South African mobile networks will need even more spectrum — MTN CEO

MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita has said that although newly assigned spectrum helps South Africa’s mobile network operators, more spectrum will likely be needed as technology advances.

He also said that delays in releasing spectrum might have severely hurt network development in South Africa.

“We are very happy that we have had this multi-band spectrum auction finally come through,” Mupita said during an online interview with Bruce Whitfield.

“We probably lost a decade and a half of development in South Africa,” he added.

Mupita spoke to Whitfield during the “What is the future of the mobile industry” segment of PSG’s “Think Big” webinar series.

“The spectrum auction helps a bit. What we secured now will help us for the next three or four years,” Mupita said.

He added that he believes mobile network operators will need to be provided with “a lot more spectrum” as new technologies emerge.

South Africa’s long-awaited spectrum auction was concluded in March 2022, generating R14.5 billion for the national fiscus.

MTN won 100MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz, 2,600Mhz, and 3,500MHz bands for R5.2 billion.

The biggest winner — Vodacom — spent almost R5.4 billion to acquire 110MHz in the 700MHz, 2,600MHz, and 3,500MHz bands.

Mupita said he expects less infrastructure-level competition in South Africa and that network operators and service providers would compete on products.

This is because he expects fewer mobile network operators in the country.

Using the US as an example, Mupita said he expects there to only be two or three very strong mobile network competitors in South Africa in the future.

The US has three prominent mobile network operators — T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T.

Mupita also spoke briefly on the future of 2G and 3G services in South Africa, saying he doesn’t expect them to be available in the country in five years.

LTE and 5G will replace 2G and 3G in the country, with voice over data platforms (like WhatsApp) shifting to voice over LTE.

MTN previously told MyBroadband that it would take “several years” to decommission its old 2G and 3G networks.

It also expects to switch off 3G first as there are a lot of telemetry applications that still rely on 2G networks.

The mobile network also stated that, currently, LTE is MTN’s dominant data technology, which it expects to continue to grow as compatible handsets become more accessible in the market.


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South African mobile networks will need even more spectrum — MTN CEO