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LTE In Africa: Deployments Ramping Up But Affordability Remains Low

The following post is part of our Media & Communications (SNL Kagan) solutions. To learn more about deployed and planned LTE service launches in Africa, please request a call.

LTE network rollouts are on the rise in Africa, with a total of 77 service launches as of October 2016 in 32 countries across the continent, and an additional 50 launches expected in the near future.

Africa's large population, vast landmass, lack of fixed networks and, consequently, surging mobile data usage, are driving 4G/LTE network rollouts, with wireless providers seeking to offer users faster and more reliable connectivity and to reap a first-mover advantage.

Movicel launched one of Africa's first LTE networks in Angola in April 2012. The carrier rolled out services in the oil-producing Cabina province, offering mobile broadband services with download speeds of up to 100 Mbps. Movicel partnered with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., deploying an LTE FDD 1800 MHz network. With Movicel, LTE dongles — which function as portable USB computer modems — cost between $70 and $100. Also available, Apple Inc.'s iPhone 6 costs a steep $1,056. Data charges are also relatively high at 20 cents per MB. The service, like most other LTE services in Africa, is still aimed at elites.

Since 2012, the number of LTE network rollouts has grown, peaking in 2015 with 24 deployments. As of October 2016, the continent has seen 18 deployments so far this year. At least seven more service launches are anticipated by the end of the year, making 2016 likely to match 2015's level of activity, or even to eclipse it.

Number of service launches per year

Nigeria, Africa's largest country by population, has the highest number of LTE service providers, at 10, with South Africa and Tanzania following with six providers each. Three more LTE networks are being deployed or planned in Nigeria, which is likely to continue leading the continent in the number of service providers offering LTE services.

Number of LTE service providers by country

Voice over LTE (VoLTE), an LTE standard using the wireless data connection for voice communication, has been deployed in six countries (Algeria, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda), with a trial under way in Angola.

Both local wireless companies and subsidiaries of regional and global telecom groups are deploying LTE networks in the region. Among them, India's Airtel Group provides LTE services in Rwanda, Seychelles and Gabon, while France-based Orange Group has LTE operations in Botswana, Mauritius and Tunisia. South Africa-based MTN Group offers services in seven countries across Africa. U.K.-based Vodafone Group owns operators offering LTE in four countries.

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Some LTE networks in Africa are aimed exclusively at data users. For example, Smile Telecom, which has networks in Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria, offers a data-only service. The reason for this is largely historical, given Smile's earlier attempt to launch WiMAX networks in Uganda and Tanzania. WiMAX mobile handsets never took off, so neither did Smile's networks. The operator converted them into LTE networks between 2012 and 2014. Gambia's Netpage and Nigeria's Swift Networks are also among operators that converted WiMAX networks into LTE.

In the near term, we expect 50 launches of LTE networks and services across 23 markets. The list of pending launches includes operators that are in the process of deploying LTE networks, are trialing services, have secured LTE licenses, or have announced intentions to offer LTE services.

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