks were launched by service providers across Africa last year. Leading the way was Angola's Movicel and Namibia's MTC. Next was Mauritius' second-largest mobile operator, Emtel, which launched its commercial LTE service at the end of May. This was closely followed by Smile Communications in Tanzania, which launched the service at the start of June.
Informa predicted that nearly 350,000 LTE subscriptions came online in Africa at the end of last year. The subscription figures are expected to increase to around 40 million by the end of 2017 with new launches expected in Nigeria this year.