MTN looks to connect 60K homes with Supersonic AirFibre

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Calvin Collett, managing director of MTN SA’s Internet service provider, Supersonic.
Calvin Collett, managing director of MTN SA’s Internet service provider, Supersonic.

Mobile operator MTN is looking to connect 60 000 homes to its Supersonic AirFibre solution that it announced earlier this year.

In February, MTN launched its Supersonic AirFibre offering, which it says overcomes distance and a lack of infrastructure in urban, township and rural communities to bring fibre-quality connectivity to more households across the country.

The company made use of unlicensed spectrum to roll out the solution.

According to the mobile operator, since the announcement of the launch of the solution, it has received over 20 000 expressions of interest, with the aim to connect 60 000 homes within the first year.

This coincides with a surge in demand for affordable, fibre-like Internet access in previously unreachable areas, says the firm.

Calvin Collett, managing director of MTN SA’s Internet service provider, Supersonic, says AirFibre serves as an alternative to the labour-intensive rollout of cabled fibre, by using MTN’s existing reception network.

The first commercial rollout will commence in Soweto, Mamelodi, Fairlands and Honeydew.

MTN explains that AirFibre uses out-of-the-box thinking to find innovative solutions that can help connect the unconnected.

The solution harnesses existing open spectrum frequencies, which can lower the cost to serve customers. This is built as a premium uncapped technology that ranges from 5Mbps to 100Mbps, which allows users access to the Internet as a full-fibre experience, the company says.

“While the rollout of fibre has been fast in big metropolitan areas, it has been much slower in peri-urban and rural areas. With AirFibre, we have found a cost-effective solution to help close the digital divide,” Collett says.

“We were delighted by the interest and are ready to deploy AirFibre into areas that need it the most.”

He points out this comes as other countries step up efforts to broaden access to the digital world.

“The unfortunate reality is that while virtually all urban areas in the world are covered by a mobile broadband network, worrying gaps in connectivity and Internet access persist outside of the cities and in rural areas,” says Collett.

MTN notes the International Telecommunication Union highlights that the problem is most pronounced in the least developed countries, where 17% of the rural population live in areas with no mobile coverage at all.

Only 19% of the rural population is covered by just a 2G network, yet globally, about 72% of households in urban areas have access to the Internet at home, almost twice as much as in rural areas (38%), it adds.

“It is critical that Africa is not left behind as the surge towards faster, cheaper and more accessible broadband solutions take root. The future is digital, but the lack of affordable access remains a key stumbling block. The use of open spectrum frequencies potentially has the risk of incurring interference; however, this technology is designed to cancel out that interference using specialised algorithms,” says Collett.

This is not the first time telcos have had to innovate in the face of limited spectrum availability to ensure communities receive the benefits of a digital life.

MTN previously repurposed frequency bands that have historically been allocated for 2G mobile services (using GSM technology) for a new generation of mobile technologies, including both third-generation (using UMTS technology) and fourth-generation (using LTE technology).

The company says this is a globally acknowledged and successful way to repurpose spectrum bands to more efficient technologies and/or new services.

“It is all about service continuity, investment certainty and technology neutrality, thereby allowing licence-holders to evolve the technology being deployed and the services delivered as markets develop. For instance, 4G is built on technology neutrality and re-farming, and to date, the majority of 4G LTE deployments worldwide are running on a re-farmed spectrum in existing bands,” explains Collett.

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