SA’s 5G to remain patchy in big metros for 12 months


The ball is now in telecommunications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA’s) court to release spectrum that will enable the mass rollout of 5G technology in SA.

So say analysts, as SA’s big telcos – Vodacom and MTN – have lit up their 5G networks using the emergency spectrum temporarily issued by ICASA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, MTN launched its next-generation 5G network, which it says delivers higher peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, increased reliability and greater network capacity.

Launching today with 100 sites, MTN’s 5G network covers areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

In May, Vodacom switched on its 5G mobile network in three cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town – with further rollouts planned to other parts of the country.

Vodacom’s network supports mobile and fixed wireless services and is currently available on 20 live 5G sites, 18 of which are in Gauteng and two in Cape Town.

In September last year, mobile data-only network operator Rain activated Africa’s first commercial 5G network.

Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, ICASA was in the process of planning for the assignment of high-demand spectrum by auction, as government looks to use the funds raised from the auction to add to the fiscus.

However, in March, the communications regulator had to quickly focus on a spectrum relief plan, to meet the demands on networks amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Nonetheless, last week ICASA said it will “slightly delay” publication of the invitation to apply (ITA) for the wholesale open access network and International Mobile Telecommunications spectrum, commonly known as high-demand spectrum.

This is despite the telecoms regulator’s briefing to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications last month that the ITAs would be published “very soon”, noting the end of this financial quarter (end of June) as a possible publication date.

The ITA is for licences for spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands, which the regulator has committed to auction by December.

Permanent spectrum solution

Chris Henschel, director at Cellucity, comments that the current network deployments by Vodacom and MTN are relatively small and have taken advantage of government releasing much-needed spectrum during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“To have a mass rollout of 5G nationally, it will require the government to award spectrum permanently,” Henschel says.


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