Econet Chief Marketing Office, Isaiah Nyangari, announced last week that Econet will be rolling out LTE services in Zimbabwe’s tourist town of Victoria Falls, where this year’s United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly will be held next month. The announcement was made at the official handover of a Communications Centre to the Ministry of Tourism by the company in Harare. The centre will be used for the UNWTO conference.
According to Nyangari, LTE (short for Long Term Evolution) services will go live in the town in time for the conference in order to provide visiting delegates world class internet connectivity during their stay in Zimbabwe. LTE in Victoria Falls has clearly been spurred by the UNWTO conference itself, as well as the fact that Victoria Falls is tourist destination and therefore reasonable to assume need to support LTE roaming customers. Victoria Falls will be the first location in the country to go live with commercial LTE if this pans out.
Econet has been rumoured to be working on an LTE deployment in recent years. It’s their efforts to prepare for a future of faster internet speed which will in turn result in more consumption of data services and therefore increased revenues. Econet already has the largest 3G network in the country spanning all the cities and major towns including Victoria Falls. Even though Telecel and NetOne have not indicated that they are looking to roll out LTE services in the future, it’s reasonable to assume they have plans to trial LTE (or are already) in the coming several months.
LTE is one of the latest standards in mobile network technology providing higher speed internet (theoretical download speed of up to 300 Mbit/s) than the ‘current’ 3G. LTE is an advancement based on the same technologies that Econet, NetOne and Telecel use on their networks (GSM/UMTS). To upgrade to LTE, the mobile operators need to install some LTE specific core components. It’s important to note here that even after an LTE network has been deployed, just like 3G, the mobile phone user has to have a phone of dongle that supports LTE. Most modern smartphones come with LTE support but definitely not all.
Even though we refer here to 3G as current, the reality on the ground for mobile users in Zimbabwe is hardly a smooth 3G experience. Users on all 3 mobile networks are bounced between GPRS, EDGE and 3G depending on the location. GPRS and EDGE are actually the most prevalent.
Mobile networks in a number of countries on the continent have launched LTE in recent years including South Africa, Angola, Mauritius, Tanzania, Uganda and Namibia. Zimbabwe joins the list of these first countries to deploy LTE.