SA’s 5G networks disappoint on page load speeds

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 25 Jun 2024
South African telcos plan to expand their 5G initiatives.
South African telcos plan to expand their 5G initiatives.

South Africa’s 5G networks are not living up to their lower latency expectations, with only a marginal improvement in web page load speed, compared to 4G.

This is one of the key findings of a study by Ookla, the owner of internet speed check website

The new report highlights how much faster 5G is compared to the speed of 4G, by conducting an analysis of page load speed across nine countries, during Q1 2024. The countries analysed were Brazil, Canada, France, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, the US and SA.

Ookla tested how long it took to load Facebook, Google and YouTube on 5G and 4G, and analysed the results.

According to the study, while 5G showed a faster page load speed than 4G on all services in all countries surveyed, the level of speed was not the same in all countries. SA had the slowest 5G page load speed on Google and YouTube out of all the countries reviewed.

Canada’s 5G page load speed was among the fastest for all countries analysed in the study, with the fastest page load speed on Facebook, Google and YouTube.

“In South Africa, Google loads 22% faster, while YouTube loads 27% faster and Facebook loads 36% faster on 5G. One of the promises of 5G is lower latency, which should lead to a significantly faster (lower) page load speed on any web page,” according to the study.

“Page load speed is a critical measure of a user’s web browsing experience. It measures how long it takes for a page to load, fully displaying the content on that page. This is directly impacted by latency, which is how quickly the device gets a response after a user has sent out a request.”

As the fifth generation of cellular technology, key features and benefits include enhanced mobile broadband capabilities, higher capacity and increased bandwidth compared to 4G.

A typical page load request on the internet requires two to five round trip communications between various entities over different latency-sensitive protocols, notes the report.

Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index reported the global average for mobile latency as 27 milliseconds (0.027 seconds), with fixed broadband at nine milliseconds (0.09 seconds) in May 2024. According to global brands like Walmart and Amazon, 40% of users will abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load.

Ramping up rollouts

According to GSMA Intelligence, 27 operators in 16 Sub-Saharan African countries had launched commercial 5G services by February this year.

While 5G subscriptions are still in infancy stage in Sub-Saharan Africa, they will represent 16% (180 million) of all mobile subscriptions in the region by 2029, it says.

South Africa’s mobile network operators are stepping up their 5G expansion plans, despite several challenges that impede mass adoption.

While 5G has been around since 2019 – when Rain became the first operator to deploy the emerging tech in SA − it hasn't provided any noticeable improvements over 4G speeds, the study reveals.

In May 2020, Vodacom went live with its 5G mobile network in three cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

In June 2020, MTN launched its 5G network, going live with 100 sites.

In August 2023, ITWeb reported on SA’s 5G landscape, with telecoms operators Rain,Vodacom Telkom and MTN saying they had accelerated their 5G deployments, regardless of lingering issues, such as costly fixed 5G connectivity, load-shedding-related limitations and the high cost of 5G-enabled phones and routers.

MTN SA said at the time that its 5G network covers over 25% of the local population and it is on track to further execute its 5G strategy to more sites nationwide.

Vodacom told ITWeb it had 5G coverage across all nine provinces, offering home internet 5G packages and several 5G mobile phone deals. Rain stated its 5G network covered over eight million households across the country. Telkom said it has 340 5G sites, which cover about 8.5 million people.

The telcos said they wereplanning to expand their 5G deployments, as more smartphones and 5G-enableddevices become available locally.