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Sentech and Radio Network Solutions have in principle agreed to collaborate to bring SuperCell high-capacity broadband solutions to South Africa.

Sentech is a state-owned communications infrastructure company that has historically focused on broadcasting signal distribution, and Radio Network Solutions (RNS) is an RF coverage specialist company based in Johannesburg.

RNS, as the regional distributor for Matsing LENS antennas, will supply the RF design, product and installation services to Sentech. 

Sentech and RNS seek to use this technology to deliver broadband to all areas of South Africa - especially underserved areas affected by the digital divide.

SuperCell coverage vs. conventional 1G/2G, 3G/4G coverage.

A drone view of SuperCell base station installed at 180m of broadcast tower

 SuperCell capabilities are defined by two key technical features:

1. Wide coverage - a minimum of 5x coverage of macro-cell (above 40Km). This feature contributes to substantial reduction in CAPEX compared to macro-cell solution in the same geographic area.

2. High-order sectorisation for high capacity (about 36 azimuthal sectors from a single location). Broadband capacity offered from SuperCell must equate to or be better than MiMo solutions deployed in urban areas.

Bridging the digital divide

According to GSMA’s most recent data, there are still 600 million people globally living outside of areas covered by mobile broadband networks, and the majority of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Some of the contributing factors to this problem are low population density and very low average revenue per user (ARPU) due to low population density - especially in rural areas. 

Therefore, to address these contributing factors, solutions must be able to meet the two key technical features of SuperCell, which are wide coverage and high-order sectorisation.

Testing of the SuperCell technology found the following:

1. Pathloss decreases by 6 dB when site height is doubled, implying longer ranges can be achieved with increase in transmitter site height. 

2. Azimuth spread decreases with increase in tower height, implying that additional sectors can be added when height of site is increased, adding more capacity. The results are shown in the chart below.

Pathloss vs. tower height

Azimuth spread vs. tower height

The testing was conducted using LTE band 41 (2500MHz, 20 MHz channel) a downlink throughput of 6 Mbps (50th percentile) and 7.8 Mbps (90th percentile), and an uplink throughput of 1 Mbps (50th percentile) and 1.2 Mbps (90th percentile) with a Samsung S7 at a range of 40 kilometres. 

Inter-sector handover also worked seamlessly during testing. The antenna system used to achieve high-order sectorisation and high gain was a Luneburg Lens antenna. Combination of high broadcast towers and Luneburg Lens antennas produce LTE broadband capacity better or equal to broadband enjoyed in urban areas.

SuperCell(SC) coverage / Macro-cell(MC) coverage / LTE signal levels comparison between SC vs. MC

Expected benefits of SuperCell deployments in South Africa.

Due to wide coverage using broadcasting high towers, we predict that there will be a strong universal coverage achievement using this technology. This makes it suitable for rural areas.

Rural Schools:

  • Every child in rural area schools can access high speed internet connection on his/her smart phone.
  • School children anywhere in the country can join remote class lessons irrespective of their location within the republic of South Africa.
  • Group classes through remote access platforms can be used to supplement lack of teaching staff for critical subjects such as mathematics and physical science.
  • Rural area school children can obtain learning assistance from tutors from all over the world. 

Rural hospitals and clinics:

  • All hospitals and clinics will be connected by high-speed data system for their day-day operations.
  • Telemedicine operations can now be available for all medical facilities including the ones in rural areas.
  • All key personnel working at these institutions can be contactable during working hours and after hours because all user devices required are smart phones.

Security Services:

South Africa as a country has some security weakness which can be listed as follows:

  • During Covid-19 lockdowns, over 3000 schools were vandalized.
  • Kilometres of railway lines were stolen.
  • Mobile operators lost millions of Rands in battery theft.
  • Porous borders.
  • Rhino population decreased to less than 30% over the last 10 years.
  • Although CCTV cameras in cities are deployed, there is no real-time response mechanism to crime activities detected from these cameras. 

Nokia and other technology leaders have been experimenting using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones to solve all the above security weaknesses. 

However, critical for successful UAV services is rock-solid network connectivity from superior connectivity offered by 4G or 5G networks.

SuperCell solution will provide very cheap, high capacity, quick to deploy, rock solid 4G network everywhere in the country so that UAV can be controlled and managed everywhere they go.

450 MHz spectrum for Public Protection and Disaster Recovery (PPDR):

South Africa, in line with other countries internationally, identified IMT450 band for PPDR services. However, this band in SA is heavily used by certain state-owned entities, which will need to be migrated before this band becomes available. 

Although channel size that can be made available is only 5 MHz, key interest in this band is potential area of coverage which is estimated to be between 8 and 12 km in radius.

SuperCell, already is achieving more that double the maximum expected coverage range of IMT450 band in frequency bands as high as 2.5 GHz and it is where there is plenty of available spectrum. 

It makes sense to include the PPDR services into the SuperCell solution for better cell range and capacity.

Fast deployment

Collaboration between Sentech and RNS is based on Sentech being the owner of the required high towers and RNS being the sole agent for Luneburg Lens antennas in Africa from OEM, Matsing. 

RNS has deployed these antennas to a number of customers already and these deployments are for high-capacity requirements only.

Because South Africa is already covered by broadcast services from Sentech high towers, using the same infrastructure for high-capacity broadband will result in the fastest broadband deployment this country has ever seen. 

It is estimated that such a network can take 6 months to a year to deploy because all requirements to establish a cell site are already in place, and site acquisition, access roads, tower and power are already taken care of.

Ultimately, Schools and healthcare facilities in rural areas will have equal connectivity with their counterparts in modern urban areas. 

Key advantage of SuperCell solution is that, accessing this high capacity only needs a normal smart phone whereas other means usually need proprietary user end equipment with cumbersome large antennas.    

Security services using the state of art technologies can be realized very quick to secure our infrastructure, game, borders, etc. 

PPDR services can as well be accommodated as plenty of capacity and required range is achieved.

Planning and design of the deployment is prepared as a basic for two operators sharing, but it is possible to accommodate up to four operators.  

Given that the Supercell concept can give national coverage with substantial capex savings for a single operator, the savings are further increased by the addition of sharing parties. 

The need for access to spectrum for these broadband services cannot be overemphasised. 

This spectrum must be allocated in part for use in deploying public sector services in education, health and security.


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