Vodacom has surprised the market by launching commercial fourth-generation (4G) services based on long-term evolution (LTE) technology. The service is available immediately in selected parts of Johannesburg, with other cities to follow in the "near future".
The company's rivals, MTN, Cell C and 8ta, are all racing to launch 4G services. MTN and Cell C have both said they'll launch commercial 4G services this year. 8ta will run a trial between November and January, with a commercial launch to follow early in the new year. MTN has said it wants as many as 500 sites live before it launches commercially.
The LTE service will initially be accessible from about 70 base stations in Johannesburg. A coverage map is available at Vodacom's website. "Further announcements will be made with respect to the network roll-out plans in due course," a statement from the service provider said.
"Vodacom was the first network in [South Africa] to test LTE more than two years ago, and since then we've been busy upgrading base stations and our fibre-optic transmission network in preparation for today," chief executive Shameel Joosub said.
Contract customers with LTE-capable devices can activate 4G services by contacting Vodacom. LTE devices will go on sale in "selected" Vodacom outlets by the end of October, with priority going to existing customers of the operator. Data costs are the same as they are for 3G services.
"LTE devices are in short supply worldwide, but thanks to [parent company] Vodafone's global purchasing power we're confident that Vodacom will have the best possible selection in stores in the very near future," Joosub said.
To offer LTE, Vodacom has been forced to "refarm" or reallocate some of its existing radio frequency spectrum allocation, meaning it will have to be careful to ensure it doesn't affect the quality of its network to 2G users. "To unlock the full potential of this technology … we still need additional spectrum to be released by [the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa]." – TechCentral