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Telkom targets private 5G network expansion in SA

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo
Johannesburg, 22 Nov 2023
Private 5G networks offer faster and more reliable connectivity than public networks.
Private 5G networks offer faster and more reliable connectivity than public networks.

Telkom has set its sights on increasing its 5G footprint in South Africa, with a particular focus on driving private 5G networks.

So said Serame Taukobong, Telkom Group CEO, yesterday in an interview with ITWeb after the telecommunications company announced its interim financial results for the six months ended 30 September.

In October last year, Telkom became the latest telco to step into SA’s increasingly growing 5G market, launching the fifth-generation technology in partnership with Huawei.

At the time, the company said it will primarily focus on providing superfast 5G fixed wireless access solutions. As the demand for mobile 5G increases, the group noted it would supplement this with suitable mobile propositions.

“If you look at 5G, we have rolled out about 400 sites, and we are continuing to drive that growth. The big focus for us is what we are calling 5G private networks. We have done a pilot with two mining companies,” Taukobong said.

Private 5G is wireless network technology that delivers cellular connectivity for private network use cases, such as private businesses, third-party providers and municipalities. It is an alternative to WiFi, along with other wireless options, like public LTE and public 5G.

One of the main advantages of private 5G networks is their ability to offer faster and more reliable connectivity than public networks. Because private networks are designed to be used exclusively by a single organisation, they can be customised to meet its specific needs.

MTN and NTT Data also offer private 5G network solutions in South Africa.

In regards to public 5G, in September 2019, Rain became the first telco to activate a commercial 5G network in Africa.

Telkom Group CEO Serame Taukobong.
Telkom Group CEO Serame Taukobong.

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

In May 2020, Vodacom went live with its 5G mobile network in three cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town – with further rollouts taking place in other parts of the country later that year.

The two mobile operators launched 5G at the height of COVID-19, during a time when mobile operators across the globe accelerated their rollout of commercial 5G offerings, to alleviate the strain caused by the pandemic.

Auction postponement

During the interview with ITWeb, Taukobong also explained why Telkom wants the next spectrum auction by ICASA to be delayed.

Yesterday, the company said it has requested that ICASA postpone the second auction to the next financial year (2025), on the basis that studies still need to be completed by ICASA in preparation for the next auction.

It said the current challenging economic environment, including the impact of load-shedding, will make it particularly difficult for Telkom and other market participants to partake in the auction.

Said Taukobong: “If you look at the spectrum, we never had the sub-1GHz spectrum, and we now got it in the latest auction. So, what’s important is that the industry spent about R15.5 billion on the latest spectrum.

“If we are to spend R4 billion to R5 billion on the latest spectrum, what’s the benefit to consumers? As an industry, we have been spending money and capex [on spectrum] which means we will have to take prices up in order to take care of that.

“What we are saying, as Telkom, is if the spectrum was issued without restrictive conditions, it will make sense for us, but at the moment we are maximising the spectrum that we have.”

From the last spectrum auction, he said, Telkom has seen an increase in data traffic. “We also got spectrum during COVID and we spent capex upfront. This was the sub-1Ghz that we never had, and that’s shown in the data traffic that has increased.”