VoLTE in Africa Is a Work in Progress

Subscribe To Download This Insight

2Q 2015 | IN-3612

Thus far, it has been difficult to make a business case for VoLTE commercial deployment in Africa. But many of the advantages of VoLTE will contribute to a reduction in capital expenditure and operational expenses, due to the decline in total cost of ownership.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.

Current State of African VoLTE


Generally, when it comes to Voice over LTE (VoLTE), Africa may not have been the original intended market. After all, LTE deployment activity in the region is lacking. In comparison to the 64 commercial LTE services in Asia Pacific, there are only 32 commercial LTE services in Africa. Plus, coverage is low, with even lower penetration rate. Currently, LTE coverage of Africa is around 20%, concentrated chiefly in urban areas.

So far, VoLTE trials and deployments have been focused in Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. Africa’s niche 4G operator, Smile, is behind the trial in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, but ABI Research believes that a real commercial launch will most likely occur with Vodacom in South Africa. As the leading mobile operator in South Africa, Vodacom has invested in LTE technology since 2012, under the assistance of Nokia Networks. By the end of 2014, the operator had registered close to 700,000 LTE users. They have the critical mass required for commercial deployment as compared to Smile or ATM Mobilis, who is responsible for the VoLTE deployment in Algeria.

Challenges and Obstacles in the Deployment of VoLTE


Thus far, it has been difficult to make a business case for VoLTE commercial deployment in Africa. For one, it is hard to justify the significant upfront investment without massive adoptions, a very typical chicken and egg situation. Major African operators were still pouring investment into 2G and 3G network expansions and densification in 2014. Global Telecom in Algeria is expanding their investment in 3G network in 21 provinces. MTN has added 2,296 2G and 3,639 3G towers in South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Uganda. Airtel Africa and Tigo are both looking at the enhancement of 3G network transmission, coverage, and capacity instead of massive 4G deployment in their separate markets.

A mere 32 LTE commercial deployments mean VoLTE roaming will be a huge challenge in Africa. Of course, the partnership and collaboration between operators is still in its infancy. There have only been two international VoLTE roaming trials. In October 2014, China Mobile and KPN announced the first international VoLTE roaming trial. Subsequently in the following February, NTT DoCoMo, Korea Telecom, and Verizon Wireless completed VoLTE roaming trials between three different countries. This development will definitely take some time before reaching Africa.

Finally, due to its difference with circuit-based voice calling, VoLTE requires a different termination rate as compared to traditional voice. This may require the implementation of new operation and business support systems (OSS / BSS) or an upgrade to the existing one, which the African operators may be reluctant to take on.

If It Is So Difficult, Why Choose VoLTE?


However, as LTE has become the universal standard for 4G, VoLTE is the natural evolution for voice over circuit. There are plenty of advantages for VoLTE. Technically, VoLTE requires a shorter call setup time. It cuts the current time from seconds to milliseconds, as well as offering better quality of service. In addition, VoLTE offers noise suppression and echo cancellation capabilities.

At the same time, VoLTE allows the operators to use the same infrastructure for voice and data, with the common Evolved Packet Core, simplified radiofrequency (RF) front end, and single call continuity. The emergence of network virtualization and software-defined network has led to increasingly heterogeneous and layered, virtualized, software-defined, cloud-based, and self-optimizing wireless networks. This reduces the need for manual tests and many highly skilled RF engineers. ABI Research believes this will contribute to a reduction in capital expenditure and operational expenses, due to the decline in total cost of ownership.

The surge in the popularity of VoIP will also propel the adoption of VoLTE. Popular OTT applications, such as Skype, Apple’s Facetime, and most recently Whatsapp and Facebook (both are dominant among African mobile users), all have integrated VoIP as a feature to improve user experience. ABI Research expects this to be a catalyst for mobile operators to recognize the value and look at the development of VoIP and VoLTE as new forms of communication.