5G Status South Africa – March 2019

Vodacom and MTN are still waiting on ICASA to assign radio frequency spectrum for 5G networks. Rain is the only company in South Africa to have launched its 5G commercial network ( February 2019). They were able to launch the 5G service in Johannesburg by using the 3.6 GHz spectrum already licensed to them. Rain spokesperson Khaya Dlanga stated that they are fully compliant with licence conditions as far as legislation is concerned.

Although 5G technology is already installed and has been tested in some places in South Africa like Soweto, it will not be available commercially soon, since the radio frequency spectrum needed is not available, in particular, the 3.5 GHz band.

The allocation of prime radio frequency is expected only in the second half of 2022 or beyond. In fact, the much-awaited 4G-spectrum auction will take place only later this year.

The licensing of the higher 5G frequencies (24.25 to 86 GHz) will only be considered by the government after the World Radio Communication Conference in November 2019.

The industry in South Africa feels that there is no reason why ICASA cannot already license bands in the 3.3 to 3.8 and 26 GHz bands. Vodacom wants the 5G spectrum to be be licensed immediately – specifically in the 3.5GHz band.

Electronic Communication Bill (ECB)

The contentious and highly contested Electronic Communication Bill (ECB) has further complicated 5G deployment. Recently, the minister of communications has withdrawn the Bill until after the general elections in May 2019 to allow time for further consultation. ICASA needs the Bill or at least a policy direction before proceeding with the licensing of the 5G spectrum. However, the allocation of spectrum in South Africa has been a sore point for years, with South African networks repurposing their 3G spectrum to provide users with 4G connectivity.

5G technology will primarily have two major applications in the first years of deployment

1. 5G will be used for mobile connectivity by devices such as smartphones and 5G mobile modems (hotspots with Wi-Fi).

2. Secondly, 5G will be used for fixed-wireless access (FWA) providing homes and businesses with broadband Internet in place of a wired ADSL or optic fibre connection.

5G will operate in the traditional and new cellular radio frequency bands 

1.  low- (below 1 GHz, e.g. 700 MHz),

2. mid- (1-6 GHz, e.g. around 3.5-3.8 GHz)

3. and millimetre-wave (24-86 GHz, e.g. 28 GHz) ranges.

Initially, smartphones and modems will predominantly make use of the low- and mid-range frequencies, while the millimetre-wave with its much higher bandwidth will be reserved for  fixed-wireless access (FWA).

Although higher frequencies such as millimetre-wave provide much higher speeds and capacity to transfer data, they have limited geographical coverage and also experience difficulty in penetrating walls or certain types of glass. Therefore most FWA devices will have to use external antennas.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)
-Depends to a large extent on connectivity. Almost all 4IR technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots, self-driving cars, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT), require high-speed, always-on Internet connections.

-5G is required to keep up with the immense increase of connected devices, vehicles, and streaming video.

– 5G is theoretically capable of speeds up to 20 Gigabits per second (Gbps). With 5G connectivity, it should be possible to download and ultra high definition video of 4K-quality in 25 seconds. In the lab the fastest speed achieved for 5G has been 1 terabit per second and in the field 35 Gbps. Unfortunately these test speeds is never a good indicator of real-world speeds. 20 Gbps is probably a much more realistic peak speed expectation.

– In the initial years peak speeds of more than 1 Gbps will only be possible if the user is close to the transmitter and if the network is not busy or overloaded as is often the case.

–  5G, which uses newer networking technology, was designed to reduce latency to a few milliseconds. The 5G speeds will be particularly noticeable in the streaming of higher quality video or the significantly shorter video download times when downloading a movie. But for the average consumer and even enterprise user, and for most current real-world applications, there is little practical difference between one-tenth of a second and one-fiftieth of a second (100 ms and 20 ms, respectively). Ultralow latency may matter a great deal for Internet-of-Things enabled applications, autonomous vehicles, and performing remote surgery. These applications will require both ultralow latency and ultra reliable and fast networks.

5G Smartphones

Due to the additional component costs for the 5G smartphone, it could cost about R750 more than a 4G phone.

It is interesting to note that the a FCC filing for an add-on to one of the first commercially 5G-enabled smartphones in the world revealed it has a way to limit radiation exposure from millimeter waves. The document focuses on the mm-wave portion of the assessment only, while the sub-6 GHz and aggregate exposure are treated in a separate document.

The feature seems to imply that radiation is a concern of some kind in the transition to 5G, even if it’s still within the allowed limits.

Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod has a feature to limit millimeter wave radiation exposure.

No 5G enabled smartphones or commercially available  routers exist in South Africa at the moment – Rain is expected to launch these in September 2019.


Is Rain using a satellite spectrum for its 5G Network in South Africa?


12th February 2019 – The Electronic Communications Amendment Bill 2018 withdrawn (for now).


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