Vodacom and MTN share best mobile network award

October 26th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

A rare occasion: Vodacom’s Shameel Joosub and MTN’s Giovanni Chiarelli share the stage.

At the annual MyBroadband Conference and Expo held at Gallagher Estate on 18 October, Vodacom and MTN were jointly presented with the award for best mobile network. This does not come as a surprise as both networks have been claiming this title in their marketing efforts.

Earlier this year the two networks clashed at the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA). MTN’s ASA complaint against Vodacom focused on the fact that the “best network” and “fastest network” claims are interpreted as a network performance claim.

All previous claims to SA’s best network were communicated in the context of network performance such as speed, coverage, and dropped calls. Vodacom defended its claim of having “SA’s best network for three years in a row” following a complaint by MTN. The ASA dismissed MTN’s claim and it was ultimately resolved that claims of best network will be based on network performance results coupled with consumer perception surveys.

Both networks have made large investments in their network over the past year, and have concentrated on coverage and performance. Did MyBroadband take the easy way out by making a joint award? Not so. During a panel discussion, the moderator, Jan Vermeulen asked Vodacom’s head of innovation, Jannie van Zyl, what is considered the best mobile network. Van Zyl promptly answered that the problem is that there is no real definition of what a best network is. He said if you consider speed and combine the measurement of 3G and 4G networks, then Vodacom and MTN are neck-on-neck. Currently Vodacom leads on 4G speed but tomorrow it may be MTN. It was a rare occasion having Vodacom’s Shameel Joosub and MTN’s Giovanni Chiarelli shake hands and stand side-by-side on stage! Have they settled? No – both will go out aiming to be the best!

The other category winners in the awards were:

  • IT person of the year: Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom
  • Best mobile broadband provider of the year: MTN
  • Best fixed broadband provider: Openserve
  • Best ISP: Cool Ideas

Spectrum discussion still centre stage

Both MTN and Vodacom referred to spectrum and cooperation with local authorities as their major stumbling block in bringing the cost of communication down and expanding their networks. While the direction by President Cyril Ramaphosa that spectrum must be made available is welcomed by the industry, it now has to happen with speed. Government’s rapid deployment policy needs to be implemented with haste and local authorities must come to the party and reduce the delays in granting wayleave and approval of plans for communication towers.

5G at the hype stage

5G had its fair share of discussion time. With so much focus on 5G, one cannot but wonder if it has reached hype stage, taking over from where cloud was some years back. The one sector that will enjoy the first benefits of 5G will be the fibre industry. 5G, with its very high speeds and latency, requires many more base stations much closer to each other than the current 4G systems, all needing to be connected by fibre. And that is why people like Shameel Joosub and Giovanni Chiarelli are so outspoken about the need for cooperation by local authorities and, of course, access to more spectrum.

The current status on 5G is that the standards and specifications for transmission have been agreed on. The specification for handhelds are likely to be locked down by the end of this year and the development of phones will carry on during the first quarter of 2019. The first phones are expected to be released later next year at a premium price. But not everyone is so optimistic. We may well have a 5G network in Lesotho and in Soweto and other trials by MTN, Vodacom and the vendors, but these are all about them getting a feel for the system. More realistic expectations are that the first real networks will become operational in 2022.

The fact that 5G at the hype stage was borne from a statement made in an interview with Shameel Joosub when he said that at a recent summit, a senior government official asked why the industry is still so concerned about spectrum for 4G, when they should focus on spectrum for 5G. “4G is currently still our most important focus. For us to meet the call for more affordable broadband communication we need spectrum urgently”, Joosub said.

Vodacom also did not miss the opportunity to announce that VodaWorld in Midrand will reopen on 23 November 2018 and will be the largest most technically advanced mobile centre on the continent, if not the world!

The exhibitors at the expo did their job well. There were many new companies on show with interesting equipment and services on offer. MyBroadband Conference and Expo is an annual event not to be missed. Not every speaker may get your interest, but overall you get the picture of where the South African communication sector is heading. When asked about MyBroadband’s future plans, Rudolph Muller told EngineerIT, “We will be expanding our small conference offerings throughout next year, focussing on specific technologies and technical subjects.”