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Smile technologies expanding into Africa

SMILE Technologies is making inroads in Africa with the deployment of its LTE or 4G wireless network, while it awaits clarity on the radio spectrum frequency in South Africa.

Founded back in 2007 by businesswoman Irene Charnley, SA-based Smile’s objective is to become the broadband provider of choice for super-fast data in each of its markets namely Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda and soon the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The network enables untra-high-speed internet access with connection speed man times higher than the older 3G network, translating into faster downloads and stutter-free video.

Ms. Charley (a former executive at MTN), says there is a huge opportunity as more than 60-million internet users in its three-country market have access to 3G networks.

“The opportunity is to move them up (to LTE) to give them far better experience,” she said.
SMILE sees potential customers at 300 million in its first four countries.

Just last week, Smile raised about $365 million in funding. This will accelerate its network rollout on the continent and help to achieve national coverage in the markets where it operates. Smile competes with big mobile operators such as Vodacom in Tanzania, and MTN in Uganda and Nigeria.

Ms Charnley, however, sees Smile being complimentary to existing operators. “We always position ourselves as complimentary to other operations. We don’t don’t go head on, we just compliment what they are doing,” she says.

According to Ms Charnley, the company is in talks with a number of content providers.

“Our philosophy is to work with anyone who can add value. We need to have an impact across the continent,” she says.

AfricaCom expects LTE users to grow to 318 million by 2019 from the current 3 million users. It says LTE accounts for only 1% of mobile usage on the continent.

Smile has also set its sight on South Africa. Mobile network operators and other interested companies have been waiting for the allocation of the radio frequency spectrum to enable them to accelerate the LTE network rollout.

The availability of the spectrum is subject to the migration from analogue TV broadcasting to digital, which is definitely lacking. When the migration is complete, the spectrum for mobile-related services will be released.

By the time such spectrum is made available to companies, Smile aims to be far ahead with its LTE network coverage across the continent.

“While we wait for that, we are extending broadband in other countries, making us the most experienced operator,” says Ms Charnley.

Lucky Masilela, chairman of the SA Communications Forum, says the impact of the delay in allocating spectrum is being felt not only in the telecommunications industry but throughout the continent.

The government has set a target of creating 5-million jobs and reducing unemployment from 25% to 15% by 2020.

Mr Masilela claims that broadband has the potential to bring significant benefits across the whole economy.

“In many countries, the internet has become the fastest driver of economic growth, and SA is no exception,” he says.

Mr Masilela says the lack of access to spectrum, among other things, hurts operators’ ability to reduce the costs of communication, which would encourage access to information and knowledge networks for personal, community and national growth.