Cellular giant Vodacom dropped a bombshell last month by launching its LTE service.
Despite the relatively small coverage area initially, the announcement makes Vodacom the first network in South Africa to support the next-generation cellular standard.
There are plenty of reasons to look forward to LTE...
Stepping up a notch (or five)
Well, first of all, the standard is pretty fast, with real-world speed tests coming in at over 50Mbps.
Then there's the latency involved, or in other words, the time it takes for data to be transferred (as opposed to the amount of data being transferred).
The existing 3G technology tends to be very erratic (having a high latency), which isn't a huge problem for general browsing. However, people wanting to use Skype or other latency-reliant services won't have a great experience.
LTE, has a low latency however, with data travelling at extremely fast speeds compared to 3G. As a result, this makes it ideal for online gaming and Skype, where a few hundred milliseconds of lag will make a big difference.
So it stands to reason that the carrier is in the pound seats right now. However, there's more to winning this race than simply being first.
One of the biggest factors in getting LTE rolled out in all major areas is the availability of the all-important radio spectrum. After all, what's the point of having an LTE-capable mobile phone if you only get decent speeds in one tiny area?
This matter has been dawdled upon for ages, with the rollout of digital TV also being delayed due to Icasa's bungled approach.
Further hold-ups in the availability of spectrum mean that networks will utilise different frequencies – not ideal for device compatibility at all.
And... it's all gone
Arguably the biggest challenge surrounding LTE is the bandwidth needed, with an LTE connection chewing through close to 400MBs in a minute. Heck, in thirty seconds, you'll have used about 200MBs.
That wouldn't be a problem if there was a separate, cheaper pricing scheme...
Upon announcing its LTE network though, Vodacom confirmed that its data costs will be the same as HSPA+ connections. Now, a 2GB offering from Vodacom for R149 per month isn't ridiculously expensive, but you'll be guaranteed that it won't last for long. All it takes is for someone to click on a lengthy HD YouTube clip and that's your cap gone, as well as huge out-of-bundle charges.
In fact, Vodacom's data allowances aren't anywhere near as strict as MTN's, with 75MBs a month being laughable on 3G, let alone LTE.
The best solution (at least for consumers) is for networks to introduce an LTE price range, with higher data caps, for one. Or at the very least, increase the caps on existing 3G deals.
And once again, it's 8ta that seems to be leading the way in terms of data, if their LTE trial is anything to go by at least.
The firm has handed trial participants 50GBs of data per month, exponentially higher than that of its competitors.
Sure, 8ta has the benefit of a comparatively empty network, but it still puts other networks to shame. In fact, even its existing 10GBs offer for R199 is great value for money on an LTE plan.
South Africa's LTE landscape is still very much in its infancy, much like the rest of the world, but if one thing is certain, it's that the operators can't afford to sit on their hands as they did with their 3G offerings.