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Vodacom, MTN in 5G supremacy confrontation over devices

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As the country enters the lucrative festive season, SA’s leading telcos Vodacom and MTN are clashing over fifth-generation (5G) wireless network devices, with both claiming market supremacy.

A tug-of-war between the telcos unravelled last week as both companies issued different statements, with both claiming 5G glory.

Competition in the local telecoms sector has intensified in recent months, as the country is on the cusp of ultra-fast 5G networks.

5G is expected to shake-up everything and is the conduit that will create the interconnected world of the future, with billions of rands in economic benefit brought to companies that keep up with the technology.

The Vodacom and MTN clash comes as the country’s mobile network operators are starting to deploy commercial 5G networks in some parts of the country. Local phone-makers have also been racing to rollout 5G-enabled devices and plan for future models that will run on 5G.

Samsung, Huawei, Nokia, Apple, Xiaomi and LG have all introduced 5G-enabled phones in SA.

With Vodacom and MTN now at an inflection point of their 5G strategies, competition has become more severe.

Vodacom and MTN have both been hugely profitable in recent years and the 5G market presents more opportunities to continue on this path.

Vodacom fired the first salvo, announcing the availability of the Apple iPhone 12 device line-up at its stores last week.

“Vodacom is excited to soon offer the eagerly anticipated new iPhone 12 family, including iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini. With a beautiful all-new design, iPhone 12 family models feature unparalleled new camera systems, edge-to-edge Super Retina XDR displays for a more immersive viewing experience, the biggest jump in durability with the Ceramic Shield front cover, and Apple-designed A14 Bionic chip, the fastest chip in a smartphone,” it said.

MTN followed two days later with its own statement, saying it will offer the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 exclusively in SA.

“MTN will be the only network authorised to enable 5G on the new iPhone 12, from December 2020, into early 2021.

“MTN will be launching the 5G-enabled version of the iconic Apple iPhone 12 in South Africa this month. This achievement is part of MTN’s commitment to innovation and defending its position as SA’s best mobile network that consistently brings next-generation technology to its customers,” it said.

“MTN delivers 5G connectivity on four different spectral bands across more than 100 sites around the country, with access to this new generation technology unlocking the full capabilities of next-generation services, like the latest iPhones, but also virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high-definition video streaming, artificial intelligence, robotics, automated cars and the Internet of things.”

This MTN announcement immediately solicited response from Vodacom, saying the statement created a “misguided impression” to the market, claiming it is ahead of its rivals.

“Vodacom was first to launch a mobile 5G network in South Africa and has been first to launch a number of 5G devices. We can confirm that all Apple 12 devices purchased from Vodacom are 5G-ready and that 5G connectivity will be enabled through a simple software update in due course. We expect to expand our 5G coverage footprint significantly once we get access to new spectrum as part of ICASA's auction process at the end of March.”

As the competition for 5G devices rages on, the fifth-generation wireless network is expected to remain patchy in the big metros for some time, as the telcos are still waiting for spectrum to be allocated by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

ICASA has promised it will auction the much-needed high-demand spectrum by March next year, and it is only after this process is finalised that 5G networks will start expanding in SA.

Analysts have warned authorities that spectrum allocation is now critical and the process must be fast-tracked.

Analysts that ITWeb recently spoke to said that due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spectrum discussion has now shifted from important to critical, and the regulator must urgently license new spectrum, as mobile network quality would deteriorate significantly without access to additional capacity.

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