MTN is conducting the first live 5G trial in Africa. The indoor trial is running from today at MTN’s Johannesburg head office, with an outdoor trial planned for later in the year. A commercial pilot is expected to start in about 2019 or 2020.
Ericsson is the technology partner on the 5G trial.
The 5G trial with MTN achieved a throughput of more than 20Gbps with less than 5ms latency, which is the highest achieved on a mobile network in Africa.
The 5G trial is based on commercially-available baseband hardware that supports 5G mobility.
The 4G network will form the basis on which MTN will build its new 5G network, says Babak Fouladi, group chief technology and information officer at MTN.
The telco’s existing 4G network, with over 8 00 sites already installed and more planned for 2018, is being rolled out as 5G-ready. All the equipment being installed for the 4G network can be quickly upgraded for 5G as soon as spectrum and devices are available.
MTN SA’s network growth was impressive in 2017, says Giovanni Chiarelli, chief technology and information officer at MTN SA. More than 12 00 3G sites are now running, and more than 8 000 4G sites.
This means that 3G coverage is now 97% of the population, and 4G reaches more than 70%.
The benefits of 5G over 4G include a massive 1 000-times increase in capacity, resulting in a lower cost of data transport – if spectrum is available, Chiarelli explains.
Speed improvements of up to 100-times can be achieved, offering fibre-like services on the mobile network.
5G also allows for 100-times more devices to be connected to the network, thus enabling massive IoT deployments like those required for smart agriculture and smart city use cases.
It also offers 10-times lower latency, so realtime motion control for remote mining and factory applications becomes possible.
5G has 10-times better reliability, at 99,999% uptime, so mobile can become a viable option for critical services like smart health and others.
Chiarelli points out that there are a number of imperatives required to ensure a successful 5G rollout. These include spectrum readiness, a device ecosystem, network virtualisation, and radio evolution with evolved and densified LTE.
MTN and its partners have identified a number of 5G use cases and applications for the digital transformation of industries such as mining, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and utilities. They are also demonstrating end-to-end 5G capabilities in support of MTN South Africa’s enterprise monetization and market growth ambitions.
“With 5G, remote healthcare through connected robots could offer world-class surgery in the most remote parts of the continent and the world. Self-driving cars could change the face of road safety, along with smart agriculture, smart mining and smart cities. There is no doubt that 5G will offer the consumer higher speeds and lower latencies but to achieve this, we need the capacity that comes with additional spectrum thus once again we call on the government to urgently release the much-needed spectrum that is required in South Africa, to lower the cost of data and drive growth and development for all South Africans.”
Ericsson’s 5G solution uses a combination of 4G and new radio technology, using both existing and new spectrum, initially between 3GHz and 6GHz but possibly expanding into lower bands as use increases.
Although the 5G standards and spectrum haven’t yet been finalised, spectrum is expected to be announced in 2019 and many of the network standards are almost ready. The official standardisation of the 5G new radio has been finalised, and the new core should be standardised next. However, network vendors have ensured that their hardware is 5G-ready.
Once the standards have been completed, it typically takes six to 12 months before chipsets for routers and handsets will become available.