SA sets the pace for LTE in Africa

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Although Africa is behind most of the world in rolling out LTE, SA is gaining ground.
Although Africa is behind most of the world in rolling out LTE, SA is gaining ground.

South Africa is well ahead of its continental neighbours in regards to LTE deployments.

This is according to a new report by wireless coverage mapping company OpenSignal, which notes that for the last eight years, the global mobile industry has relentlessly pushed the limits of 4G technology to milk as much speed out of its networks as possible.

Globally, South Korea is the most advanced in regards to LTE roll out, followed by Japan, Norway, Hong Kong and the US respectively.

With 4G availability of 68.3%, SA ranks 67 out of 90 countries on the OpenSignal chart, while South Korea has 98%.

OpenSignal's lead analyst and author of the report, Kevin Fitchard, says SA is definitely well ahead of its continental neighbours.

"All four of South Africa's operators have launched 4G services, and those services are becoming increasingly accessible to consumers. Behind South Africa, we generally see North African states next in terms of LTE progress. In Sub-Saharan Africa, most operators are either still in the early stages of their LTE rollouts or haven't yet rolled out LTE at all," says Fitchard.

Nonetheless, he points out that Africa is behind most of the world in rolling out LTE, but OpenSignal is starting to see a lot more 4G activity on the continent lately.

"LTE was launched in the largest wealthiest countries first, and from there, it's been spreading throughout the world. It's not just the cost of the networks that determines when a country launches LTE. 4G phones have to reach a price point where they become affordable to a large enough consumer group within a country. There are also political issues as regulators have to allocate spectrum for LTE in Africa."

Globally, OpenSignal says Europe, North America and East Asia lead in LTE deployments. "Behind them we see the Middle East, Latin America and South/Southeast Asia. In Africa, South Africa and North Africa are leading in LTE deployments," says Fitchard.

According to OpenSignal, globally, through LTE-Advanced upgrades, improved smartphone technology and new spectrum, mobile operators have elevated average 4G speeds first beyond 20Mbps, then beyond 30Mbps, and in the last two years, beyond 40Mbps.

But the industry seems to have reached a limit to what current technology, spectral bandwidth and mobile economics can support on a nationwide level, the firm says.

For the last several 'State of LTE' reports, OpenSignal found that in the fastest countries, average LTE download speeds have stalled at just over 45Mbps. The industry is still waiting on that spark that will push speeds beyond 50Mbps on a national level, it notes.

"That spark will come, and it will likely come sooner rather than later as operators embrace the latest iterations of LTE-Advanced technology. But the industry is keeping itself busy in the interim. 4G speeds have temporarily plateaued, but 4G availability most certainly has not. Operators around the world have spread their LTE signals into more and more nooks and crannies, giving consumers unprecedented access to mobile broadband connections," says Fitchard.

"Three months ago, there were only two countries in the world that could claim their consumers had access to an LTE connection 90% of the time. Now five countries [South Korea, Japan, Norway, Hong Kong and the US] can make that boast. But LTE reach isn't just expanding among the top tier countries. The developing world is making huge strides in increasing 4G availability. Throughout the world, it's much easier to find an LTE signal now than it ever has before."

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