MTN Has Finally Joined The Race To Expand 5G In South Africa

By  |  July 3, 2020

Africa’s largest telecommunications provider has launched 5G in its home market, finally joining the race to expand the fifth-generation network technology in South Africa.

Temporary Spectrum

MTN Group’s 5G launch covered major South African cities, using an additional temporary spectrum, one that was assigned by the country’s telecom regulator in April to meet the coronavirus lockdown-inspired high demand for data. The telco has held 5G trials in the past 2 years, partnering with equipment makers such as Sweden’s Ericsson and Chinese Huawei Technologies.

Many wondered when MTN would finally roll out 5G, especially as the company’s demo tests of the network in Nigeria and SA did a good teasing job. The Pan-African giant has now launched the network across 100 sites in South Africa, amidst some lofty promises of further rollouts should it obtain permanent access to the spectrum from the country’s communications watchdog.

Despite recent speculations, much of the spectrum being used to roll out 5G is temporary, meaning that much of it is yet to be awarded. Nevertheless, there are some signs that it is about to change. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is preparing to issue an “invitation to apply” for the high-demand spectrum and the wireless open-access network.

That means, there will be more rollouts in the country—more sites for MTN, for instance—once the regulator and/or the government allocates permanent spectrum through a planned auction expected to happen later this year. It might happen in the next 2 to 3 months, as the licenses being used by various providers will have expired by November.

Ignoring Its Largest Market?

It is common knowledge that Nigeria is MTN’s largest market, before South Africa. With more subscribers on the former than the latter, it is somehow expected that the telecoms firm would roll out 5G in Nigeria first. MTN has tested 5G in the West African country, but its authorities are still developing a policy to deploy the network. That’s to say, Nigeria isn’t quite ready for 5G, even though 2020 was the country book year for the rollout.

Is MTN ignoring Nigeria, as it did with the reduction of data prices? Not quite. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is yet to issue any license for 5G deployment in the country. Even though it gave the nod for the trial back in November 2019 for a period of 3 months, the installation has since been decommissioned.

Besides, the demand for 5G is higher in South Africa. The country’s lockdown did not only lead to a spike in online activity—especially from streaming and video conferencing—but also increased mobile network traffic by 40 percent. During the initial five-week period, there was a 250 percent increase in fixed traffic.

Data costs have come down in South Africa as well. Mobile operators were forced to slash their prices, yet they argue that costs could further be reduced when the regulators finally auction the permanent spectrum and give much-need 5G licenses. None of these developments have replication in Nigeria, a country that yet struggles with 4G adoption.

Featured Image Courtesy: Xavier Von Erlarch Via Unsplash.

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