Interesting trends revealed in South African mobile speed tests

MyBroadband’s latest mobile network drive tests reveal that there is a significant difference in the performance of networks based on the telecommunication equipment vendors.

Over the last 6 months MyBroadband has performed 583,527 network performance tests across South Africa.

These tests were performed on all 5 networks – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom, and Rain – using test benches containing 5 high-end smartphones each, including Samsung Galaxy S9 and S8 devices, and Moto Z devices.

These devices run a custom version of the MyBroadband Android Speed Test App, which tested the download speed, upload speed, and latency of the networks on regular intervals.

To ensure a neutral testing environment, MyBroadband’s speed test servers are hosted in Teraco’s vendor-neutral data centres.

South African mobile networks

While MyBroadband typically reports on the performance of mobile operators, we decided to change the analysis to assess the performance of network equipment vendors.

There are four companies which provide South African mobile operators with radio network equipment – Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, and ZTE.

In most cases mobile operators use two vendors for their radio network, with two exceptions – Telkom only uses Huawei, while MTN uses Huawei, ZTE, and Ericsson.

It should be noted that this network performance comparison only compares radio access vendors.

The overall network performance can also be influenced by core network architecture, backhaul capacity, network optimisation, and other factors.


Vodacom

Vodacom has a multi-vendor strategy for its network build and maintenance, with distribution split between Nokia and Huawei for radio equipment in the following regions:

  • Nokia – Western and Eastern Cape, KZN, Free State, Northern Cape.
  • Huawei – Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, North West.

Comparing Nokia and Huawei’s performance in the areas where they handle Vodacom’s network shows one big difference – upload speed.

Nokia’s upload speed is far worse than Huawei’s – 9.9Mbps compared to 16.7Mbps.

The table below shows the average performance of Vodacom’s network split into areas where Nokia and Huawei handle the network build and maintenance.

Vodacom Network Performance
Vendor Operator Latency (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Huawei Vodacom 36 30.360 16.659
Nokia Vodacom 39 27.406 9.932

MTN

MTN South Africa has a multi-vendor strategy, and uses Huawei, ZTE, and Ericsson as access network providers.

MTN SA’s core network, maintenance, optimisation, and build is supported through a combination of Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson, Nokia, and Aviat.

The rough breakdown of areas where Huawei, ZTE, and Ericsson are responsible for MTN SA’s access network are provided below.

  • Huawei – KZN, Gauteng North, and Northern South Africa.
  • ZTE – Western Cape.
  • Ericsson – Eastern Cape, Free State, and Gauteng.

MTN’s network performance in areas where Huawei and Ericsson handle its network are nearly identical.

It is, however, a different story in the Western Cape where ZTE is responsible for MTN’s access network.

ZTE’s performance is much worse than Huawei and Ericsson, which may be related to sanctions by the United States, which kept back network upgrades and other improvements.

The table below shows the average performance of MTN’s network split into areas where Huawei, Ericsson, and ZTE handle the network build and maintenance.

MTN Network Performance
Vendor Operator Latency (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Huawei MTN 37 25.850 13.300
Ericsson MTN 36 25.335 13.807
ZTE MTN 37 22.201 10.104

Cell C

Cell C told MyBroadband that it is responsible for its core network and network build, while radio access and transmission is split between Huawei and ZTE.

According to MyBroadband’s latest information its access network breakdown is as follows:

  • ZTE – KZN, Eastern Cape (mainly Port Elizabeth and East London), Central South Africa (like Bloemfontein), and parts of Northern South Africa.
  • Huawei – Gauteng, Western Cape, and all other parts where ZTE does not handle the network.

Cell C’s network performance reveals that Huawei’s performance is significantly better than ZTE’s across South Africa.

This, like with MTN’s network, may be related to sanctions by the United States, which kept back network upgrades and other improvements.

The table below shows the average performance of Cell C’s network split into areas where Huawei, and ZTE are responsible for radio access and transmission.

Cell C Network Performance
Vendor Operator Latency (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Huawei Cell C 42 19.224 9.119
ZTE Cell C 77 11.016 6.110

Rain

Rain uses two vendors for its network build and maintenance – Huawei and Nokia.

Rain’s managed services related to its evolved packet core (EPC) and radio access network is handled by Huawei, while its network performance is optimised by Nokia.

The network breakdown of regions handled by Nokia and Huawei are:

  • Nokia – Western Cape, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and KZN.
  • Huawei – Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and North West.

Rain’s network performance shows that Huawei’s performance is significantly better than Nokia’s, especially when looking at upload speeds.

This reflects what is seen on Vodacom’s network, which points to differences between vendor technologies which influence network performance.

The table below shows the average performance of Rain’s network split into areas where Nokia and Huawei handle the network build and maintenance.

Rain Network Performance
Vendor Operator Latency (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Huawei Rain 25 27.122 12.525
Nokia Rain 43 23.270 7.624

Telkom

Telkom is the only mobile operator with a single access network vendor, Huawei – with which it had a national contract since launch.

The table below shows the average performance of Telkom’s network, which is handled by Huawei.

Telkom Network Performance
Vendor Operator Latency (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Huawei Telkom 43 19.527 4.689

Now read: South African big city speed shootout – Joburg vs Cape Town

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Interesting trends revealed in South African mobile speed tests