Mobile Operator MTN Plans to Launch 5G Services in South Africa by End June

MTN has confirmed to Business Insider South Africa that it is launching its 5G network in major cities “across the country” but the exact locations are still “confidential”.

To date, only Vodacom has a 5G network in more than one region, as it is active in Cape Town, as well as Johannesburg and Pretoria. Data-only network Rain is only available in Gauteng.

The company announced this week that it is planning on launching its own 5G network at the end of the month.

MTN had initially planned to launch at the start of June, but encountered “delays in bringing some equipment into the country.”

The company has also confirmed that, like Vodacom, it will be using emergency spectrum allocated by the government to provide 5G services. In April the government allowed access to some of the radio frequency spectrum best suited to 5G on an emergency basis to help fight Covid-19. The allocation is to help the operators cope with demand. The catch is that operators only get access until November, or until the end of the state of emergency.

The company has, as yet, not indicated how it will offer 5G services that are not using the emergency spectrum allocation.

MTN outed itself in the latest issue of its Y’Ello magazine, in which it is running a promotion for 5G connectivity using Huawei’s recently launched line of P40 smartphones. Along with the LG ThinQ, these are currently the only smartphones in the country capable of using 5G services.

Technically, the pricey Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra also uses 5G, but Vodacom and MTN have not indicated whether they will support it.*

The big mobile operators have been struggling for years to get permission to use the parts of the radio spectrum best suited for 5G. The government is due to auction off blocks of the spectrum later this year.

Only two networks, Vodacom and Rain, have been able to offer 5G services, and both have achieved it by working around government regulations.

Vodacom recently announced a deal with Liquid Telecom to use their 5G network. Liquid owns the parts of the spectrum that formerly belonged to Neotel. In the case of Rain, they’re repurposing the parts of the spectrum formerly used by iBurst after they bought parent company WBS.

This article was updated to reflect MTN’s confirmation of offering 5G services across the country, the use of emergency spectrum, and the availability of another 5G-capable phone in SA, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.

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Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], [2].