The big 5G debate in South Africa

MTN and Vodacom have said that work on releasing additional radio frequency spectrum for use in 5G networks must start now.

Unless the government ensures 5G spectrum is released quickly, it will be the first time that South Africa is completely left behind when a new generation of wireless technology is released, MTN warned.

“Licensing 5G spectrum should be made a priority as this would prevent a situation where South Africa ends up lagging behind the rest of the world,” agreed Vodacom.

“This would also take some of the pressure off digital migration.”

The digital migration Vodacom referred to is the switch from the old analogue terrestrial TV broadcasting system to digital TV broadcasts. By moving to a digital system and switching off the analogue one, large chunks of spectrum – called the digital dividend – will become available.

This spectrum is suitable for LTE networks with wide coverage zones. It would therefore work well to improve rural coverage, according to the mobile operators.

5G spectrum

Vodacom and MTN also agree that spectrum in the 3.5GHz band would be a good place for ICASA to begin licensing new 5G spectrum.

While various bands are being discussed and tested for 5G purposes, Vodacom said as much spectrum as possible that is under-utilised or unallocated in the 3.3GHz to 3.8GHz bands should be included in an invitation to apply.

“These are the key bands for initial 5G rollout, are not dependent on the digital migration, and can be used for 5G as soon as they are assigned,” said Vodacom.

“Spectrum which is also unallocated and under-utilised in the 26GHz band should also be considered for an invitation to apply.”

No rush for 5G

Cell C and Telkom, however, disagree with Vodacom and MTN – stating that ICASA should not begin a 5G spectrum licensing process yet.

“Frequency bands to be used for 5G, also known as IMT-2020, are currently being debated as part of the preparations for the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 to be held in November 2019,” said Telkom.

11 frequency bands in the range from 24.25GHz to 86GHz are being studied for compatibility with existing radio communication services, and to determine the feasibility of using these frequency bands for IMT-2020.

Telkom added that IMT-2020 spectrum can only be licensed once the conference has decided on the frequency bands, as well as the associated technical, regulatory, and operational requirements applicable to such frequency bands, for the protection of existing services.

Now read: MTN hits 1.6Gbps on 5G inside a drifting car

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The big 5G debate in South Africa