South Africa’s 5G battle – Winners and losers

5G holds tremendous potential for South Africa as a fixed broadband solution and a fibre-to-the-home replacement.

The technology promises real-world speeds of over 100Mbps and very low latency, which makes it suitable for services like video streaming, cloud gaming, and augmented reality.

Speaking at the 2019 MyBroadband Mobile Network Conference, Vodacom innovation head Jannie van Zyl highlighted the value of 5G in the country.

Of the 17.4 million households in South Africa, only 11% (1.8 million) have fixed broadband connections.

Fixed 5G connections can therefore play a big role in providing more households – especially those relying on expensive mobile data – with fast and affordable Internet access.

Vodacom’s 5G plans

Vodacom launched Africa’s first standards-based, commercial 5G service in Lesotho in August 2018 using 3.5 GHz spectrum.

Vodacom has also demonstrated the same network capabilities at an event in South Africa, using a temporary test spectrum license in the 3.5 GHz band.

Vodacom said its network is 5G-ready and it will launch 5G services in South Africa as soon it gains access to the required spectrum.

MTN’s 5G trial

MTN South Africa has trialled various cases of 5G in cooperation with Ericsson and Huawei, which the company said showed great promise for mobile and fixed solutions.

During these trials, MTN demonstrated downlink speeds of up to 1.6Gbps and uplink speeds of up to 520Mbps.

MTN South Africa has also successfully launched a live 5G indoor solution at Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit and International Convention Centre.

The mobile operator has already rolled out 5G sites on existing spectrum where they don’t interfere with other deployed systems.

MTN spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband that they plan to launch 5G in 2019, but that it is dependent on the availability of 5G spectrum.

Rain 5G

Rain launched its 5G network in Johannesburg in February using its 3.6GHz spectrum.

The network is based on Huawei’s 5G product solutions, including core network, bearer network, and base station systems.

Rain CEO Willem Roos said it will cover major cities in South Africa with its 5G network, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

Roos said Rain will launch its first commercial 5G services in September 2019 and plans to further promote 5G-enabled applications.

Comsol 5G network

Comsol partnered with Samsung to launch a live 5G pilot network on Vilakazi Street in Soweto in September 2018.

The telecoms company leveraged its access to 28GHz spectrum in South Africa to deploy a fixed-wireless access network in the area.

Samsung South Africa provided the hardware solutions to deliver 5G connectivity to consumers, although many other telecoms providers partnered with Comsol to implement the network.

Initial tests performed on the live 5G network saw download speeds peak at 1.75Gbps, said the company.

Comsol was asked for further comment about its 5G plans, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

Cell C and 5G

Cell C said it continuously tests and evaluates new technologies, but at this stage it does not have any live 5G trial sites.

Cell C explained that its core elements are non-standalone 5G complaint, so it would support the adoption of 5G when required.

The company said the implementation of 5G is reliant on the availability of sufficient spectrum in the sub 1GHz, 1 to 6GHz (like 3.5GHz) or above 6GHz (like 28GHz) bands, none of which are currently available to the Cell C.

“A complete commercial 5G deployment will be subject to the business case presented at the time,” Cell C said.

Telkom

Telkom was asked about its 5G plans, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

5G in South Africa

The table below provides an overview of the state of 5G in South Africa.

5G in South Africa
Operator Vodacom MTN Rain Comsol Cell C Telkom
Trialled 5G Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Prepare network for 5G launch Yes Yes Yes Partly
Rolled out 5G sites Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Plan 5G launch in 2019 Yes Yes Yes No

Now read: MTN launches live indoor 5G network at Kyalami

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South Africa’s 5G battle – Winners and losers