South Africa’s first 5G pilot network – The details

Comsol plans to launch South Africa’s first 5G wireless network using bandwidth it has access to in high-frequency spectrum.

Its plan has caused a stir within the mobile and fixed-wireless industry, as the standards defining 5G will only be authorised in 2020.

The International Telecommunication Union is still accepting proposals for 5G standards.

From the end of 2018, proposals will be evaluated and IMT-2020, or 5G, will be defined.

This has not stopped industry players which feel that enough is known to get ready for the new technology, however.

Manufacturers have much to gain by pushing the new technology, and Nokia and Qualcomm have demonstrated what they believe the technology will be capable of.

Requirements the ITU has laid down for 5G include:

  • Spectrum Efficiency must be 3x better than IMT-Advanced.
  • The peak data rate must be better by a factor of 20.
  • Area Traffic Capacity must be 100× better than IMT-Advanced.
  • The standard must work while travelling at 500km/h.
  • Network Energy Efficiency must be 100× better.
  • Latency must be 1 millisecond.
  • Connection density must be 1 million connections per square kilometre.

Is it 5G?

Considering the requirements above, is Comsol confident its trial network will be “5G” by 2020?

“We’re engaging vendors that have released pre-5G fixed-wireless access solutions with full roadmaps to 5G ratification,” said Comsol CEO Iain Stevenson.

There are compliance delays at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, and these are causing uncertainty around 5G ratification in South Africa, he said.

“Europe is very far behind with respect to 5G standards, so we are looking towards the US and Asia for technology to use in South Africa.”

Stevenson said they are not certain yet that the “5G requirements” will be met.

“Being pre-5G, part of our trial will be to test the performance in real-world conditions. Preliminary studies indicate that with our spectrum, capacities of 30Gbps per base station – 10Gbps per sector – is feasible.”


Stevenson said they will test the technology on towers on their open access network.

They have over 200 towers in nine provinces, and these cover major cities and many suburbs.

Comsol’s network currently runs on spectrum in the 28GHz band, which Stevenson said is suited to deploy fixed-wireless access solutions.

It plans to use a significant chunk of bandwidth for its pre-5G network – 280MHz – in the 28GHz band.

One of the concerns when using high-frequency spectrum is that it offers a smaller footprint than frequencies used for LTE technology – with poor indoor penetration.

“28GHz has proven suitable to reflections rather than penetration, lending itself to massive [multiple input, multiple output configurations] and antenna arrays,” said Stevenson.

The propagation limits of the frequency paired with the technology also means they will be limited to a range of 1km-2km from a site.

“For that reason, we are investigating small-cell solutions in addition to macro solutions to mitigate cost and penetration limits.”

He added that the recent storms in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal proved the 28GHz band is less impacted by rain than most carriers would let the industry believe.


Stevenson said they expect the price of their service to be similar to that of small-cell LTE, as infrastructure costs are comparable.

This will allow Comsol to compete with fibre-to-the-home services, he said.

They will have to supply proprietary terminal equipment in businesses and homes, which must be installed by qualified technicians.

“This is until 5G ratification is completed,” said Stevenson.

Now read: Qualcomm achieves 5G connection with chip for mobile devices

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South Africa’s first 5G pilot network – The details