At the beginning of this year, uproars and jubilation overcrowded Big Red after announcements of the carrier finally leapfrogging whatever held it back from launching its 4G-LTE network in Uganda. The headlines read, “ Finally Airtel Uganda launches its 4G LTE” but up to now those efforts haven’t come into fruition, not in Kampala at least. Airtel pulled a rarity of sorts and went against all odds to phase test its 4G-LTE upcountry instead of the customary metropolitan Kampala and Entebbe. It was indicative of Kampala having to wait a little longer before embracing Long Term Evolution or Advanced networks. The question is—why?
It is not that we’re waiting for Christ to come save us given peers like MTN Uganda, Smile Communications Uganda, Vodafone and Africell long jumped onto the 4G race with their networks hovering over the city, but the perplexing bit is why the second biggest network in Uganda is delaying to deliver on its promise in Kampala.
The telco while disseminating the 4G news boasted of having over 170 LTE ready sites covering the country with test phases already happening in towns of Lira, Soroti, Wakiso, Mbale and other parts of the country with Kampala scheduled to be the last one to join this list.
Why launch it out of Kampala?
On inquiring from the an Airtel rep, it was revealed to us that closest you can get 4G reception near Kampala is Mpigi, though the roll-out is still ongoing.This keeps the question lingering as to why Airtel did launch first upcountry than cash cow Kampala and Entebbe?
The dense population in the said areas would work fine in test phases before the official roll-out and then the network would be optimized promptly to accommodate whatever traffic is thrown at it, not forgetting the revenue that accrues to their side once it goes live. But, but we’re no Airtel to answer these questions. Another interesting part is that Airtel’s 4G is said to be built in the widely compatible 2,600MHz frequency band, an advantage of sorts given most 4G handsets readily support it.
While it prides itself for being the smartphone network, these setbacks raise questions since the competition rides high on 4G LTE, owing to the high propensity to consume data by many Uganda netizens, led by social media while other internet uses trail behind. However, let us give them a benefit of doubt over their delayed 4G LTE launch.
4G LTE handsets are not widely available on the Ugandan market and their prohibitive prices always shooting north somewhat makes them less attractive than their 3G counterparts. These you can now get starting from as low as UGX 150,000. Besides, many Internet consumers in Uganda use text based social media services than anything else the internet has to offer though video uptake is picking up recently (Ask Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram folks).
Big data such as video would be a main driver towards 4G adoption since it requires seamless connections to function properly but it isn’t the case here however much presumptive indicators suggest we’re getting there.
Plus a section of Ugandans is not well acquainted with the jump in speeds under 4G LTE (of theoretical speeds of up to 150Mbps) in comparison to 3G speeds which are 5 times less than 4G, and so, they attribute this to telcos being unforgiving since their data runs so fast (We’ve had to endure questions as to why data runs so fast on certain handsets).
The waiting continues
Airtel now remains the only big fish in the pond without 4G LTE and the less known Smart Telecom who are still stuck with 3rd Generation networks though the former’s deployed UMTS900 3G network was upgraded by Chinese telecom equipment vendor, ZTE, and their close collaboration saw Airtel’s network efficiency increased by 20%.
The deployment according to ZTE involved the adoption of the corporation’s innovative multi-mode ultra band and highly integrated SDR 2.0 solution that is compliant and fully supports smooth evolution into LTE/LTE- Advance networks.
This means that all hope is not lost for Airtel Uganda 4G LTE enthusiasts since the deployed networks can easily support 4G when Airtel decides to let it go live.