Vodacom’s 5G network – The in-depth details

Vodacom’s 5G network is here to stay, regardless of what happens to the company’s current temporary spectrum allocation from ICASA.

The company made this statement when it spoke to MyBroadband about the launch of its 5G mobile network this week.

The network was launched in three cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town – and supports both mobile and fixed-wireless services.

It is currently available on 20 live 5G sites. 18 of which are in Gauteng, while two are in Cape Town.

Spectrum

In its launch announcement, Vodacom said it used temporary spectrum from ICASA to fast-track the launch of its 5G network.

As this spectrum is set to only be available to operators for the duration of the country’s state of disaster, this raised a question: What happens to the 5G network if the spectrum is taken back?

“Vodacom’s 5G service will still be live after the temporary spectrum licence has expired,” said Vodacom.

“At that point, Vodacom will roam entirely on Liquid Telecom’s 5G network once we no longer have access to temporary spectrum. The loss of temporary spectrum will neither impact customer experience nor our 5G rollout.”

Vodacom said following its conclusion of managed network services and roaming agreements with Liquid Telecom in December 2019, its current 5G network does share some infrastructure, which is owned by Vodacom, with the Liquid Telecom 5G network.

“The Vodacom and Liquid Telecom 5G networks are considered separate networks, which are controlled and operated by Vodacom and Liquid Telecom respectively.”

No impact on 4G performance

Importantly, Vodacom stated that the performance of its 4G network will not be impacted by the launch of its 5G network, as no 4G spectrum was re-farmed.

It confirmed it was using the 1 x 50MHz of temporary spectrum which was granted by ICASA for its 5G network.

“On the few sites where it is roaming on the Liquid Telecom network, Liquid Telecom has deployed the 1 x 56MHz permanent assignment and also the 1 x 4MHz temporary assignment, for a single 1 x 60MHz Liquid Telecom carrier,” said Vodacom.

In addition to using the new spectrum allocation, Vodacom installed new radios to support the 5G network and new frequency band.

“Sites with existing fibre were used – however, some of the existing transmission infrastructure needed to be upgraded to support higher speeds associated with 5G, such as optical transceivers and optical multiplexing equipment,” said Vodacom.

“The underlying 2G, 3G, and 4G sites were previously modernised to also support 5G activation on the same single RAN baseband equipment.”

5G performance

In terms of performance, Vodacom said at launch that, given enough spectrum, 5G will work at average speeds of between 150Mbps-200Mbps. Peak speeds will reach above 1Gbps.

“The speeds and latency will be determined by the coverage at the user’s location and the load on the network at a given point in time,” said Vodacom.

“Other factors that need to be taken into consideration include how far away you are from a mast, which spectrum is being used, and how many people around you are using 5G.”

Vodacom said that upload speeds will initially not be as good as download speeds, and can be expected to be between 10Mbps-20Mbps – depending on coverage.

“This is because the customer device has lower transmission power to communicate back to the base station, relative to a base station communicating to the customer device.”

“This is also combined with other elements such as the lower propagation characteristics of higher frequency bands such as 3.5GHz, which don’t travel as far as lower frequencies.”

Uplink performance will improve as newer devices support capabilities such as uplink and downlink decoupling, it added.

“5G latency is influenced by how far away the site is from the core network and speed test server. At the moment, 5G latencies will be very similar to 4G until new elements such as mobile edge computing and new capabilities like network slicing are introduced – and which are planned for the evolution of our 5G network,” added Vodacom.

Existing SIMs

The company stated that existing Vodacom SIMs can be used to access the 5G network, but will need to be provisioned first.

“Any Vodacom subscriber with a 5G device should already have been provisioned. All new devices will be provisioned through the sales channel onboarding process,” said Vodacom.

5G devices currently on offer from Vodacom include the Nokia FastMile 5G and Huawei 5G CPE Pro routers, and the LG V50 ThinQ 5G smartphone.

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Vodacom’s 5G network – The in-depth details