Nigerian mobile operators have struggled behind other African countries in the race to deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, a fourth generation mobile technology network that makes the speed of the current third generation (3G) technology, a child's play.
LTE provides high levels of spectral efficiency, network performance, high capacity and low latency. It is deployed on both GSM and CDMA technology paths.
While LTE networks have gone live in Angola, Namibia, Mauritius, South Africa, Ethiopia and Tanzania, Nigeria , the continent's largest mobile telecoms market is yet to introduce a single commercial LTE network, despite some operators claiming to have the capacity but lack regulatory approval. Smile Communications and Starcomms have the spectrum but are yet to deploy LTE networks.
Meanwhile, Globacom two years ago said it trialed LTE. Airtel Nigeria in December 2012 announced that that it had completed an LTE trial in Lagos with plans to conduct trials in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other cities. Airtel said data users during the trial experienced download speeds of between 32Mbps in non-ideal conditions and 37Mbps in ideal conditions, Airtel Nigeria said in a statement. Upload speeds were around 10.6Mbps.
Nigeria has struggled to release spectrum for 4G which would have allowed operators to deploy LTE due to the scarcity of the spectrum bands. Most of the spectrum that would have been used by global system for mobile communications (GSM) operators is being occupied by Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators.
Dr. Eugene Juwah, executive vice chairman, NCC at the end of 2012 said 2.3GigaHertz (GHz) and 2.6GHz band will be licenced to telecom operators. Last week, he said NCC will soon licence the remaining two slots 20MHz in the 2.3GHz frequency band time division duplex (TDD). NCC had in 2009 licenced three slots of 20MHz each to Mobitel, Spectranet and Multi-Links.
Mr. Steve Evans, CEO, Etisalat Nigeria said "What we would like to see is 4G spectrum which is up at 2.5GHz band of spectrum. The government should be working hard to release at least 100MHz of spectrum in that band. You have to give it in big chunks of spectrum to GSM operators so that they can really continue the good works they've been doing in terms of taking Nigeria forward into the next decade with a world-class broadband service," says Evans.
During a workshop for ICT media practitioners, Mrs. Funmi Omogbenigun, GM, Corporate Services, MTN Nigeria said "We are looking forward to the convergence and the migration path to 4G and LTE. We are channeling our resources to the join the rest of the world." She said the "The industry need more spectrum and the NCC is aware of that."
GSMA cautions that governments across the region must hasten to release frequency spectrum in the Digital Dividend (700-800MHz) and 2.6GHz bands as well as to liberalise existing licence agreements to allow the deployment of high-speed UMTS and LTE networks in the 900 and 1800MHz bands. LTE support spectrum channel bandwidths from 1.4 MHz to 20 MHz and can operate in both paired spectrum (in FDD mode) and unpaired spectrum (in TDD mode) delivering fast data speeds of up to 100Mbps in the downlink and 50Mbps in the uplink.