Behind the scenes: Interview with the Engineers behind MTN Uganda’s super-fast 4G-LTE

Interview with MTN LTE Engineer

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Simon Peter Muwanguzi is an Engineer and the Manager – Radio Planning & Optimization at MTN Uganda. In a revealing interview with the Managing Editor of Techjaja Sebunya Robert last week, Simon Peter addressed our concerns on MTN Uganda’s super-fast 4G-LTE experience and also broke down all the technical gobbledygook in the new MTN Internet leader campaign.

Which major towns have 4G LTE and which ones have 3G+ (42Mbps) in this new internet leader campaign?

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This year we rolled out 4G/LTE within Kampala and 13 other upcountry towns namely Entebbe, Mukono, Mbale, Mbarara, Lira, Arua, Gulu, Kabale, Kasese, Fort Portal, Moroto, Masaka and Jinja and by the way this is in addition to the already existing country-wide 3G coverage.


Well let’s get to the numbers how many sites (4G LTE, 3G and 2G) does MTN have?

As I speak now we have rolled out 80 4G LTE sites covering the whole country. Kampala alone has 68 LTE sites which makes up 90% of Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (of course and surrounding areas) and 13 sites in each of the major upcountry towns to provide national coverage in areas like Moroto, Arua and Gulu in the North; Kabale ,Kasese, Fort Portal and Mbarara in the Western region and Jinja and Mbale in the Eastern region of course not forgetting the central towns of Mukono and Entebbe.


Well said but you only mentioning 4G LTE sites what about the 3G and 2G?
I guess you know that MTN Uganda also has the largest 3G network in the country with over 600 3G sites that’s a far reach for the other telecoms. We are also expanding our 3G+ network by 100 sites this year.

And for 2G we have over 1,500 sites reaching all corners of the country and we are expanding this network by 150 2G sites this year.


Do you think Uganda is ready for LTE technology given its slow adoption compared to 3G?

Well, globally the trend is shifting from voice to data and triple play services, and as the data traffic on 3G exponentially increases, it necessitates a data-only network for better capacity management and service delivery. The 4G ecosystem is also evolving in Uganda, with the introduction of a myriad of devices (handsets, MiFi routers, etc), and with strategic partners such as Huawei, MTN continuously introduces new devices in the market to support better data services off 4G.


What makes MTN think you are the internet leader now? Is it based on shear number of customers or you now carry more data traffic than Africell formerly Orange that has had the number one spot in highest internet traffic in Uganda?

Of course as you have noticed in this interview MTN has wider coverage than any of the other telecoms in the space, better quality of service and reliable service all at an affordable price.


With this new internet leader campaign, are you also rolling out new LTE (eNodeBs) sites (away from the current 80)?

MTN has rolled 80 sites in Phase 1 and we shall be rolling out more sites to extend 4G to all corners of the country.


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Between LTE FDD and TD-LTE what is MTN’s technology preference and why?

MTN Uganda currently runs an LTE FDD network.

FDD allowed MTN to operate without worrying about interference from other operators, plus the FDD device (phones) ecosystem is more favorable and provides better leverage.


MTN’s LTE spectrum is 2600MHz, which is a high frequency band. How will MTN compete given that you have Smile and Africell deploying LTE in the low 800MHz frequency band, which has good deep indoor penetration characteristics? Do you expect to acquire more LTE spectrum in the 800MHs band as well?

We compensate for this by increasing the number and densification of sites, especially within the urban/metropolitan areas. Similar or better  coverage can be achieved with 2600MHz by simply adding more sites for the same area.

What particular challenges does MTN face in terms of backhaul provision?

For LTE we have to provide sufficient backhaul to the eNode Bs. This involves extension of fiber to the sites, which is usually a tough job, but we get it done anyhow. Consequently, we also suffer from fiber cuts, which we mitigate through provision of network redundancy (route protection).


Which 4G speeds do you currently support?

Today you(Interviewer) have had the opportunity to personally experience a live demo of 4G LTE speeds averaging 100 Mbps compared to an average of 15 Mbps for our 3G UMTS technology.


Beyond LTE, when can Ugandans expect Advanced LTE (300Mbps), or you think it’s too early for such speeds?

At MTN we are not far off from these speeds (300Mbps). Our 4G LTE network has the potential to operate at speeds of up to 100 Mbps, which is almost triple the speed of any existing mobile connection available commercially in Uganda, and the wider proximal region. LTE Advanced shall surely arrive in due course.