Telkom’s 5G sites reach over 8m South Africans

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 07 Jul 2023
Serame Taukobong, group CEO of Telkom.
Serame Taukobong, group CEO of Telkom.

The Telkom Group is seeing steady growth in 5G adoption among local customers, despite the local industry being marred by several barriers to implementation, it says.

The telephony group became the latest telco to step into SA’s increasingly competitive 5G market, when in October it launched the fifth-generation technology in partnership with Huawei.

At the time, Telkom said it had been meticulously building its 5G network capacity, two years prior, in preparation for the national rollout. It primarily focuses on providing superfast 5G fixed wireless access solutions and 5G mobile offerings.

In an e-mail interview, Telkom Group CEO Serame Taukobong told ITWeb the operator continues to invest in expanding its 5G network, despite the challenges it has encountered in this space.

“Telkom currently has over 340 on-air 5G sites, which cover approximately a population of 8.5 million people.

“We continue to improve our 5G propositions; however, the high cost of 5G CPEs (routers) remains a barrier for customers and similarly, mobile phones that are 5G-enabled are high-end smartphones and most customers cannot afford them,” notes Taukobong.

Experts previously told ITWeb that 5G mobile devices are out of reach for most South Africans, due to their high prices. Even with broader 5G coverage, the devices would still initially only serve the high-end market, they stated.

SA’s subpar internet coverage further hampers the full potential of 5G, they added.

Arnold Ponela, research analyst at IDC, said at the time that it may take up to two years after SA’s spectrum allocation process for SA to have nationwide 5G coverage.

According to Paul Colmer, exco member of the Wireless Access Providers Association, 5G network rollouts are gathering pace across SA; however, the county’s power crisis remains a key barrier.

SA’s inconsistent power supply, he adds, will result in “exponentially higher” investments required to deploy 5G networks nationwide.

“While 5G promises to bring many benefits to consumers, it also comes with some challenges, one of the most significant being increased power consumption.

“So not only is the power crisis causing service disruptions across the board, it’s changing the dynamics and threatening the future plans for the vendors currently committing to the 5G rollout in the first place,” comments Colmer.

“After all, there are many smart people that for years have been working on the strategy of rolling out national 5G networks, and almost overnight all those calculations are invalidated because they never took into account that we’d have power issues like this.”

According to Colmer, the first stages of the 5G rollout are naturally taking place in high LSM income, high-density urban areas in SA – in the same way as fibre and LTE rollout started in the wealthier areas of the country.