Airbox is an unlimited wireless internet introduced by Emtel in June 2015. It is available in three different speed packages of 10Mbps, 20Mbps and 30Mbps and its coverage was quite limited at launch and restricted due to the requirement of LOS (Line Of Sight) from the BTS (Base Station) to the customer’s premises. This was due to the use of very high frequencies which have low penetration capability but high bandwidth capacity. The so called technology is Air by Globtel (http://www.globtel.si) which is a modified version of DOCSIS 3.0, but instead of using coaxial cable for transmission, data is transmitted over the air.
How good is Air by Globtel (FTTA)?
Days after the launch of Airbox, people all around Mauritius were praising Emtel for the introduction of an unlimited high speed internet. The only other high speed internet is FTTH by Mauritius Telecom which is unfortunately capped at 75GB for 10Mbps, 300GB for 20Mbps and 500GB for 30Mbps. The data cap for 20Mbps and 30Mbps are not mentioned on company’s website but the data caps can been seen at (https://internetaccount.orange.mu) for those subscribed to 20Mbps and 30Mbps packages.
After the Airbox craze, it all started to tumble down, basically free falling. People were complaining all over Facebook of awful speed and intermittent high latency to gaming servers. However the speed issue does not seem to affect every subscribers as seen at (http://testmy.net/host-history/emtel_limited) while the high latency issue can be mostly attributed to the use of DOCSIS which was never meant to be used for transmission over the air.
But why Air by Globtel? During the recent years, there has been a major leaps in Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP) due to the availability of reliable and cheap technology to distribute internet to customers wirelessly without compromising on speed or latency. Some of the technologies are Cambium PMP450m, Ubiquiti AirMax, BaiCells LTE and custom solution by Ericsson as used by Australia NBN Fixed Wireless. Among all these proven network solutions used by many WISPs around the world, WHY AIR by GLOBTEL? WHY and WHY??? Through a quick look at their website, the technology is not actively being developed and has been deployed to very few countries with low speed internet packages.
Now , one and a half year later after the launch of Airbox, Air by Globtel technology has not been deployed all around the island of Mauritius, there are still five base stations with the one at Pointe Aux Canonniers relocated to the east region. So what can we learn from this? The technology was most likely not up to their expectations.
Enter Airbox LTE.
On the 30 January 2017 during a press meet, Emtel announced the expansion of Airbox using the 4G LTE technology rather than using Air by Globtel (FTTA). The service is available in all region of Mauritius. However only the 10Mbps package can be had using 4G LTE for now and the modem supplied is the Huawei B315 with a single external antenna. It should be noted that deployment of LTE is very expensive as compared to the other technologies mentioned above, but for Emtel, the use of LTE technology actually saves cost as it makes use of existing infrastructure currently being used for mobile data.
Latency over LTE has also been known to be quite constant with little fluctuations, this would be ideal for gamers although latency to south east asia is very high since Emtel does not peer or buy transit from asia. (http://bgp.he.net/AS30999#_peers), but big praise to Emtel for replacing Cogent with TeliaSonera.
However with the launch of LTE-A in many developing and developed countries, why didn’t Emtel take this opportunity to do same? This would have been the ideal replacement for the whole Air by Globtel network, with the ability to offer both 20Mbps and 30Mbps packages over LTE-A.
Now a question which many may have asked themselves, will the speed suffer over time? Only time will tell. Not overselling and keeping track of the number of users connected to each LTE BTS is critical for the future success of Airbox LTE.
On another note, ditching FTTA for 4G LTE was the best decision ever made, there are still major improvements such as replacing the indoor modem with an outdoor roof mounted one for better stability and better signal reception and also improving international connectivity is key. Keeping up to date with the latest tech innovations is also a major factor for Emtel, keeping in mind that their direct competitor can double their speed plans with a flip of a switch.
On a final note, will MTML chime in? MTML has deployed very few LTE base stations in 2015 with coverage in Port Louis and Plaine Wilhems, but since the end of 2016 (http://defimedia.info/chili-investit-rs-100-m-pour-etendre-son-reseau-4g), the real deployment of LTE in order to cover the whole island has started and it is estimated to be complete by the end of February 2017. MTML provides mobile services under the ChiLi branding and the latter has been very aggressive in terms of pricing and marketing in 2016. The year of 2017 looks very promising for them, only time will tell who will lead the follower.