ICT Board, Consortium promises 4G LTE in Kenya by December
A confederation comprising Safaricom Ltd, Bharti Aitel, Essar, Telkom Orange, KDN, MTN business, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), Alcatel-Lucent, Epesicom and the Kenyan government through the ICT board is working on a multi-billion shilling project that will see Kenya covered by 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) by December 2012.
If the project is completed successfully, Kenya will be among few countries in the world with the technology and ahead of Egypt and Nigeria. Up till now in Africa only Angola, Namibia, Mauritius and Tanzania have had an early run for the technology in some parts of their commercial hubs. South Africa is also projected to deploy 4G LTE by December 2012.
According to a post in mid July 2012 by The Star newspaper, Kenya’s Treasury gave a go ahead to a public-private consortium comprising ten shareholders that is set to ensure all the Kenyan counties are covered by 4G LTE network either by Fiber optic or a wireless 800Mhz electromagnetic spectrum.
“We have gotten the approval from Treasury to form the consortium; we are meeting this week to set up the special purpose vehicle and to create a policy (framework).” Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and communication, acting for the Kenya ICT board said confirming the agreement to The Star newspaper.
Was a consortium necessary?
According to Dr. Bitange Ndemo, a shared model will eradicate cases of telecoms passing on hefty license fees to consumers. In 2011 Safaricom paid CCK $39M (about Ksh.2.9 billion) to acquire its 3G license, an amount that later on impaired price competitiveness for its data plans. A high number of Safaricom base stations in trading centers and rural areas also remain without 3G coverage.
“If you evaluate the amount of money Safaricom has been paying to CCK, the fees are high and if it was reduced a few years back, network roll out would be very far by now,” Stephen Chege, head of regulatory and public policy at Safaricom told Computerworld Kenya.
With a shared model, the shareholders will acquire 4G LTE license and communication infrastructure at a shared cost. Other internet service providers outside the consortium would be required to purchase bandwidth. A shared model was picked upon due to the basic fact that there will be several players offering the service, therefore leveling competitiveness between the bigger and small internet service providers.
“This is the only way to salvage ISPs owned by small businesses to be able to compete and offer innovative solutions to consumers,” Dr. Bitange Ndemo told Computerworld Kenya.
Preliminary plans had indicated that LTE 4G would be broadcasted on the 2.6GHz spectrum which is currently being utilized by the Kenya defense forces but was later given a second thought. A new band, 800MHz was later deemed more appropriate as it would lower the number of 4G LTE base stations required to cover the country since lower frequencies travel further, technicians advised the consortium.
“We waited for treasury to approve government of Kenya investment through spectrum (800 MHz) in the Special Purpose Vehicle, we have finalized on the nine partners and it’s just a matter of time,” said Bitange Ndemo, explaining why a decision to select a spectrum had taken time.
As far as licensing the new spectrum with Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) is concerned, it shouldn’t be an uphill task since the agreed upon (800Mhz) frequency is already being held by one of the conglomerates, Telkom Orange. South Africa which reportedly started working on the LTE 4G idea ahead of Kenya has been facing hiccups with licensing of its 4G LTE frequency band.
The 2.6GHz spectrum agreed upon for rollout of 4G LTE network in South Africa has been licensed to a state owned signal distributor, Sentech, which has reportedly been less willing to surrender a portion for LTE rollout in the country. In recent developments, the body tasked with rolling out LTE in South Africa and Sentech are on an amicable solidarity and 4G LTE rollout is now projected for December 2012 in parity time with Kenya’s epic deployment of the same.
4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) is capable of 100 Mbit/s download and 50 Mbit/s upload speeds. Currently, it only comes second to 4G LTE Advanced (1Gbits download/500Mbits upload) which is still under development; and faster than any other form of 4G in the market today such as HSPA+ and WiMax which are already covered in some parts of Kenya.