Is MTN’s new wireless broadband offering the real deal for Africa?

Is MTN’s new wireless broadband offering the real deal for Africa?

There’s been a lot of excitement in the South African technology and consumer press about a new approach to broadband offered by operator MTN. It’s the Unlimited Air Fibre product supplied by a company called Supersonic, an uncapped wireless broadband solution that promises to offer fibre-like performance at affordable prices.

According to South African technology website MyBroadband, Unlimited Air Fibre packages will be available on a month-to-month basis, with no upfront fees. Starting at R399 (around $26.64) per month, customers will be able to get a constant-bitrate connection starting at 5Mbps and going all the way up to 100Mbps.

Unlimited Air Fibre will run on the Gigabit 1 (G1) radio equipment system, which was designed by Tarana Wireless. Tarana describes G1 as the world’s lowest-cost suburban and rural gigabit broadband system, delivering gigabit speeds over non-line-of-sight connections at long range in unlicensed spectrum that are immune to interference and to what Tarana calls changes in the scene.

Supersonic, which describes itself as South Africa’s newest internet solution, says end users can enjoy superfast, seamless Wi-Fi, at fibre-like speeds, without having to rely on a fibre network operator to dig up the roads or hang fibre cables between street lamps. A technician is sent to a premises to do the installation.

Is there a catch? Well, MTN has apparently secured exclusivity for this product in Africa, so end users won't necessarily be able to shop around. And some areas may not be covered; would-be buyers will need to check this on a coverage map. Despite Tarana’s assurances, the use of unlicensed spectrum does beg questions about interference, but we are told that this will be handled by a highly efficient interference cancellation mechanism.

With a proposed footprint that includes suburbs in cities, secondary towns, peri-urban regions and townships, there seem to be no limits to the new system’s ambitions within South Africa, though it’s not clear when or if the service will be extended to other parts of the African continent.