Safaricom recently launched LTE Advanced Network in Kenya. The operator intends to roll out the 4G services in Nairobi as well as Mombasa. The company subsequently will scale up coverage to other major towns during the course of the year 2015. According to Safaricom, the LTE Advanced Network will offer up speeds of up to 100Mbps and alongside its network deployment, Safaricom will offer affordable internet-enabled devices through leveraging the relationships it has with global manufacturers.

Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore, stated that: “Safaricom is keen to supply affordable 4G devices such as phones, routers and modems to the market, with a sub KES 9,000 phone planned for early next year. The low cost devices will supplement the already available iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Huawei P7 smartphones, along with 4G modems available in Safaricom shops with a free 4GB data bundle.

With regard to Telecom Paper, Safaricom claims the widest network coverage in the country, with over 3,200 base stations, nearly half of which are 3G-enabled. Safaricom was the first operator in Kenya to roll out mobile data in 2003 on the 2G platform, from which later the company became the first to launch its 3G platform in 2008. The Vodafone subsidiary is the first to launch LTE in the country, skipping the initial phase of the technology to progress directly to LTE Advanced.

I know that you are probably wondering what LTE stands for, well, it means Long Term Evolution, so 4G-LTE is referred to as Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution. LTE is just a fancy way of saying increased network capacity. But, as I earlier said, Safaricom jumped over the 4G network standard to directly introduce 4G-LTE; what’s the difference you might ask? Well, both 4G and 4G LTE refer to networking standards that are starting to replace the older 3G data networks used by wireless carriers, but they all use different technology. 4G LTE is the most advanced in terms of speed. The general claim is that 4G LTE networks can download data at speeds between 5 and 12 megabits per second — enough for smooth streaming for live video and better response times for online multiplayer games. However, data-transfer speeds from the network to mobile devices like Smartphones and tablets vary due to factors like the carrier and coverage area.

Theoretically, LTE can be up to ten times faster than 3G. In practice, the actual network speed will vary based on network load and signal strength. Even if LTE does not meet its theoretical speed, it is still much faster than 3G. Activities that require large amounts of data, such as streaming movies, work very well on an LTE network. If you plan to perform a lot of data-hungry activities or simply want the best performance when surfing the Internet, you should really plan on buying a Smartphone (Safaricom wants to provide you with such devices at affordable prices that does this) that supports LTE. Comparatively, the realistic download speeds for 4G networks can range anywhere from 3 to 8 megabits per second, depending on congestion, the wireless carrier and the specific technology the company has used for its data network. The older 3G networks can typically download data around 800 to 950 kilobits per second. Notably, while 4G LTE speeds are impressive, there is a downside. 4G LTE networks are still under construction in many places and coverage is not available all over the country yet, especially that in some places in Kenya, the idea of network coverage is a myth!

If you own a Smartphone, you undoubtedly have heard the terms 3G, 4G, and LTE. Cellular providers such as Safaricom and Airtel continuously advertise they have biggest or fastest 3G network or LTE network (in case of Safaricom). It’s difficult to understand how each company can make those claims. However, when buying a new Smartphone, it is important to understand the difference. The type of data network can directly impact the performance of your Smartphone. 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. Normally, if a cellular provider describes a 4G network without mentioning LTE, they are probably talking about a High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) network. The HSPA network is a faster version of the 3G GSM network. While not as fast as an LTE network, it is still faster than a 3G network. Since LTE is still relatively new, the cellular providers haven’t fully built out their LTE networks yet. Be careful when looking at the network coverage maps on the providers’ websites. Some companies claim to have broad nationwide 4G coverage.  They may really be taking about HSPA coverage and not LTE coverage.

Note to you my reader: When buying a new Smartphone, don’t be fooled by all the marketing hype about 4G and LTE networks. Understand the different network technologies available and try using the Internet on the Smartphone before you buy. The LTE technology provides the fastest cellular data network available and the speed difference between LTE, 4G (HSPA), and 3G can be quite distinguishable.

Test done on Safaricom 4G, In WestLands area
Test done on Safaricom 4G, In WestLands area

Point of Fact: In June 2013, Qualcomm Technologies powered the world’s first LTE Advanced carrier aggregation launch using industry-leading Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 800 processor, integrated with the third-generation Qualcomm® Gobi™ modem. As a first step, the launch supported aggregation of two 10 MHz carriers enabling peak data rates of 150 Mbps. Safaricom plans to provide up to 100Mbps as earlier stated in the outset, not sure what aggregation it will carry, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would say between the figures of 1-10MHz. Do not be dismayed; carrier aggregation only refers to increased bandwidth (so you don’t have to climb trees and what-not to get better reception) and the subsequent increase in bitrate, which according to Safaricom will cover speeds up to 100Mbps. Picture it this way, you have a 14-seater matatu with a speed limit of 80mph and a fifty-seater with a speed limit of 150mph, which has more capacity to accommodate more people at faster speed? You guessed it right. LTE pretty much, at the risk of oversimplifying, can be viewed as such-it accommodates more folk and increases the speed.


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