Vodacom spearheads 5G in Mpumalanga, lights up six sites

Vodacom has pioneered the first live 5G network in Mpumalanga, a move it says is aimed at bridging the digital divide between urban and rural areas. The operator recently announced that six 5G sites are now live in the Mpumalanga and support both mobile and fixed wireless access services. Vodacom customers with 5G-enabled devices, and within a 5G coverage area, are now able to access the new 5G network in the province.

The move has been praised by analysts, who urged other telecoms to increase infrastructure investments in outlying areas, especially on the back of the impact of the pandemic. The analysts say there is a strong case for 5G in rural and peri-urban deployment and they hope to see faster rollouts across the country.

Announcing its 5G moves in Mpumalanga, Vodacom says the latest mobile networking technology will ultimately help the region bridge the digital divide, extending access to affordable mobile broadband, especially as an alternative to fibre connectivity in underserviced areas. To launch the 5G network in Mpumalanga, Vodacom used the temporary spectrum assigned by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, specifically 1x50MHz in the 3.5GHz band.

Vodacom adds it decided to use the 700MHz band for wide-scale mobile, 5G coverage and is supplementing network capacity with 3.5GHz where required. Commenting on the 5G deployment, Zakhele Jiyane, managing executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga region, said his team is pleased to become the first network provider to roll out the fastest and latest, fifth-generation network in Mpumalanga province.

“This is a full demonstration of our commitment to invest in the latest networks to give our customers access to networks that provide fast speeds. Beyond speed, the biggest benefit of 5G is its low latency, or the short lag time between a device pinging the network and getting a response, meaning a surgeon may not need to be in the same room as a patient in the future to perform critical surgery,” said Jiyane.

Analysts say more telco infrastructure investments are required across the country, outside the traditional “golden triangle” – Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – as it is important to deploy good quality, high-speed broadband in the underserved areas.

“This is key in order to begin closing the digital divide and enable socio-economic growth through access to various online services, jobs, job opportunities, and other things. This is part of government’s planned 4IR [fourth industrial revolution],” says Dobek Pater, telecoms analyst at Africa Analysis.

“This indicates that the operators are not neglecting underserved areas.  However, infrastructure improvement in some of these areas is probably required to ensure good quality, high-speed broadband availability for all customers. The constraint lies in insufficient availability of high-demand spectrum, which prevents the operators to cost-effectively invest in infrastructure expansion in such areas,” said Pater.

Spiwe Chireka, an independent telecoms analyst, comments: “The truth of the matter is that the bigger cities and metros take precedence because they typically have larger scales of digitisation and consequently demand for connectivity than the smaller towns. At the end of the day, telecoms are businesses and the key is to target the low-hanging fruit of the larger cities and in some cases that is used to subsidise expansions in the smaller towns,”

“A lot of the connectivity in smaller towns is driven under SA Connect. For good reason, this means connectivity in smaller towns can only be as fast as SA Connect. Also, lower band spectrum coverage such 700MHz is typically favoured for smaller towns and we know what’s happening there. In a nutshell, rollout is quite slow but I wouldn’t typically blame the telcos for it. Interestingly, there is a strong case for 5G for rural and peri-urban rollout vis-a-vis urban, large city rollout; so we can hopefully see this happening with SA telcos and thus faster rollouts elsewhere,” said Chireka.

Contrarily, Peter Takaendesa, head of equities at Mergence Investment Managers, says the reality is that any 5G launches in SA will remain of limited impact in the near future due to the limited availability of relevant connectivity devices and spectrum.

“My understanding is that Vodacom rolled out limited 5G services in the key metros in 2020 using the temporary spectrum allocated by ICASA as part of the COVID-19 relief programme. It is, therefore, important that relevant spectrum is licensed after observing all the objectives set by government, and infrastructure-sharing is encouraged,” said Takaendesa.

“Sub-1GB spectrum would be necessary to viably sustain wide 5G rollout for mobile devices, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. The use case for 5G will initially be more as an alternative to fibre and later on for low latency, high-speed mobile 4IR applications,” he added.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *