Vodacom tests LTE

Candice Jones
By Candice Jones, ITWeb online telecoms editor
Johannesburg, 18 Jun 2010

Vodacom has confirmed it is testing an LTE product for high-speed wireless broadband.

The company says it has been looking at the option for some time; however, this is the first test where the LTE equipment has been pulled together with its existing network infrastructure.

Vodacom can't confirm whether it will roll out the test to its customers, since a commercial product will depend on many aspects of the regulatory environment. Most notable is the available spectrum that operators will need to produce a commercial LTE product.

Theoretically, LTE provides download rates of around 100Mbps, and upload speeds of 50Mbps. However, Vodacom's trial can currently run a download at 150Mbps.

“This is a theoretical maximum in ideal conditions - actual performance would be dependent on a host of factors such as distance from the base station,” says the company's spokesman, Richard Boorman.

While Vodacom is looking at the product for high speeds, the company is more interested in what it can do for its network. “With respect to LTE, it's important to note that, while the potential for high speeds is very exciting, we're as interested in the ability of the technology to provide increased capacity on the network.”

Spectrum haggle

The spectrum that Vodacom will need to deploy its LTE network lies in the hands of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

Considered a scarce commodity, spectrum in the 2.6GHz band will, after years, finally find its way into the market, after ICASA last month announced the details around how it will be allocated.

Incumbent operators and alternative players had all but given up hope of ever seeing the spectrum come to the market, and many have made alternative plans to build up networks of their own.

It is unclear whether Vodacom will be in the running for the spectrum, because the pre-auction phase requires companies to have 30% historically disadvantaged (HDI) ratings, and Vodacom's actual HDI levels are still unclear.

Vodacom still has another option to get its hands on spectrum, when broadcasters are moved from analogue to digital. However, that may take longer than Vodacom is willing to wait, since government's decision to review the broadcasting standard being used has halted the switch-over.

Operators will need to hand in their applications to the regulator by 20 July if they hope to compete in the looming auction.