Prime News Ghana

Going 4G or not; the challenges and the future

By Ebenezer Annang
Vodafone Ghana CEO, Yolanda Zoleka Cuba
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Chief Executive Officer of Vodafone Ghana, Yolanda Zoleka Cuba, speaking in an interaction with the press the past weeks in Accra said as much as the company would like to introduce the Fourth Generation (4G) network, it is incapable of doing so now due to some  market dynamics, such as   their financial position and low 4G handset penetration.

 

Whilst it is my view that 4G is the way to go as well, benefit in the 3G/ UMTS family of standards High Speed Packet Access Evolution (HSPA+) data service has not been exhausted to the fullest. Fact is, since the introduction of digital cellular technologies in the late 70s, every decade has seen a new technology generation evolve and the current ongoing rollout of 4G services across the world is to be expected.

The investment in 4G, however, should be carefully scheduled with aim to benefit from its deployment at the right time as the market conditions and technological readiness differs from country to country. It is important to note that elsewhere in Europe there is an established timeline to phase out the GSM standard (2 G generations) since it is of no relevance now. In ours parts of the world, that is not the conversation and it is understandable.

As indicated by the Vodafone Chief, Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (4G-LTE) handsets maturity in Ghana is not beyond two percent (2%).This is the most important parameter for the spreading of a new mobile technology; the users should have devices with 4G capability to use it. There are however half-a-dozen licensed Greenfield operators providing mobile broadband data services with the latest being Busy internet

It is expected that the 4G handsets on the Ghanaian market should satisfy 700/800/2300/2600 MHZ Bands. So, one way for operators to foster mass usage of 4G is to provide low price 4G mobile devices with assured service Level Agreement (SLA). The government should, as well create the enabling environment for market growth by completely removing all taxes imposed on Smart Phones to allow for more 4G enabled handsets in the country to grow the mobile broadband ecosystem in Ghana for socio-economic takeoff.

Currently, all the leading telcos claim to provide HSPA Plus (3.9G), the existing 3G UMTS/HSPA+ with latency below 30 milliseconds and provides a near 4G LTE services of high speed superior voice, data, video streaming without buffering, audio amongst other services. Airtel calls theirs Smartphone Network and Vodafone’s HSPA plus Network.

For instance, Vodafone Ghana, says its HSPA Plus network provides a bit rate of 42 Mbit/s which shared by all the users in the cell. Assuming 60 active users (using the Internet access in parallel) there will be bitrates per user of 1 Mbit/s. This can however change to higher peaks (e.g., to go up to 10, 20 MBit/s etc) when other users are not active in a given moment. factors such as  propagation characteristics and the type of handset influence service quality. This is where the term “up to” often make sense!

The challenge I have, however, with the legacy telcos  is latching on their HSPA+ network and maintaining data consistency; It often the case that the data service goes from no service toHSPA+, HSPA, 3G, EDGE, GPRS and repeat. It appears that the customer can do nothing about situation since has to do with coverage issues. But that raises a fundamental issue of service Level Agreement (SLA). Network operators should continue to invest in infrastructure, build proper network design, upgrades in the radio access, backhaul and switching places to assure guaranteed service satisfaction.

Mobile network leader, MTN was the lone operator that bought one of the two 10×10 MHZ of spectrum blocks of the 800 MHZ Band for the sum of 67 million dollars from the National Communication Authority (NCA).The 800/700 MHZ Digital Dividend Bands (ITU-R decision just allocated band for use) deliver exceedingly great propagation characteristic for indoor and outdoor scenarios.

 4G-lte technology provides efficient and superior capability of offering quality services and allows an operator to differentiate among different classes of service.Technically the 10 MHz bandwidth provides a peak data rate of 100 Mbit/s to be shared by users in the cell with higher spectral efficiency and higher bitrates when Multiple Inputs Multiple Output (MIMO) technique is implemented.

A notable requirement for 4G service is to have a spectrum. Coming with a new air interface technology and a flat IP packet architecture, it affords existing legacy operators the opportunity to leverage on their existing infrastructure to provide trendy technology. A mobile network operator can deploy 4G-LTE using different deployment strategies.

It has been a natural occurrence for the world to migrate towards 4GLTE due to the great works that Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) did to conquer the digital cellular market mainly due to the performance of their GSM/UMTS/HSPA platform receiving global usage.

Whilst the conversation in our part of the world has been about going 4G LTE Light, the dimension is maturing in the advanced world towards a “true“ internet, LTE–Advance, the standard   described as  IMT-Advanced and is not ending there.

The world is running at a faster speed in terms of wireless ecosystem development. The recent WorldRadiocommunication Conference (WRC) which was held in November 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland gave thumps up to the Fifth Generation (5G) technology, International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) 2020. This will very soon be engaging our attention, too.

 

The writer is a telecom Engineer. Can be reached at [email protected]