HILTON TARRANT: Following rival Vodacom’s launch of the 4G services last month, MTN is fulfilling its promises of commercially launching its network before the end of the year.
Mike Fairon is GM for product solutions at MTN South Africa. Mike, there is great recognition in the market across operators where customers know for example that they want to get LTE, they know they need specific handsets that work on LTE or 4G. Do these customers know why, though? What does LTE mean to customers?
MIKE FAIRON: I think, Hilton, from a customer point of view they look at it in terms of how it will enhance their experience. So I don’t know if they all necessarily understand the technicalities of it, but they understand the benefit of what it brings to them. What we see is that customers are looking at LTE from an enhanced experience and an experience that is essentially driven by video.
HILTON TARRANT: So at the end of the day, faster mobile broadband, seamless video steaming. Where is LTE going to be available from today?
MIKE FAIRON: From today it’s available in Pretoria, Midrand area, Johannesburg area as well as certain areas in KwaZulu-Natal.
HILTON TARRANT: The speed this network is going to be rolled out – obviously you will be adding base stations as the weeks and months go by.
MIKE FAIRON: Yes, so currently by the end of the year we’ll have well over 400…lines for customers to have an LTE experience on, and then there is a significant LTE plan in place. We have already prepared about 1600 HSDPA sites for LTE, so there is s significant rollout of LTE coming from MTN.
HILTON TARRANT: And this will extend beyond the kind of big three or four cities?
MIKE FAIRON: Absolutely. It will extend into the other urban areas and then within the urban areas there will come greater coverage as we roll out more and more sites.
HILTON TARRANT: Mike, in terms of pricing, etc, nothing changes from that point of view. The normal 3G pricing remains. Is this just simply device-dependent?
MIKE FAIRON: Yes, there is a large component that is device-dependent and certainly what we’ve picked up in our testing, as we’ve run a pilot network for a long time now, is that we are very dependent on devices. And devices on our network go through a specific testing process to make sure that we can deliver the experience to the customer. So, for example, where they don’t have an LTE coverage they’ll fall back onto HSDPA and then down to 3G. So we are very device-dependent at the moment, but from the manufacturer’s point of view there are a number of devices being released in the coming quarters.
HILTON TARRANT: Mike, a question I get asked all the time by readers and listeners – faster sped obviously means that customers are going to be using a lot more data. Will we see increased data packages and a decrease in pricing in the year ahead?
MIKE FAIRON: We’ll certainly see an increase in the size of the data packages and then I think what we’ll see over a more protracted period of time different types of services that are launched with LTE.
Because of the speed that it provides it has the ability to fundamentally change consumer behaviour. For example, on average you’ll get between five and 20 megs per second from the network. This fundamentally changes how people interact with services and technologies and that. So certainly the data bundles will need to keep pace with the behaviour patterns as they change.
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