These are the networks which should get more 4G spectrum in South Africa

Spectrum is the lifeblood of any wireless network. The spectrum an operator has access to determines the kind of coverage it can give, its maximum capacity, and speeds.

For Internet users, speed measurements are usually given in bits per second – but bits per second is also a measure of bandwidth.

Bandwidth essentially represents capacity – what the maximum amount of traffic you can load on a link is.

A wireless network’s spectrum is usually measured in millions of Hertz (Hz), or Megahertz (MHz). Like bits per second, Hertz is a measure of bandwidth.

In general, the more Hertz of bandwidth a network has access to, the more bits per second of capacity it can offer.

This is why South Africa’s mobile networks have been begging the government to release unused spectrum that has been earmarked for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT).

ICT Policy White Paper

However, South Africa’s Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele recently issued a policy document that will likely delay the release of new IMT spectrum for years.

Called the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, it not only sets aside all unassigned spectrum for a single national wholesale network, it has wording that suggests the government wants to take back the spectrum networks are currently using.

Cwele spoke about this at a recent event, saying the government does not want to expropriate private property “by default”.

“All we want to do is that: let’s share our networks. Where we can share, let’s share,” said Cwele.

“Because many people would like to utilise these networks but don’t have access.”

Who should get the spectrum?

Regardless of whether the government wants to take the spectrum back, it has indicated it won’t assign more spectrum to private companies.

However, it is the likes of Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom, and Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) that are investing billions into their networks.

To get the maximum possible benefit out of the unused spectrum, a portion must be given to the companies that have demonstrated an effective use of their assignments.

To see who is doing the most with the spectrum they have, and making the most of their investment, we measured average speed and spectral efficiency.

We added up all the IMT spectrum assigned to operators, divided the number of subscribers by the bandwidth available, and multiplied that number by a tenth of the average speedtest results on those networks.

Dubbed the SEAS factor (Spectral Efficiency and Average Speed), this gives an indication of how effectively networks are using their spectrum.

Spectrum bandwidth figures were obtained from ICASA and subscriber numbers were obtained from the networks’ financial results.

Where subscriber numbers were not available, they were estimated.

Network operator Spectrum (800–3,500MHz) Subscribers (mil) Subs/Hz ‰ Speedtest (Download Mbps) MHz/Mbps (lower is better) SEAS factor
Vodacom 81 35.7 440.7 32.54 2.49 1,434.17
MTN 86 29.7 345.2 27.25 3.16 941.05
Cell C 76 12.6 165.8 25.94 2.93 430.01
Telkom (mobile) 162 3.2 19.8 19.83 8.17 39.33
Neotel 89.8 0.1 1.1 4.44 20.23 0.49
iBurst/WBS 54 0.044 0.8 1.07 50.47 0.09
Cloudseed 20 0 0.0 N/A N/A 0

Now read: How Vodacom and MTN can lose their cellular spectrum

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These are the networks which should get more 4G spectrum in South Africa