What to expect from 5G in South Africa

MTN has partnered with Ericsson to host a live trial of a 5G network, demonstrating the capabilities of the technology.

5G has been in development since 2011, and promises faster data transfer speeds and sub-5ms latency.

Over the past year, the technology has been trialed in laboratories and implemented in field tests using different spectrum bands and hardware.

The next step in the development of 5G is the rollout of the technology to live mobile networks.

This will require the adoption of 5G-compatible base stations in addition to 5G-enabled handsets and smart devices.

5G will eventually be deployed over multiple bands of spectrum, including high-band (above 15GHz), mid-band (3-6GHz), and low-band (below 1GHz).

MTN’s 5G trial network uses 800MHz of bandwidth in the 15GHz band, which is possible thanks to a temporary spectrum licence from ICASA.

4G vs 5G

5G boasts faster data transfer speeds and lower latency than 4G, along with support for more devices and improved reliability.

During its live trial, MTN’s 5G network delivered 20Gbps speeds with a latency below 5ms.

According to MTN, 5G will allow for the following improvements over 4G:

  • 1,000-times the capacity.
  • 100-times the speed.
  • 100-times the connected devices.
  • 10-times lower latency.
  • 10-times reliability.

The increased capacity could also result in lower data costs, provided enough spectrum is allocated to the 5G standard.

5G services will deliver sub-5ms latencies paired with speeds over 1Gbps, making fixed wireless 5G services a possible alternative to high-speed fibre connections.


These improvements will allow the technology to be used across multiple applications, including IoT industries, critical services, and remote device management.

The increased capacity of the 5G network will enable IoT industries to roll out large-scale projects comprising thousands of devices easily.

Critical infrastructure and services – such as healthcare and traffic control – will also be able to leverage the reliability and low latency of a 5G connection to reduce downtime and delays.

Consumers with 5G-compatible smartphones and devices will also be able to enjoy high-speed Internet connections with latency on par with fibre connections, although these connections will depend heavily on which band the 5G network is deployed within.

Operators are continuing to work with hardware manufacturers and international regulators to define 5G spectrum and roll out the technology across their networks – and the launch of 5G-compatible devices, in addition to the upgrading of base stations to provide 5G coverage, should take place in the next few years.

While there is no fixed timeline for the rollout of 5G networks, many operators and manufacturers predict international mass adoption to occur by 2020.

The adoption of 5G in South Africa will depend heavily on the allocation of spectrum to mobile operators, however, as determined by ICASA and the government.

Now read: Unintended consequences of data bundle regulation

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What to expect from 5G in South Africa