MTN wants to retire its 3G network from 2025

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MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita.
MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita.
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  • MTN wants to start to decommission its 3G network by 2025, as it adopts new generation technologies
  • The operator currently has more than 1 000 5G sites across the country.
  • It wants to have 5G network coverage that covers 25% of the country’s population by the end of the year, pushing it to 60% in five years' time.

MTN - which was one of the successful bidders in the broadband spectrum - plans to have 5G network coverage that covers 25% of the country’s population by the end of the year, pushing it to 60% in five years' time.

The plan is bolstered by MTN's recent acquisition of a total of 100MHz of spectrum across the 800MHz, 2 600MHz and 3 500MHz frequency bands. It paid R5.2 billion for the spectrum.

As it switches to 5G, the company wants to start decommissioning 3G in 2025/26.

Speaking to investors on Friday afternoon, the group’s CEO Ralph Mupita said its South African business, which is the largest after Nigeria, had the least amount of spectrum in the group before the auction. Following the auction, MTN South Africa is now "in the middle of the pack".

According to Mupita, the company had to be innovative in its utilisation of the available spectrum.

Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over, which allows for cellphone communication – as well as for satellite TV, air traffic control, and two-way radios.

3G is the third generation of wireless communication technology, which was launched in 1998. 4G is much faster than 3G, while 5G is some 10 times faster than the 4G, allowing speeds of around 200Mbps.

MTN SA has been on a path of expanding its network capacity, including 4G and 5G rollout as part of its growth strategy. The company has established more than 1 000 5G sites so far.

"The ambition is clear, this year we will deliver 25% population coverage on 5G, and by 2025 we are going to take the coverage on the 5G layer to 60%," said chief executive Charles Molapisi.

"The (3G) decommissioning will bring with it the spectrum that we are going to use on the 5G layer or even the 4G. We see 4G technology as long term," he said, adding that fourth and fifth-generation technology could co-exist for longer periods.

MTN will use the proceeds from the sale of 5 700 cellphone towers in South Africa to IHS Towers to fund the spectrum acquisition. Late last year, the company entered into a R6.4 billion deal to sell these towers.

The broadband auction took place in the shadow of the pending review of the 2021 invitation document issued by the regulator for the process, which Telkom is challenging. The case will be heard from 11 April. Telkom, despite its legal bid, was one of the successful bidders in the auction.

The acquisition of additional spectrum by telecommunication companies is expected to lower data and call costs for South Africans.

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