Monday, 27 April 2015

Access launches first LTE voice data network in Malawi aimed at high-end niche customers, leaving CDMA for lower end customers

Access launches first LTE voice data network in Malawi aimed at high-end niche customers, leaving CDMA for lower end customers Access Communications has launched Malawi’s first LTE voice and data network using its valuable 800 MHz spectrum. It wants to develop a high-end product for its existing niche customers. Russell Southwood spoke to Faizal Okhai, CEO of Access about what he’s got planned.

Access launched its EVDO Rev A CDMA network in December 2009 and covered 4 Malawian cities. The licence was for fixed voice and data but the handsets allowed a significant coverage area from the base stations. Since its launch, it has gathered 48,000 subscribers which makes it much bigger than the average independent ISP but a niche player alongside the country’s mobile operators.

So why did he decide to go into LTE?”It’s getting difficult to get the CDMA handsets and the GSM standard has jumped ahead. We’re only getting 3 mbps and customers are demanding more. Everything’s going data centric – iPad, iPhone and so on – it's the only way to go and it’s a good way of using the CDMA frequencies.”

On frequencies, he’s in a strong position because he has a much coveted 800 MHz band allocation. At present the service is at “proof of concept” stage with one base station and still needs regulatory approval:”We’ve a meeting with the regulator and we’re not sure what the fees will be for the frequency (for the new proposed services.”

The initial roll-out is relatively small and he will decide later whether to scale up. With its one Nokia base station the coverage goes to about 80 kms but it’s patchy, both inside buildings and geographically. If it all works out, he’s planning 6 base stations in Blantyre and 4 in Lilongwe.

So what will he do about handsets?”It’s not going to be a mass market product with Malawi’s level of GDP”. Customers will buy handsets from existing dealers that will offer 4G handsets for all the usual international brands.

The LTE service will be like the existing CDMA service, the customer will be charged a certain amount per month for both a voice and data service, with both unlimited and defined voice and data packages.”

The average price point will be about US$50 per month with 10 plans available (ranging from US$10 to US$200 per month), four aimed at business and the rest at high-end individual users. These will be mainly pre-paid in advance but there will also be a scratch card bundle valid for 30 days with unlimited voice and 10GB of data. Read More...


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