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MTN trounces Vodacom on download, upload speeds

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While MTN boasts the best download and upload speeds in South Africa, rival Vodacom is tops when it comes to 4G coverage in the country.

This is according to Opensignal’s South Africa Mobile Network Experience report, based on measurements collected across all major mobile operators in South Africa – Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom – over the 90-day period between 1 November 2021 and 29 January 2022.

The report notes that MTN wins the Download Speed Experience award, with a score of 27.6Mbps – 4.7Mbps (20.7%) ahead of second-placed Vodacom.

“Our users on Vodacom’s network saw average download speeds (22.9Mbps) at least twice as fast as those on Cell C and Telkom’s networks, which lagged behind the leading operators with scores around 11.5Mbps,” says Robert Wyrzykowski, Opensignal senior analyst.

According to the report, Vodacom has an outright win in 4G Coverage Experience, scoring 7.1 points on a 10-point scale – 0.9 points ahead of second-placed MTN.

Opensignal’s 4G Coverage Experience analyses the locations where customers of a network operator received a 4G signal relative to the locations visited by users of all network operators.

Speed stakes

The report notes that on top of solely claiming the Download Speed Experience award, MTN wins Upload Speed Experience outright with a score of 7.9Mbps.

Vodacom also places second in this category − 1.9Mbps behind the winning operator. Similar to Download Speed Experience, Cell C and Telkom place joint third, with statistically tied scores of 3.7Mbps and 3.5Mbps.

It adds that Vodacom wins all three experiential awards outright — Video Experience, Games Experience and Voice App Experience.

“Our users on this network enjoyed ‘Very Good’ (65<75) Video Experience, which means generally fast loading times and only occasional stalling,” Wyrzykowski says.

While Vodacom wins 4G Coverage Experience outright, it is Telkom that claims the other award for 4G extent in South Africa − 4G availability − with a score of 89.5%, says Opensignal.

“This means our users on Telkom’s network were able to connect to 4G services almost 90% of the time. Telkom comes first ahead of Vodacom (87.6%), MTN (85.1%) and Cell C (79.1%),” says the firm.

Opensignal notes the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) intends to run a long-delayed 4G and 5G spectrum auction in March.

The tender will offer 2x20MHz in the 700MHz band, 2x30MHz in the 800MHz band, 140MHz in the 2 600MHz band and 86MHz in the 3 500MHz band to the potential bidders.

All four national operators placed their applications to participate in the auction. However, Telkom filed a court action at the same time, to challenge the auction process.

According to the operator, it may affect Telkom’s ability to compete, due to uniform spectrum caps and digital dividend bands still being occupied.

The High Court showdown is scheduled for April, but ICASA is keen on proceeding with the auction in March as planned.

It is expected that when the spectrum is auctioned, mobile operators will boost their networks and roll out services such as 5G at a larger scale.

Opensignal points out that South Africa is one of the few countries left in Africa that hasn’t assigned 4G spectrum in 800MHz and 2 600MHz bands yet and local operators had to resort to re-farming of their existing 2G/3G legacy holdings to deploy 4G services.

Short-term relief

However, it explains the government temporarily granted operators access to the emergency spectrum in 700, 800, 2 600, 2 300 and 3 500MHz bands in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic − and MTN used its concession to deploy 5G services.

Operators had to return their temporary spectrum allocations by the end of November 2021, ahead of the upcoming auction.

In November 2021, tower company IHS Towers signed a sale and leaseback agreement with MTN, which covers 5 709 towers across South Africa owned by the operator, for R6.4 billion, it adds.

The contract will include the provision of power-as-a-service to MTN at approximately 12 800 sites across the country.

Meanwhile, MTN partnered with Nokia to drive its network modernisation, particularly to upgrade its voice services and lay the foundation for voice over 5G – first in South Africa, then in other African countries where MTN has presence.

The operator also signed a new roaming agreement with Telkom, which will give Telkom’s subscribers access to MTN’s 2G, 3G and 4G networks, the firm notes, adding that Telkom already had an agreement with Vodacom in place, inked in December 2018.

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