MTN’s ISP, Supersonic, launches “AirFibre” as a rival to cabled network operators in South Africa


Mobile telecommunications giant MTN has just raised the bar high for competitors by launching Supersonic “AirFibre” in South Africa as an alternative to cabled fibre. The wireless internet service will use MTN’s existing reception network and will not require trenching for the laying of underground fibre optic cables, but will still compete on quality, the company says.

“We are breaking down the traditional barriers to entry that have denied many access to a modern, connected life,” says Calvin Collett, managing director of MTN SA’s ISP – Supersonic. “From Soweto to Swellendam, we believe that every household deserves the speed and benefits of fibre-like connectivity, and through AirFibre, we believe we can achieve this.”

According to MTN, Supersonic AirFibre will bring high-speed, inexpensive and uncapped connectivity solutions to areas in which traditional fibre

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installations are not available.

Built on unlicensed spectrum, the company says the solution was designed, built and is maintained by MTN’s technology team to deliver a network quality that is in line with MTN’s standards, at affordable rates.

Due to the current major lack of available spectrum, MTN has located unlicensed spectrum – a readily available resource – and combined it with innovative technology now available to effectively leverage open spectrum.

This is something that was previously not possible or stable, says MTN.

Telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) is set to auction the much-needed high-demand spectrum next month.

Operators have been waiting for this spectrum for over a decade in order for them to expand services like 5G, as well as to bring down mobile data prices. The fiscus will also get a boost from the planned auction.

However, the plans for the March auction are facing a threat as mobile operators – Telkom and MTN – have approached the courts to challenge ICASA on the process.

“Our Supersonic AirFibre offering is in line with our track record of optimising frequency bands. Previously, we have undertaken this approach through the allocation of repurposed bands for 2G mobile services (using GSM technology) as well as a new generation of mobile technologies, including third-generation (using UMTS) technology and fourth-generation (using LTE) technology,” says Collett.

MTN notes that among AirFibre’s advantages are that it can be speedily installed as no trenching is required, as is the case with traditional fibre. It adds that by subscribing to the service, customers will have access to the new technology that equals that of a full-fibre installation.

“With pricing set from a competitive R399 for 5Mbps Uncapped, AirFibre, which enables multiple users to connect through a single account using the WiFi router that comes as part of the package, is a boon for the ‘new normal’ where communities need to balance life in a pandemic. With schooling, entertainment and work all happening at home, AirFibre offers always-on reliable connectivity, an innovation that we hope will do its part to fuel our economy to bounce back to growth by bringing digital to all,” says Collett.

Supersonic AirFibre will be made available in areas where customers register their demand for the offering.

“This approach allows us to be flexible to our customers’ needs and gives us the freedom to deploy the solution in the areas that want and need it most,” Collett concludes.

All packages are uncapped and include installation costs and a Supersonic router. Launch prices are:

  • R399 for 5Mbps
  • R499 for 10Mbps
  • R599 for 20Mbps
  • R799 for 50Mbps
  • R999 for 100Mbps

Here’s how those prices from MTN’s fibre alternative compares to actual fibre services.AirFibre price comparisonISP price comparison

Comparisons are based on the cheapest ISP rates across three different FNOs – Openserve, Vumatel, and Octotel, which provide the widest national coverage – and do not include synchronous packages, so only download speeds are compared.

While the cost of Supersonic’s AirFibre is competitive across most speeds, fixed wireless solutions do have their drawbacks. Although MTN promises a coverage of more than 15km from the base station, receivers will need to be in the tower’s line of sight. Households surrounded by tall buildings, trees or hills which obscure the vision between the tower and the receiver, will likely be unsuitable candidates for AirFibre.

Additionally, adverse weather conditions, like rain or thick fog, can interrupt the connection between the receiver and the tower, leading to unstable internet speeds and downtime. 

While SuperSonic’s AirFibre technology exists and has already been successfully trialled, the ISP is calling for South Africans to log an interest request which will be used to gauge the demand in specific areas. This is the same approach used by FNOs to evaluate the feasibility of a location-based rollout.

“This approach allows us to be flexible to our customers’ needs and gives us the freedom to deploy the solution in the areas that want and need it most,” says Collett.

Once enough households in a particular area show interest in AirFibre, the coverage map will be updated, and technicians will be able to begin installations within a week of orders being placed.

Main Image: Naija Tech

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