What MTN and Vodacom expect from 5G on new spectrum

Vodacom and MTN have very different perspectives on the impact of the recently-assigned permanent spectrum on their 5G networks in South Africa.

The latter does not expect any significant differences on its 5G network, while Vodacom says the new spectrum will allow it to provide higher speeds and new product and pricing options.

MTN’s executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, told MyBroadband that the radio frequencies they bought at auction are in the same bands as their temporary spectrum.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa assigned provisional spectrum to operators to help cope with increased demand on their networks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“MTN acquired spectrum in the same frequency bands it has been using as part of the temporary spectrum assignments, namely in 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands,” O’Sullivan said.

As a result, MTN doesn’t expect any impact on its network performance.

“5G speeds and latency will be the same as the current experience since we are deploying with the same frequency bands and same bandwidth as deployed with the temporary spectrum,” O’Sullivan said.

“Over time, we envisage that more spectrum will be re-farmed to 5G as the devices that support 5G on the network grow.”

Vodacom, on the other hand, told MyBroadband that the extra spectrum it acquired would let it deliver 5G services with higher throughputs.

“The additional spectrum acquired through the auction, specifically the contiguous 80 MHz in the 2600 MHz band, will allow Vodacom to deliver 5G services with even higher throughputs,” a spokesperson said.

“Vodacom has begun to upgrade its network to enable the use of this new spectrum. Once deployed, Vodacom 5G customers will experience even faster download speeds and will be exposed to new product and pricing options,” they added.

O’Sullivan explained that the permanent spectrum would help MTN continue its 5G network rollout, adding that it is targeting 25% population coverage by the end of 2022.

Jacqui O'Sullivan
MTN SA spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan

“MTN currently has over 1,000 active 5G sites across the country, and in order to bring the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to more people in an efficient and cost-effective way, the target is to have at least 25% of the population covered by end 2022,” she said.

According to O’Sullivan, MTN’s 5G network offers its customers higher speeds, lower latency, and increased reliability.

O’Sullivan also explained that the entry-point for 5G connectivity in South Africa was becoming more accessible.

“To access the 5G network, a user would require a 5G capable device and be within 5G coverage,” she said.

“The 5G device ecosystem is growing, and we are starting to see mid-tier 5G devices start to gain traction in the network.”

O’Sullivan explained that MTN’s ultimate goal was to provide its customers with valuable 5G products at a reasonable price.

MTN forked out R5.2 billion to acquire 20MHz in the 800MHz band, 40MHz in the 2.6GHz band and 40MHz in the 3.5GHz band during Icasa’s highly-anticipated spectrum auction.

MTN had previously tested 5G connectivity on the 28GHz band, and O’Sullivan explained there were several challenges in rolling out on the frequency, including that it is not recognised as an International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) band in Africa.

She told MyBroadband that the 28GHz band is viable for 5G in the Americas as it is recognised as an IMT band in the region.

Vodacom said it was engaging with Icasa and the Department of Communication and Digital Technologies regarding the future identification of the 28Ghz band for IMT.

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What MTN and Vodacom expect from 5G on new spectrum