MTN, Vodacom, Cell C weigh in on 5G in South Africa

5G promises significant benefits for consumers and businesses in South Africa, and the technology’s reach in South Africa is growing.

According to Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN’s chief sustainability and corporate affairs officer, the mobile network operator now covers 25% of the population with 5G connectivity.

“MTN has deployed 5G in the 3.5GHz spectrum band acquired from the 2022 High Demand Spectrum Auction,” said O’Sullivan.

“MTN has 25% population coverage and has over 1,600 deployed 5G sites in metros, cities and towns where there is greater data demand and 5G device penetration is growing.”

She added that the network operator is deploying 5G to meet consumer data demands and for enterprise private network applications.

“5G is rolled out as another radio technology layer across our three RAN vendors — Huawei, Ericsson and ZTE,” added O’Sullivan.

While the price of 5G-enabled devices was previously a significant barrier to accessing the technology, O’Sullivan said this is changing.

“MTN is encouraged by the growth in mid-tier 5G devices at affordable price points, which will drive 5G device penetration in the network,” she said.

Cell C has yet to launch 5G services in South Africa, and the operator told MyBroadband that it is currently modernising its core network to prepare for the technology.

“Cell C is currently in the process of modernising its core network to the latest architecture necessary for 5G deployment and progressing discussions with the network partners,” it said.

Since the operator doesn’t have its own network infrastructure, it didn’t comment on the network vendors it is using.

The company recently completed its network migration and has agreements with MTN and Vodacom to provide its customers with connectivity.

MTN provides Cell C with access to a “virtual radio access network” for its prepaid and mobile virtual network operator subscribers. At the same time, Cell C’s contract customers roam on Vodacom’s network.

Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told MyBroadband that it is continuing to invest and expand its 5G network in South Africa.

“Vodacom South Africa has a multi-vendor approach and uses the likes of Huawei and Nokia as Radio Access Network vendors,” Kennedy added.

Rain said it had recently gained access to its spectrum in the 700MHz band, which will help it expand its 5G coverage.

“Rain continues to expand our 5G network, we have recently gained access to the newly acquired spectrum in the 700MHZ band, which will enable us to further expand our 5G coverage layer and bring rain 5G to new towns and regions,”  it said.

“Regarding vendors, Huawei is our key 5G partner.”

Currently, MTN, Rain, Telkom, and Vodacom have 5G networks in the country.

MyBroadband also asked Telkom for comment, but they hadn’t answered our questions by publication.

5G speed tests — Vodacom and Huawei dominate

MyBroadband Speedtest app data recently analysed by Analytico revealed that Vodacom is the 5G network operator offering the highest speeds in South Africa. The top network vendor spot went to Huawei.

Vodacom’s average 5G speeds reached 238.39Mbps, while MTN — the operator that used to dominate in 5G — averaged download speeds of 176.33Mbps.

However, the latter maintained higher average upload speeds at 38.81Mbps, compared with Vodacom’s 30.33Mbps.

MTN has announced that it had dialled back its 5G network investments to focus on network uptime during load-shedding.

The company said it wants to maintain 99% uptime in up to stage 6 load-shedding across its network.

Since October 2022, Vodacom’s average 5G download speed has improved by 35%, while MTN’s declined by 24%.

Vodacom’s 5G network in Gauteng offers the highest 5G speeds of any other South African metropolitan, with an average download speed of 246.85Mbps.

Regarding network vendors, Huawei’s 5G download speeds averaged 316.78Mbps on Telkom’s network and 247.43Mbps on Vodacom’s network, taking the number one and two spots for the comparison.

However, it was the slowest vendor on MTN’s network with an average download speed of 173.32Mbps, compared to Ericsson and Nokia’s average speeds of 200.25Mbps and 190.70Mbps, respectively, on MTN’s network.

Now read: Cheapest 5G smartphones in South Africa — prices from R3,599

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MTN, Vodacom, Cell C weigh in on 5G in South Africa