Kathy Gibson is at AfricaCom 2019 in Cape Town – MTN and Huawei have demonstrated C-Band 5G running live on the MTN network.
C-band, the so-called “golden band” for 5G spectrum, is a valuable slice of spectrum and comprises a frequency range of around 3.3 – 3.8GHz. Many countries around the world are deploying this spectrum band to deliver their 5G services, making it highly valuable for mobile operators.
MTN and Huawei signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a Joint 5G Innovation Program to assess and work on new technologies such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Through these innovations, MTN SA will develop use cases that have a social impact, including smart city and education driven by 5G and AI technologies.

Zoltan Miklos, GM: engineering at MTN, says the system is non-standalone, running on the 5G-ready 4G network.

The demonstration achieved a speed of 1,6Gpbs over 100MHz spectrum, with 8ms latency.

“Just two years ago, 5G was just a promise with no standards, equipment, devices or spectrum to make its adoption a reality,” says Giovanni Chiarelli, chief technology officer of MTN.

“Today, we are connected end-to-end to the live network that services our 30-million customers.”

Equipment and devices are available now, with spectrum expected to be licenced by early 2020.

“So we are ready; just requiring the spectrum,” Chiarelli says.

Huawei and MTN are working together on rolling out the technology, but also to design and develop solutions for use cases, he adds.

Dean Yu, vice-president: carrier business of Huawei South Africa, jokes that this is the third time Huawei has participated in a 5G launch with MTN.

“The previous times were pilots. This time we are using C-band – and this time it is connected to the live core network,” he says.

The time is right for a 5G network, he adds, with the ecosystem around the technology evolving fast.

For example, Yu expects 5G terminal costs to drop as low as $60 or less very quickly – soon rivalling the least-expensive 4G devices.

5G is also seeing successful use cases outside of the traditional individual user market, Yu adds.

“It has a bigger market than we have seen for 3G and 4G,” he says.

Early adopters in other countries are smart cities where cameras can now be deployed in locations where there is no fibre, or even in mobile devices like drones.

5G is being used in tele-medicine applications where doctors can perform remote surgery, in broadcasting, digital manufacturing and even mining.

“In China we have an exhibition where we invited a mine owner to operate a mining machine. He is in the exhibition hall, but the machine could be 1 000 km away in his mine.

“Mining work is very dangerous, but being able to operate equipment remotely improves safety.”