MTN SA has expanded its network capacity and capability by rolling out an intense infrastructure development drive focused on leapfrogging customer experience through network expansion. The telecommunications operator today revealed that it has increased 2nd Generation (2G) network coverage to 98.6% of the country’s population while the company’s EDGE and 3rdGeneration sites cover 92% and close to 65% of South Africa respectively.
“With the increase of mobile and data usage, and an aggressive approach to providing access to broadband to more areas so as to narrow the digital divide, it was important that we focus on expanding our network and coverage to ensure capacity to carry traffic seamlessly and therefore enhancing our customers’ experience,” explains Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, Chief Technology Officer at MTN SA. “This is line with positioning ourselves as a future-proof and forward thinking operator with adequate capacity to address both business and consumer needs and enhancing experience on the network.”
MTN invested a total of R2 billion Capex in its network in 2011 which saw 314 new 2G sites and 598 new 3G sites rolled out. A further R5 billion investment was injected in 2012 resulting in 204 new 2G sites and 696 new 3G sites have being rolled out. This investment focuses on rolling out additional 2G capacity to cater for the growth in both data and voice traffic across the country, and further expansion of 2G network to provide additional coverage in rural areas. The company is also focusing a bulk of its infrastructure investment into providing over a thousand 3G base stations to improve the broadband penetration across the country and to provide a seamless 3G service to all MTN’s subscribers, with a particular focus on coverage of rural areas thereby bridging the digital divide. MTN is also focusing on offering a high capacity, scalable, future proof IP transmission network connecting over 20% of MTN SA’s base station sites, major enterprise customers, main switching centres in the major cities and the three main commercial centres of the country connecting to the submarine cables on the east and west coast of South Africa. MTN will invest approximately R7 billion in network infrastructure in 2013 it has the capacity and capability to service a growing customer base.
Fibre optic cable investment
MTN is the largest investor in the West Africa Cable System (WACS), a 14,000km long fibre optic submarine cable system linking Southern Africa and Europe via West Africa. The operator has a 12% interest in the cable that will effectively raise South Africa’s current broadband capacity by over 500 Gigabits per second (Gbps).
“WACS will be linked to the EASSy undersea cable through the National Long Distance (NLD) fibre optic cable which will connect all metropolitan areas between Cape Town and Durban,” adds Lambotharan. “The network is designed to connect directly with MTN’s international cable assets, thereby allowing for Tier 1 Internet backbone access and high quality connectivity with other MTN operations across Africa and the Middle East. We have completed our high level planning leading up to 2015 and will be focused on rolling out the cable that will connect Ladysmith to Ermelo, Nelspruit, Polokwane and Pretoria. We estimate to complete the project by 2015.” MTN also announced that the National Long fibre optic cable that will link Johannesburg and Durban as well as Johannesburg and Bloemfontein will go live before the end of the year. The Bloemfontein and Cape Town link will be connected in 2013.
Data network + LTE
Lambotharan says “given that South Africa’s consumer appetite has tripled with data consumption (excl SMS) up by 200% year-on-year, and that Smartphones usage is up by 128% likewise with data users soaring to approximately 12 million users, the continued evolution of data speeds will bring massive changes to the user experience over the coming years. MTN is making inroads towards ensuring an enhanced user experience in this space that allows for fast connection as well as accelerated download and upload speeds.”
The commercialisation of technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) is expected to address consumer needs for full service continuity, a seamless network and high speed Internet connection. Lambotharan announced that MTN is exploring the possibility of switching on commercial LTE network within 2012 and has identified 3 key urban cities to roll out the network namely Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban however pricing has not been finalised yet. MTN hopes that with the commercial launch, its subscribers can optimally tap into future services and applications that the LTE ecosystem is expected to provide.
MTN is the official telecommunications partner to BLOODHOUND Engineering Adventure, a three-year mission that aims to create a land speed record car capable of achieving 1600km/h. The record-breaking attempt will take place in the Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape. The primary goal of the project is to inspire future generations to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by showcasing these subjects in the most exciting way possible. The Northern Cape provincial government, the Premier and the province’s tourism department are already actively involved. The project has already created 300 jobs for the people of the Upington surrounding areas.
“MTN is committed to supporting initiatives that seek to improve the quality of education in South Africa,” says Lambotharan. “We are excited about the innovation that is inspired by the project and the learning opportunities it brings to young South Africans and the advancement of science in general. MTN will provide broadband data backhaul from the desert to Upington 200km away for international connectivity. We will be testing the LTE network for on-car video and diagnostics upload – which could be a world first for LTE at speeds of well over 450km/h and will also provide 3G/HSPA 900Mhz coverage for visitors & media at the PAN.”
Lambotharan concluded by emphasising the company’s commitment to ensuring the sustainability of the environment and will continue to invest in infrastructure that will reduce its carbon footprint and supports its greening initiatives. The company currently has energy efficiency programmes at its switching centres and base transceiver stations (BTSs), a Tri Generation plants at its head office and a free cooling Kyoto wheel at its Centurion plant.