MTN lights up next-gen 5G network in SA

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 30 Jun 2020

Mobile operator MTN SA has today launched its next-generation 5G network, which 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.

MTN’s launch comes as mobile operators across the globe have defied the strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate the rollout of commercial 5G offerings.

The Ericsson Mobility Report published this month forecasts 5G subscriptions will reach 190 million by the end of 2020.

“Today, from MTN’s birthplace of South Africa, we are stepping up our digital revolution with the next generation of telecommunication technology, demonstrating to all South Africans that 5G is no longer just an idea – it is here, it works and it has the capacity to bring about exponential improvements to our economy, and to the lives of the people we serve,” says MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.

Today’s launch comes on the back of government’s allocation of temporary spectrum but is also the culmination of extensive 5G trials and testing, says MTN in a statement.

During the launch event, Motsa said: “The biggest credit must go to ICASA for giving us the spectrum. We have been waiting for this for a decade.”

By 2030, 5G-related initiatives will contribute over $7.5 trillion to the global gross domestic product, according to Dimitris Mavrakis, research director of ABI Research, highlighting the impact of 5G technologies on the global economy, businesses and consumers across the globe.

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.

SA’s big mobile operators, such as Vodacom and MTN, were unable to launch 5G services until more spectrum was licensed to them by the communications regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

Earlier this month, MTN told ITWeb that it was waiting for some 5G equipment to be delivered in SA before it could proceed with the launch.

MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.
MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.

Thoroughly vetted

“For the past two years, we have been actively innovating around the potential of 5G, using different bands and various vendors and across different platforms and devices, to ensure MTN South Africa can maintain leadership in 5G, as we have been able to maintain our leadership in 4G,” says MTN SA chief technology and information officer Giovanni Chiarelli.

“Our 5G strategy has been years in the making and we are confident that we have built a strong foundation to grow and support our 5G ecosystem to deliver an exceptional experience for our customers,” says Chiarelli.

According to MTN, one of the key innovations driving the broad rollout by the mobile operator has been a strategic approach to Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, as these deployments overcome the challenges of lack of dedicated 5G spectrum.

MTN will deliver 5G connectivity on four different spectral bands:

  • 3.5GHz at 58 sites: The company explains that this is the ideal spectrum band for 5G, known as the “golden band”, which offers a truly world-class 5G experience with both faster speeds and low latencies. MTN has deployed sites in the 3.5GHz band in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.
  • 2 100MHz and 1 800MHz at 35 sites: MTN SA is introducing the re-farming of some 4G spectrum to allow it to run 4G and 5G spectrum, at the same time, in the same band. This allows for easier migration of network technology from LTE to 5G. It also allows the company to deploy 5G using existing spectrum assets in the absence of additional high-demand spectrum. MTN has deployed 5G sites on 2 100MHz in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
  • 700MHz at five sites: MTN says this is an excellent band for extensive coverage, making it ideal for use for urban indoor settings and for small towns and rural coverage due to the low band frequency propagation. Small towns now covered by MTN 5G using the 700MHz include Port Alfred, Hopetown, Virginia Queenstown and Tsantsabane.
  • 28GHz at three sites: This high-frequency bandwidth offers great speeds, making this ideal for fixed wireless access 5G connectivity. This solution has been deployed in Hatfield (Pretoria), Edenvale and Durban.

Welcome to the 5G world

MTN says this new generation technology will unlock the full capabilities of next-generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high-definition video streaming, artificial intelligence, robotics, automated cars and the Internet of things.

The telco was today the first in the Southern Hemisphere to demonstrate AAA game streaming over its 5G network, it says.

In a partnership with Emerge Gaming, MTN demonstrated GameGloud on 5G streamed to a Huawei P40 Pro phone.

“Cloud gaming means top line games are available, all the time, in the cloud. No console required; your device becomes the controller and with 5G, the speed and reliability of the signal means you never need to download a game, because your personal data is always there waiting for you,” says MTN SA chief digital officer Ernst Fonternel.

“Cloud gaming will do to gaming what video-on-demand has done to TV; it’s a complete game-changer, only this is a game-changer that will be delivered by 5G,” Fonternel says.

Motsa says MTN’s rollout of its 5G network will be ramped up to more sites once government allocates permanent spectrum through the planned auction later this year.

“We are extremely encouraged by the release of the temporary spectrum. Our call to the regulator and government is to release permanent 4G and 5G spectrum as a matter of urgency, so that we can fuel the digital revolution our nation needs to bridge the digital divide that currently deepens the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’,” says Motsa.

“The biggest telecommunication opportunities for the masses of South Africans are for operators to deliver ultra-fast broadband to townships that continue to be significantly underserved by fixed-line fibre services. If the spectrum is made available, the coverage is a given and the affordability can be achieved. Although we are starting relatively small, our growth plans for our 5G ecosystem are huge,” Motsa says.