But you’re not going to see 42mbps downloads anytime soon, despite the speed arms race…
It’s not often that you’ll find a first in Port Elizabeth. In fact, you probably won’t find a “second” or “third” in the windy city. Feisty Cell C, however, used PE as its testing bed and launch city for its next-generation 900Mhz 21.6mbps HSPA+ network eight months ago.
At the time CEO Lars Reichelt promised it would be increasing the speed of the network within six-seven months. In PE Tuesday night, Reichelt admitted that it was “one month later” than hoped for.
Building out the original 4GS network (for great speed, remember!) was no mean feat. Within eight months, Cell C has 2 500 new generation sites on air, of which 1 550 are in commercial use. It has also deployed 2 500km of fibre, together with partners Dark Fibre Africa and Neotel.
He admitted that the jump from 21.6mbps to 42mbps hadn’t been easy technically. In fact, there were some “major” issues. PR/media teams suggested to Reichelt in recent days that it postpone the April 19 launch. But he wanted none of it.
Not to be undone, Vodacom announced that it had “doubled” the speed of its network on Saturday. It’s enabled more than 1 000 base stations with the 43.2mbps technology (and yes, there is a technical reason why Vodacom and Cell C are labelling the same thing with different numbers!).
On Saturday, Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys said that the group “actually had the technology up and running for some time but we wanted to have a critical mass of at least 1 000 base stations before flipping the switch to allow consumers access at up to double the speed”.
But what does 42/43.2mbps mean?
The short answer: you’re not going to experience downloads of 30, 35, 40mbps (four times faster than the fastest ADSL product Telkom offers). There’s an outside chance you might be lucky, if you’re perched on the base station, right next to the tower on a clear day.
Even if you get close to these insane speeds, there’s not much you can do with it today.
“I don't know how quickly you can type an e-mail,” jested Reichelt.
“Do we need 42mbps? No we don't.”
What 42mbps means is greater capacity, and better speed for everyone.
No more buffering on YouTube (or CatTube as Reichelt jokingly calls it). Faster web browsing – services like Google Instant actually work properly.
There are no jokes about how much more data we’re consuming.
An iPhone generates 24 times more data traffic than average. A tablet (like an iPad) is responsible for 122 times the traffic, and a laptop 515 times.
Reichelt is serious when he quotes Cisco as saying that “mobile data going to explode”.
Globally, mobile data transfer (bandwidth used) is expected to grow at a 92% compound annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015. The Middle East and Africa will grow the fastest – at 129% year-on-year.
With this extra traffic comes faster data speeds. These are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 83%.
So it’s not about speeds that you and I can hardly comprehend.
It’s about providing a solid 5mbps service (on average) to users in South Africa. And then it’s about providing a solid 8mbps (on average) experience, and then 10mbps, and so on.
Because of our particular context, there are three to five times more users whose primary access to the internet is mobile (USB modems/dongles or tethered smartphones).
Let’s hope Cell C completes its testing in PE and then rolls out the faster service around the country. MTN has been suspiciously quiet.
But the moves we’ve seen in the past month mean one thing: mobile internet is getting faster, more predictable, and (perhaps most importantly) cheaper.
Not going to argue with that!
PS: Speedtests using the same modems and equipment comparing Cell C and Vodacom saw differing results. Cell C won out right and was decidely faster when testing to a neutral server located in South Africa. When tests to international servers were run, Vodacom edged out Cell C, and performance was far lower than that evidenced in the local tests.