MTN South Africa has partnered with Huawei and successfully trialled Africa’s first LTE Licensed Assisted Access (LTE LAA) network at a test site in Pretoria.
LTE LAA is an evolution of the LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) mobile technology, which enables LTE to utilise unlicensed spectrum to significantly enhance network capacity.
“The LTE LAA trial was completed by aggregating 15MHz of MTN’s licensed 2 100MHz spectrum with 40MHz of spectrum located within the unlicensed 5GHz band. This achieved a peak downlink throughput of over 400Mbps as measured by the Ookla Speedtest application,” MTN says in a statement.
MTN South Africa CTIO Giovanni Chiarelli says LTE LAA will be a game-changer for the industry and will provide customers with an enhanced network experience.
“We have been hamstrung by the lack of access to certain bands of spectrum, but we are pleased with what we can achieve within the limitations we are working under. MTN has committed substantial capital expenditure, which will help us to augment our network, and we are looking forward to provide our customers with a world-class network that will vault them into the digital age and enable them to undertake demanding applications,” says Chiarelli.
The lack of access to high-value spectrum has compelled mobile operators like MTN to re-farm existing spectrum and combine existing licensed mobile spectrum with unlicensed 5GHz spectrum to increase mobile broadband data speeds.
Last year, it looked as if mobile operators would finally have an opportunity to gain access to in-demand radio frequency spectrum when the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) released an invitation to apply for licences for spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. However, the North Gauteng High Court interdicted the process in September last year and in February ICASA announced it was delaying the process “until further notice”.
Government’s new Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, finalised last year, has also called for a shake-up of the previous policy framework for spectrum allocation.
MTN says that due to the use of the unlicensed 5GHz band, which has a very short-range determined by regulated transmit power limits, LTE LAA will be used for in-building LTE deployments.
“Quality indoor coverage has always been a challenge for operators, and we hope this LTE LAA will considerably address this challenge,” says Chiarelli.
LTE LAA uses the Listen Before Talk functionality to enable it to coexist in the same area as WiFi networks without degrading their performance. MTN says this functionality is the key difference between LTE LAA and the previous LTE-U technology, and is considered critical to ensuring optimal co-existence between WiFi and mobile networks.
Currently, all tests have been conducted on a non-commercial prototype device, as commercial handsets are not widely available. MTN expects that commercial devices that support LTE LAA will be available in the market later this year.