In this report on Mobile Network Experience in South Africa, we saw seven outright wins secured by three different operators. Vodacom collects the most awards — the three experiential trophies (Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience), along with the 4G Coverage Experience award. MTN firmly snatched the speed awards — Download Speed Experience and Upload Speed Experience — placing comfortably ahead of Vodacom in both. Meanwhile, Telkom claims its only award for 4G Availability — with a score of nearly 90%.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) intends to run a long-delayed 4G and 5G spectrum auction in March 2022. The tender will offer 2x20 MHz in the 700 MHz band, 2x30 MHz in the 800 MHz band, 140 MHz in the 2600 MHz band and 86 MHz in the 3500 MHz band to the potential bidders. All four national operators placed their applications to participate in the auction. However, Telkom filed a court action at the same time, to challenge the auction process. According to the operator, it may affect Telkom’s ability to compete, due to uniform spectrum caps and digital dividend bands still being occupied. The High Court showdown is scheduled for April 2022, but ICASA is keen on proceeding with the auction in March as planned.
South Africa is one of the few countries left in Africa that hasn’t assigned 4G spectrum in 800 and 2600 MHz bands yet and local operators had to resort to re-farming of their existing 2G/3G legacy holdings to deploy 4G services. However, the government temporarily granted operators access to the emergency spectrum in 700, 800, 2600, 2300 and 3500 MHz bands in April 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic — and MTN used its concession to deploy 5G services. Operators had to return their temporary spectrum allocations by the end of November 2021, ahead of the upcoming auction.
In November 2021, tower company IHS Towers signed a sale and leaseback agreement with MTN, which covers 5,709 towers across South Africa owned by the operator, for ZAR 6.4 billion ($417.3 million). The contract will include the provision of Power-as-a-Service to MTN at approximately 12,800 sites across the country. Meanwhile, MTN partnered with Nokia to drive its network modernization, particularly to upgrade its voice services and lay the foundation for Voice over 5G – first in South Africa, then in other African countries where MTN has its presence. The operator also signed a new roaming agreement with Telkom, which will give Telkom’s subscribers access to MTN’s 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Telkom already had an agreement with Vodacom in place, inked in December 2018.
Our results in this report are based on measurements collected across all major mobile operators in South Africa — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — over the period of 90 days between November 1, 2021 and January 29, 2022. 5G measurements contributed to the overall scores.