Which of the operators in Nigeria: Ntel, Glo Mobile, InterC (rebirth of Intercellular CDMA operator), MTN Visafone, iPNX, MTN HyNet, Smile, Spectranet and Swift is truly walking the talk on 4G LTE offering in the data market? In this report Olubayo Abiodun sieves through the data price wars, fables, marketing gimmicks and realities in the technology terrain to help consumers appreciate the needful before opting for a carrier claiming to be 4G LTE ready.
THERE is a new frontier of war among the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Nigeria. This battle field is ‘speed’ and the gladiators are ntel, MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat. The operators are setting new goals in order to keep improving and reconstructing the dwindling fortunes in the mobile voice market which has hit the glut. With the stiff competition for revenue in the voice market which peaked more than five years ago and which continued on a southward trend, the MNOs have sought new opportunities in the data market which offers brighter revenue prospects because of its growth potentials and avalanche of devices which are data hungry.
4G LTE is the new honey pot that MNOs are now using to revive their rivalry for customers’ uptakes and the expansion of their bottom-line. But is the claim of the 4G LTE offering by the operators real or imagined? Is it just another rat-race for patronage by unsuspecting and naïve subscribers? How do the growing tribes of digital citizens migrate to the 4G LTE network now trending in the data ecosystem in Nigeria? NATCOM trading as Ntel has no legacy issues to deal with like MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat. Ntel simply requires a prospective customer to acquire a prescribed device to use its 4G LTE enabled SIM. Glo subscribers with 4G-ready devices and SIMs can subscribe to the LTE plans by simply dialing *777#. With that command a willing Glo subscriber will be upgraded beyond 3.5G mobile technology. Similarly, MTN subscribers are required to text “4G” to 131to confirm the readiness of the device. The Corporate Services Executive of MTN, Amina Oyagbola, said that interested subscribers could upgrade their SIMs to U-SIMs to enable them enjoy the 4G service. Just like the pricing model adopted by Glo, Oyagbola said that switching to the 4G LTE service would not attract additional tariffs for MTN subscribers.
Curiously, the consumers in Nigeria, just like its ilk across the continent where mobile technology is currently trending, are getting confused by the antics of the operators who use varying marketing gymnastics to sell products to the unsuspecting community in the mobile ecosphere. By sheer advertising and marketing sophistry, products are pushed to the customers who may not fully appreciate the complexities of the service handed out to him.
Before the onset of 4G LTE in the Nigeria, operators have at various times sold services on the platform of 1G, 2G and 3G. Today, the sing-song among the operator is the capacity to deliver 4G LTE. Technically rooted, the G in 2G, 3G and 4G stands for Generation, known as 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation of wireless technology. The newer generation is faster, more secure and more reliable that the earlier standards like 1G offered in analog technology (AMPS). But since 2G came on board, signals are transmitted in digital format in GSM and CDMA technologies.
In the beginning it was easier because the analog 1G offered simple telephony service without data. Data entered the mix when the 2G technology was introduced by the GSM operators to delivered digital signal and offered up to 250Kbps speed on feature phone devices. This supports voice, text and data services. The complexity of the service was heightened when 3G was introduced and this also led to the introduction of smart devices enjoying at least 200Kbps up to 3Mbps speed. 3G introduced faster data transfer rates and it is the first to enable video calls. LTE is an evolution of UMTS (3G) and offers downlink peak rates of at least 100 Mbps, an uplink of at least 50 Mbps. By its configuration 4G mobile technology should have peak download speed for 100 Mbps for high mobility communication and 1 Gbit/s for low mobility communication. Experts insist that LTE clearly does not meet this specification. For this reason, LTE is also called pre-4G or 3.9G mobile technology. However ITU has allowed LTE to be described as 4G. The next generation of LTE, known as LTE-Advanced is configured to fully comply with the 4G standard. LTE-Advanced is still under-development. LTE can be deployed by all types of networks GSM, GPRS/EDGE, WCDMA, HSDPA, CDMA, and WiMAX. When the 4G configuration surfaced in the market, the speed structure could deliver up to 100Mbps for mobile access, and up to 1Gbps for wireless access. 4G provides ultra-broadband Internet access for mobile devices. Most wireless carriers offering HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) at up to 6Mbps are claiming that they offer 4G network. Meanwhile, it is just a faster version of 3G GSM network which is not as fast as an LTE network, but still faster than a 3G network.
By its architectural design, LTE is said to be about ten times faster than 3G. In true experience, however, the performance is dependent on a number of variables. The actual network speed will be impacted by network load and signal strength. No matter the circumstances, the LTE speed is still much faster than 3G. What stands LTE out from other platform is that apps that require large amounts of data, such as streaming movies, do exceedingly well on an LTE network. Data hungry functions will also do well when the LTE smart device is used on an LTE network all other things being equal.
In Nigeria, the battle ground for market share among the operators for the data market is currently at the 4G LTE. The LTE (Long Term Evolution) is one of the two standards offered within 4G, and WiMax is the second leg. The specification calls for downlink speed of up to 300Mbps and uplink speed of up to 75Mbps. Apart from NATCOM operating as ntel; the newest brand in the MNO category, which claims to be offering Advanced 4G LTE network, other operators: MTN, Glo, Etisalat and Airtel are flexing muscle on the 4G LTE platform. Ntel and MTN have so far commenced commercial operations in Lagos and Abuja. Glo also confirmed that 4G LTE services were now launched on its network but only available in Benin, Eket, Jos, Warri, Yola and Zaria. Globacom’s Head of Corporate Sales, Kamaldeen Shonibare, said Lagos and other cities would follow soon. While Etisalat, on the other hand, is reportedly testing its 4G LTE network, it is curious to note that it is yet to obtain the enabling spectrum for the operation.
While most of the subscribers may be unwary of the high cost to the data service, the attractions are the 4G enabled video downloads, software downloads (including software updates for mobile phones), and faster video streaming, interactive TV, mobile TV, multi-player online gaming, and video on demand. With 4G LTE, the data hungry devices allow subscribers to watch HD movies online and listen to music real time. With the launch of 4G LTE by the MNOs, the reality of triple-play (Internet, TV & phone) has been emboldened in Nigeria. These and more are the bait for the customers. But how could any subscriber truly discern the claims of the operators who fondly use marketing and advertising tools for claims of having the biggest or fastest 4G network or LTE network?
Again, it is not enough to have a smart device which is a prerequisite for enjoying enhanced data speed for 3G, 4G, and LTE. In instances, when some of the subscribers to the different brand have subscribed to the 4G LTE service, most often they have been despondent on the quality experienced which is often less than the advertised high end features of the 4G LTE. What is actually shocking is the unabated claims by the operators on the capabilities of their networks to deliver seamless high speed performance. One of the key aspects of the engagement on high speed network, which operators are often silent about when selling their product/service is the impact on cost. Most often the operator will not tell their customers that higher speed means faster depletion of data. For subscribers, when buying a new smartphone, it is important to understand the difference on what each network can offer. The type of data network can directly impact the performance of your smartphone.
Once connected to a cellular provider’s network, the smartphone can communicate with the outside world to support features such as email, maps, and Internet browsing. Many of the smartphone apps rely on sending and receiving data across the network. When describing smartphone data networks, you commonly hear the terms 3G, 4G, and LTE. 3G is the oldest technology of the group. The key difference between them is the speed of the network. When selecting a smartphone, the older models may not support the newer data network technology. It is important to select a model that supports a data speed appropriate for your needs. The 3G network was the first technology with sufficient speed to provide a decent user experience on a smartphone. Some smartphones that used the older 2G EDGE technology experienced very slow data speeds and the user spent a lot of time waiting for data to load. The MNOs still run a bouquet of 2G, 3G, 3.5G, 4G and LTE. There are two competing 3G technologies currently being used: Global System for Mobiles (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM technology while Verizon and Sprint use the CDMA technology.
CCO MTN Mohammed Siddiqui said “we have embarked on aggressive optimization of our sites to beef up our capacity for 4G LTE,” and the Glo COO, Mr. Mohamed Jameel, almost expressed similar sentiments while stating that the 4G service have been deployed in over 100 sites in Lagos alone. According to him, If your current Glo 3G plus based on HSDPA is fast, Glo 4G will be even faster with LTE offering up to 10 times higher speed than HSDPA. Currently, Glo mobile offers high-speed 3.5G network in only a few cities with most cities still on EDGE.