South Africa’s peak mobile speeds close to 1Gbps — MTN and Vodacom fight for top spot

South Africa’s two biggest telecoms operators — MTN and Vodacom — are closing in on 1Gbps download speeds on their mobile networks.

That is according to Analytico’s analysis of peak mobile network speed tests performed on Android mobile devices in 2022.

Analytico found that MTN recorded the highest single download speed among six major network operators in the country, with a speed of 930Mbps measured by the user of a Galaxy Z Fold 3 in Sonneglans, Randburg.

For reference, MyBroadband achieved a maximum speed of 752Mbps when testing MTN’s 5G network following its launch in June 2020.

MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband that the right 5G device on MTN could theoretically hit much greater speeds due to carrier aggregation.

This wireless communication technique lets a mobile device use multiple blocks of frequency spectrum simultaneously, increasing how much data a device can transmit at a given time.

“On the MTN network, a maximum of four frequency bands can be aggregated on the downstream to achieve around 1.3Gbps,” said O’Sullivan.

That is based on the device capability of the Samsung S22 Ultra and Apple iPhone 13 devices verified during MTN’s type approval process.

Jacqui O'Sullivan
MTN SA executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan

Vodacom was not far behind MTN, with one test on a Samsung Galaxy S21+ achieving a top download speed of 914Mbps.

That is a significant jump from the maximum of 200Mbps MyBroadband measured after Vodacom launched its 5G network in May 2020.

MTN and Vodacom have the most towers and greatest coverage of South Africa’s mobile networks.

In the past five years alone, the two companies spent over R50 billion each on upgrading their South African networks.

Furthermore, the spectrum they acquired as part of emergency measures during the Covid-19 pandemic and later during Icasa’s high-demand frequency spectrum auction helped them improve 4G and 5G services.

Lack of 5G leaves smaller operators in the dust

Both operators were leaps and bounds ahead of smaller operators like Telkom, Rain, and Cell C, which achieved peak speeds of 568Mbps, 518Mbps, and 462Mbps.

Notably, mobile virtual network operator FNB Connect bested its parent network, Cell C, with a peak download speed of 486Mbps.

Although Telkom, Rain, and Cell C have also benefitted from new spectrum, none of them offers 5G mobile services yet, which means their top-recorded speeds were measured on 4G.

In February 2021, Telkom deployed 5G sites in selected areas to test market propositions and performance. It is yet to provide further updates on this trial and any public 5G rollout.

Two months ago, Cell C confirmed that it would launch 5G connectivity for its customers as soon as it finalised agreements with infrastructure providers.

The company has been struggling financially and decided to decommission its network over several years and outsource the building and operation to MTN. Its prepaid customers use this network, while its contract subscribers roam on Vodacom’s network.

Rain shareholder African Rainbow Capital only recently confirmed that the operator would launch its mobile 5G in the coming years.

It plans to make a merger proposal to Telkom, which it believes could create a strong third mobile network operator and “5G powerhouse”.

The table below shows the peak download speeds recorded by Analytico across the six biggest mobile networks in South Africa for the year to date.

Peak download speeds
Network operator Speed
MTN 930Mbps
Vodacom 914Mbps
Telkom 568Mbps
Rain 518Mbps
FNB Connect 486Mbps
Cell C 462Mbps

To conserve users’ mobile data caps, MyBroadband limited the sizes of the files that our smartphone speed test app downloads to determine a mobile broadband connection’s speed.

This restricted the fastest speed our app could test to around 1Gbps. It should be noted that our web-based speed test does not have the same limitation.

With mobile network operators getting close to 1Gbps download speeds, MyBroadband has increased the test file size over faster connections. Analytico’s next report should therefore feature substantially faster peak speeds.

When considering peak upload speeds, Vodacom was ahead of the pack by a significant margin.

One of its customers managed an incredible 819Mbps, not too far from its peak download speed.

The best upload speed measured on MTN’s network was 554Mbps, almost 300Mbps slower than Vodacom’s.

O’Sullivan told MyBroadband that the upload speed on MTN’s network was lower than the download speed due to the chipset limitation within the end-user device.

“The 5G band and certain 4G bands aggregated are using time division duplexing spectrum which allocates more capacity in the downstream than the upstream.”

“This supports a large amount of traffic types that require higher download than upload requirements.”

Theoretically, upload speeds on 5G should only go up to 100Mbps, suggesting its peak upload speeds were achieved during network testing.

The table below shows the peak upload speeds measured on South Africa’s biggest mobile networks.

Peak upload speeds
Network operator Speed
Vodacom 819Mbps
MTN 554Mbps
Cell C 333Mbps
Telkom 255Mbps
Rain 146Mbps
FNB Connect 127Mbps

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South Africa’s peak mobile speeds close to 1Gbps — MTN and Vodacom fight for top spot