South Africa’s networks are ready and waiting for 5G spectrum
22 March 2019
5G technology is in the process of rolling out worldwide, and promises exponentially faster mobile Internet speeds.
Brands such as Samsung, Huawei, and LG have already released smartphones that support 5G, and ICASA has said it will proceed in allocating 5G spectrum despite the government’s retraction of the requisite amendments to the Electronic Communications Act.
However, the allocation of spectrum in South Africa has been a sore point for years, with South African networks repurposing their 3G spectrum to provide users with 4G connectivity.
A 5G spectrum auction has been slated for 2020, but given the government’s track record, the likelihood of this deadline being met is questionable.
Adequate spectrum is an important resource for mobile operators, and Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said it would allow mobile networks to cut mobile data prices in half.
While spectrum may be tight, South African networks have started showing off the possibilities that 5G provides.
Rain showcased its 5G capabilities, clocking speeds of up to 747Mbps, while Comsol and Samsung combined to launch a 5G network in Soweto that saw speeds peak at 1.75Gbps.
Speeds like these could become a widespread reality in South Africa if 5G is rolled out effectively in the country, and MyBroadband spoke with South Africa’s top networks about their progress in readying themselves for 5G locally.
MTN said that it needs spectrum before it can roll out 5G mobile Internet in the country.
However, MTN has been investing in expanding and enhancing its network to be 5G ready.
“We have conducted indoor and outdoor trials with 5G technology, but we don’t have the spectrum in order to roll out at scale,” said MTN SA’s executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan.
“In addition, the 5G device ecosystem is now starting to develop, so we envisage 5G devices and competitive device pricing to be mainstream by 2020.”
MTN believes that new mobile spectrum is critical in the sub-1GHz and the 3.5GHz bands, while it also encouraged 2.6GHz spectrum to be auctioned.
A Vodacom spokesperson said that the company is ready to implement 5G, and is waiting for spectrum to be made available so that it can begin this process.
“Vodacom’s network in South Africa is 5G ready, as demonstrated at Vodacom World in Midrand last year using a temporary spectrum licence,” said Vodacom.
“Given our extensive 4G population coverage and the close interworking between 5G and 4G networks, we are well positioned to deploy a 5G network in a meaningful way.”
Vodacom highlighted that 5G spectrum could be licensed immediately – specifically in the 3.5GHz band.
“This band is also the key band being targeted for mass 5G rollouts in many countries currently leading on wide-scale 5G deployments across the world,” said Vodacom.
“Licensing 5G spectrum now is key to ensuring that South Africa doesn’t get left behind in participating in the fourth industrial revolution and being at the forefront of new technologies as well as encouraging significant investment in the country.”
Rain CMO Khaya Dlanga said that Rain plans on rolling out 5G in the middle of 2019, and will cover Johannesburg and Cape Town to begin with.
Dlanga said there are two factors that will affect Rain’s implementation of 5G: “Our continued rollout of infrastructure and local availability of 5G-capable devices.”
“As far as legislation is concerned, we are fully compliant with our licence conditions,” added Dlanga.