LTE Insurgent Challenger Smile Does a Hard Launch in Tanzania and Will Open Its Network On a Wholesale Basis to Other Operators

smile lte pic

Smile Communications has put in place the first public roll-out in Africa of LTE in 800 MHz spectrum in Tanzania and has ambitious plans to roll out in the same spectrum in three more countries.

This week it moved from soft to hard launch status in Tanzania and the other 3 countries will follow. Russell Southwood spoke to founder and CEO of the company Irene Charnley. Smile Communications in Tanzania has been on soft launch status for the last six months, with the sales force quietly selling to commercial customers.

Nevertheless it has managed to garner nearly a thousand subscribers before moving to the full hoopla stage of the hard launch. Charnley believes that the potential in 2-3 years will be tens of thousands of
subscribers in Tanzania. The subscribers are a mixture of commercial customers and households, with many commercial customers also using the service at home.

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It now has 80% coverage of all the commercial areas in the country’s capital Dar es Salaam. By the end of this year it will have coverage in all of the country’s major cities and by 2014 it will have full national
coverage. It currently also offers 30 hot-spots.

The service can be accessed in three ways: a router that’s sufficiently small to be called nomadic (US$210 plus 20GB of data); a dongle (US$114 plus 10GB of data) and a Mi-Fi unit (available shortly),
which is half the size of a smartphone and can connect up to 10 people.

According to Charnley:”This will be a killer app. It has its own battery and allows all household members or the employees of small companies to access the same connection.”

She’s also keen to emphasise that there is already an ecosystem of 200-250 LTE access devices out there already. The LTE signal is also much more effective than many of the WiMAX technologies at penetrating buildings.

As in most places in Africa, it’s selling data bundles that last 30 days. At the bottom end of the range 500 MB costs US$5.40 and at the top end of the range 50 GB costs US$192.

Before the implementation of LTE, customers were on average using 5GB of data month and for 90% of the customer base this has now doubled to 10 GB a month. Even as numbers go up on the network, they say customers are getting an actual 6 mbps download speed.