Wednesday 17 June 2020

Zambia is working on making 3G and 4G, reliable and affordable

There are currently three national mobile operators in Zambia: MTN, Airtel and Zamtel.

The 3 major networks operate on following frequencies: 2G/GSM up to EDGE on 900 MHz, 3G/UMTS up to DC-HSPA on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) and 2600 MHz (B7). Due to the low quality of landlines, prepaid SIMs are for most Zambians the only way to get internet access.

 The operators continue to invest in 3G and LTE-based services, while the government also contracted Huawei to upgrade the state-owned mobile infrastructure for 5G services. The government’s Universal Access Fund has made measurable progress in delivering telecom services to underserved areas, particularly in its funding the GRZ Communication Tower project which will see 1,010 towers installed by the end of 2020.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

MTN is the largest network in Zambia with 42% of the market. For data they claim download speeds of up to 42 Mbps. MTN started with rolling out its 4G/LTE network on 1800 MHz (B3) in 2014 and is available in Lusaka and some other larger population areas in Zambia.

The Indian-based company Bharti-Airtel took over activities from Celtel and Zain and is now #2 with 40% market share in the country close behind MTN. Airtel is present in all the 72 districts of Zambia with 200 towers all carrying what they call a 3.75G network: coverage map.

Having initially introduced 4G/LTE services in the Copperbelt in 2017, Airtel Zambia official launched of its LTE network in the nation’s capital Lusaka.

Zamtel launched its GSM services in 2003 and is government-owned. It's the smallest operator with 16% of the market in Zambia and is reported to also be the least customer oriented.

They launched 4G/LTE in 2014 in Kitwe only on 2600 MHz (B7) and current coverage of 4G/LTE beyond Kitwe is not known as coverage maps are not available. The operator said it has deployed LTE sites in Kitwe, Chingola, Mufulira, Chambishi, Lufwanyama, Chililabombwe and Kalulushi, including the border town of Kasumbalesa.

Back in 2017, Zamtel launched 4.5G LTE-2300 network in the Copperbelt in its quest to improve communication services, pushing forward its technology vision by deploying state of the art, cutting edge 4.5G long term evolution communication. Their press release said:

"Zamtel, Government owned total telecommunications provider has officially launched its 4.5G LTE-2300 network coverage on the Copperbelt Province.

The network will enable Zamtel to offer its fixed network subscribers significantly higher data speeds, thereby enhancing customer experience on the Zamtel network.

The 4.5G LTE-2300 technology has been rolled out in Kitwe, Kalulushi, Chambishi, Chingola, Chililabombwe, Mufulira and Solwezi. The network solution will not only be advantageous to the company but to Zamtel customers as well, as customers will connect with a far more superior data experience from their homes or offices."

Right now, Zambia's priority is to improve the 3G & 4G coverage, and make mobile broadband reliable and affordable for everyone. It still has some way to go before jumping on the 5G ship.

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