Russell Southwood takes Smile’s LTE for a spin and here is what he had to say

The advent of 4G LTE in Uganda has changed the way people use the internet in Uganda, as it came with fast speeds and its that time for the rest of the world to judge. Well Russell Southwood, the CEO of Balacing Act looks at how LTE is working on Smile’s network in Kampala and marvels whether this might be how it will be everywhere in the near future in Africa. The CEO writes on the company website  that:

For over a year I have been saying to anyone that will listen that LTE and video will be a game-changer in Africa. Friends and colleagues (particularly those in ICT4D tribe) have listened patiently, whilst their body language betrayed the thought that I might be in need of specialist medical intervention.

After acknowledging that sites like You Tube have the content that people love and rank highly being in the top 5 position in every country as measured by, this can’t be good with the fairly terrible Internet speeds available. It was the first time the Balancing act’s CEO used LTE and here is what he has to say after a week in Kampala.

Using a portable wifi device also known as a Mi-Fi device supplied by Smile Telecom, he was able to connect his   smartphone, laptop and iPad using a single data connection.

My driver and I couldn’t find a particular address. Whip out the iPad and there’s the little blue dot on Google maps guiding us in. You can’t do this with data roaming because you’d need a financial facility underwritten by three Wall Street banks to pay for it: what’s the point of that? It works indoors or outdoors, which is not something every WiMAX vendor could say with confidence.

LTE in Africa feels faster than my home ADSL in the UK

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One of the most interesting experiences he had was with the online video streaming, as it starts playing straight without skipping a beat. The UK based CEO acknowledged that for the first time, he had actually had a high bandwidth speed in Africa that was the same (and at times faster) than his home ADSL connection in the UK. Although he doesn’t give exact speeds he was able to attain on the network he points out the fact that unlike its competition, Smile’s data network has been built from scratch and is completely used for data. Which means there is no fall back to 3G or 2G voice or data services.

Both Orange (which has a good reputation for data) and MTN (which does not) are offering LTE, but I didn’t meet anyone with an LTE data connection or LTE mobile handset from either operator. But it’s the gap between where the mobile operators ought to be in network terms and their lack of the right spectrum that offers such an intriguing opportunity for the insurgent challengers. Currently Smile is covering the greater Kampala area (I used it all day in Mokono) and all the way down to the airport at Entebbe. It will roll out to 15 different regions this year.

LTE Modem Prices are coming down

The British CEO notes further that the LTE routers are still not cheap, but prices are coming down. Smile sells the current device with 5GB of data for UGS240, 000 (US$96) and if you take out the data allowance, it makes it relatively cheap for a multi-device roaming Wi-Fi hot-spot. The only issue he noted, however was the battery life of the smartphone, clearly not a Smile problem.