Gambia’s Netpage makes it first across the line to launch 4G/LTE – Will make quality of service a priority

Top Story

The race to be the first to provide 4G in Gambia has gone to Netpage which has launched its service last week. Others were in the race but have not yet reached the finishing line. Russell Southwood spoke to Netpage’s CEO Simon Abraham about his ambitions for the new service.

In issue no 728 10th October 2014, we reported that I-Link had plans to launch an LTE service in Gambia in early 2015. It has been pipped at the post by the launch last week of Netpage’s service.

Abraham’s reasons for moving to LTE are several-fold:”We wanted to be able to give users a better experience. There’s high latency with the existing networks. With LTE it drops from 75 milliseconds to 20 milliseconds. There’s also been interference with our legacy network and we thought it would be better to transition than to try and fix it. Our trials have shown us much better performance. We can get speeds of up to 30 mbps.” Existing customers will be migrated at no cost.

It will provision each of its towers to handle 135 mbps and “we intend to offer much higher speeds than are currently available. It will cover the same areas as its current network and in the not-too-distant future look to expand to the more rural areas in the east of the country.

It currently covers Greater Banjul and out as far south as Brikama. It currently has 30 base stations but “we expect to double that by July 2016.” In terms of vendors, it is currently doing trials with Telrad and Airspan and is yet to decide which to go with.

As the first-mover, Netpage really does have the field to itself. I-Link has not yet implemented and none of the country’s mobile operators seem to have plans to roll out LTE. The key differentiator of the current service will be quality of service:”We want people to have a much better experience.”

Current subscriber habits are the fairly conventional uses of Facebook, email and Internet but there are already people on higher speeds who are streaming and using video conferencing.

Current market potential can be put into two (occasionally overlapping) categories: fixed and mobile. Abraham estimates that there no more than 4,000 fixed Internet subscribers and between 5-10,000 mobile Internet subscribers. He would like to get a significant proportion of users from both markets. It’s hard to get a figure for how many smartphone users there in the country.

There are three devices for accessing the service: a Max Egg (a Mi-Fi unit); Max Indoor and Max Outdoor:”We want most people to have the Max Outdoor unit as it provides the best service.”

In terms of monthly service prices, 256 Kbps is D2070 (US$47.47); 1 mbps is D2530 (US$58.02); 20 mbps is D18,040 (US$421.99). At these prices, high-speed, quality Internet will remain a niche product but hopefully over time prices will come down.

________________________________________________
Innovation in Africa is a fortnightly e-letter that covers: start-ups and investment; energy; ICT4D; 3D printing; and innovation in Africa and its cities. We have already produced 32 issues and these can be viewed here:

Essential reading for those interested in new start-ups and innovation that will change Africa. If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to info@balancingact-africa.com with Innovation in Africa in the title line. Some examples of past issues below:

3D Printing in Africa – A Slow Burn Movement with huge potential that has yet to find its growth path

Separating Hype from Reality in the Fizzy World of Africa Start-Ups – VC4Africa survey findings


Education entrepreneur Obinna Ukwuani, Exposure Robotics’ plans to launch the first African STEM secondary school in Nigeria

Adventures in Crowdfunding African start-ups – 2 picks and some lessons

Videos interviews to watch:
Christian Kamayou, MyAfricanStartUp on launching African Start-Up Forum to get start-ups investors

Africa Data Challenge Winner Jelena Aleksic on using Raspberry Pi's to analyse bioinformatics data

Fernando de Sousa, Microsoft on start-up barriers in Africa and good examples of African start-ups

Uche Iwuchukwu on the launch of Udala Media's SVoD platform for African and Caribbean Users

Teoman Buyan on Coca Cola's African social media and its free Wi-Fi cooler hot-spots

Mali: Renaud Gaudin, Jokko Labs on co-working, Viber, social media and how Malians use the Internet

Elizabeth Hensick Wood on Worldreader's large mobile reading community in Africa

Murali Shanmugavelan, MApp-IT on an Android app to collect evaluation data for projects in Africa

Sune Mushendwa, Mkito on adding an SMS music service to its downloads and its growth since launching