5G could be fibre’s biggest competitor in South Africa

One of the first big use cases for 5G technology will be high-speed, fixed-wireless Internet, according to Vodacom CTO Andries Delport.

Speaking in an interview with MyBroadband, Delport said that the high speeds offered by 5G networks would allow for the rollout of services which would provide similar performance to the fibre-to-the-home connections we see today.

Obviously a major advantage of a 5G fixed-wireless solution would be that no trenching or physical line installation would be required – and neighbourhoods could be covered by a single base station.

Delport said Vodacom is prepared to aggressively push into this market with its 5G technology.

Vodacom will have the ability to further enable widespread, high-speed 5G mobile coverage across its network infrastructure as soon as it receives the required spectrum.

The fate of the required spectrum depends on the pace of the digital TV migration project. The lack of completion in this process to date has not inspired optimism in telecoms executives, however.

Competitive pricing

Delport said he expects fixed wireless solutions to be among the first 5G-related offerings.

“I think that is probably going to be the one most obvious first use case that we will push on 5G,” he said.

He added that Vodacom would aim to compete with fibre operators in terms of pricing and performance.

“Today, there is no difference in data pricing between 2G, 3G, and 4G,” Delport said.

“I can’t guarantee that it will be the same for 5G, but I suspect the normal mobile-type services – apart from specialised network slicing and other specific solutions – will probably be the same.”

The rollout of new technologies such as 3G and 4G has historically seen the cost to carry a bit of data decrease, and a similar drop in data prices due to 5G could enable these types of competitive fixed-wireless services.

“Of course we want to make pricing cheaper. In theory, the cost to carry data is going to come down with 5G.”

He added that in this case, Vodacom’s 5G fixed-wireless offering could compete with fibre products.

Delport also noted that in Lesotho, where Vodacom has activated its 5G network and onboarded two enterprise customers, one of their customers replaced their fibre services with 5G products.

Network management

Vodacom said its Lesotho and South African 5G networks would run on a non-standalone (NSA) architecture, which means that part of the 4G network is used as the control connection for 5G access.

This uses a small slice of 4G spectrum but will have no real negative impact on performance when compared to a standalone structure when the network is initially launched, said Delport.

“For the initial specifications for standalone and non-standalone, I don’t think there will be any major advantages to switching to standalone,” he said.

“The nice thing about switching to standalone is that you wouldn’t have to use 4G spectrum and technology to drive 5G, but I think the performance benefit is not that significant.”

While Vodacom waits for the spectrum locked up in the TV broadcasting sector, the company continues to upgrade its mobile network infrastructure in preparation for 5G – migrating spectrum up towards 4G from older technologies.

“These days there is a much greater focus on 4G and 5G as opposed to 3G, and there is hardly any focus on 2G,” Delport said.

“We improve 3G performance as well, but I think it is fair to say most of our improvements go into 4G and 5G technologies.”

Now read: Vodacom showcases its 5G network with 700Mbps download speed

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5G could be fibre’s biggest competitor in South Africa