MTN talks 5G future in South Africa

 ·18 Oct 2018

MTN South Africa CTIO Giovanni Chiarelli says that the operator is investing in 5G technology.

Speaking at the 2018 MyBroadband Conference, Chiarelli said MTN will invest in 5G at similar levels to the R40 billion it has pumped into its networks over the past five years.

5G networks – the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, will ensure faster speeds and more reliable connections for devices.

Back in January, MTN, in partnership with Ericsson, conducted the first “5G technology and applications trial in Africa” at its head office in Johannesburg.

MTN achieved a throughput of over 20Gbps with less than 5ms latency in the 5G trial, which is “the highest achieved on a mobile network in Africa”.

The operator said that the time that the tests will lead to the commercial deployment of 5G technologies in the near future.

“MTN and its partners continue identifying 5G use cases and applications for the digital transformation of industries,” it said at the time.

And in May, MTN partnered with Huawei to conduct the first 5G outdoor trial on the continent.

Using Huawei’s recently-launched commercial 5G terminal in conjunction with an existing tower, MTN reached download speeds of 530Mbps and upload speeds of 79Mbps, along with a latency of 7ms – measured in an online speed test.

The network allocated 100MHz of its high-frequency 28GHz spectrum to conduct the test and used Huawei’s 5G outdoor terminal to deliver the connection to a Huawei Wi-Fi router.

“This is the first time we are demonstrating a complete end-to-end 5G network operating in a real-world environment,” said MTN.

MTN group president and CEO, Rob Shuter, did however, warn over getting carried away with the imminent arrival of 5G networks. He said that the roll-out of 5G in the country will be much more case-based.

“The way we speak about 3G coverage…and 4G, we won’t speak about it (5G) in the same way. This is a technology still looking for an application,” Shuter said, highlighting the expense related to the equipment, and roll-out of such a service.

4G technology

According to Chiarelli, MTN will have 90% 4G population coverage before the end of 2018. He told delegates at the MyBroadband conference on Thursday that MTN is currently at 88% 4G coverage in the country.

The high population coverage comes after Chiarelli joined MTN just two years ago, where he was given the task to “fix the network”.

After years of work and billions of rand invested into its network, he said MTN is well on track to challenge as the best network in South Africa.

MTN is also aiming to have 3G deployed at every site it operates in the country before the end of year. MTN is currently close to 100% 3G population coverage, he added.

In terms of “non-cellular” solutions, Chiarelli said MTN offers businesses and SMEs multiple connectivity options to keep them connected.

Fibre is a top choice for companies, while smaller SMEs that cannot afford fibre can opt for point-to-point microwave technology.

At the moment, this microwave option covers 60% of businesses in South Africa.


An issue which still plagues MTN, and all mobile operators in the country, is the lack of available spectrum.

The only countries worse than South Africa where MTN operates are Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Yemen.

Countries which far exceed SA in terms of spectrum availability include Syria, Ghana, Sudan, Zambia, Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda.

Read: MTN weighs options including merger talks with Telkom – report

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