First 5G field trial switched on in SA

May 14th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EngineerIT

The 5G antenna can be seen as the white box in the centre of the structure.

MTN has taken the lead in trialling 5G and is the first company in Africa to switch on a 5G field trial with the Huawei E2E Solution in Hatfield, Pretoria in early May 2018. This follows the first indoor trial launched at MTN’s 14th Avenue campus in early January, which the company is piloting with Ericsson.

The field trial demonstrates a 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28 GHz millimetre-wave customer premises equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment. Speeds of 520 Mbps downlink and 77 Mbps uplink have been achieved.

The past two years have seen the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G architecture work progressing from the study period in 2016, to the delivery of a complete set of stage 2 level specifications. By achieving this milestone in 3GPP Release 15, the 5G system architecture has been defined – providing the set of features and functionality needed for deploying a commercially operational 5G system. SA2, the 3GPP architecture working group, has now specified the overall 5G system architecture; detailing features, functionality and services including dynamic behaviour defined by information flows.

Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimetre-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G-enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s enhanced mobile broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G millimetre-wave fixed-wireless access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.

Like with LTE, spectrum remains an issue. It is expected that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will agree on the frequency bands at the next World Radio Congress in 2019. There are three slices of spectrum currently on the table.

  • Low band, 700 MHz: This would be used for wide coverage mobile voice and data applications. For South Africa this is the band that will only become available after the migration from analogue terrestrial TV to digital television. With the impasse in whether to encrypt or not encrypt and endless court interactions, it is likely that this band will not be available to South Africa soon.
  • Mid Band, 3,4 – 4,2 GHz: In this band the VSAT community has expressed concern that 5G in the current C-band will create problems for them. Currently various ITU groups are studying sharing options. This band will be used for mobile enhanced broadband services.
  • High band, 28 GHZ band: This band will be used for fixed wireless excess and is expected to become a major competitor with optic fibre. Currently MTN is using 100 MHz of their microwave spectrum allocation for the field trails.

MTN expects that specifications for routers will be finalised later this year with the first phones becoming available in mid-2019, and the first services to start by 2020.

MTN envisages that 5G will first role out in high density areas in addition to the current 4G LTE services. The company will continue to support 3G services as the technology is currently best-suited for servicing rural area with reliable voice and data services.