MTN has launched its 5G offering in South Africa – here’s what you need to know

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Yes, we know, MTN’s 5G service hasn’t exactly been kept a secret. We’ve all known it was coming, even if the first proper look at it was also our first look at the rollout being postponed. It’s here now, that’s the important thing.

The new service was made official today during a live stream (because that’s normal, now) from MTN, which saw MTN CEO Godfrey Motsa, chief consumer officer Mapula Bodibe and chief technology officer Giovanni Chiarelli outline what subscribers can expect from the service. Here’s what we’ve learned.

It’s active now, and quick

MTN opted to do a live test of 5G during its stream, crossing over to someone out in Bryanston, Johannesburg. The demo was nothing but a mobile phone speed test, which nonetheless served up a speed of 608Mbps, along with an upload speed of around 111Mbps. A second speed test took the speeds to more than 750Mbps, with a similar upload speed to the initial test.

5G is supposed to make network congestion a thing of the past, which is something we’d like to test on the network in person rather than just believing the marketing hype.  Those speeds, no matter the network load, would be impressive.

Low-latency gaming will be a major thing

This is another feature that we’ll want to see in action on a fully-loaded network but MTN’s punting the network’s gaming skills. The big thing there is latency, which is kind of the opposite of lag. Being faster than your opponents on the trigger doesn’t matter if your connection is slower. We’ve seen some serious weirdness in online games in high-latency situations (before the ubiquity of fibre connections). That’ll be a thing of the past but… like we said, seeing is believing.

You can access it in major cities

MTN’s 5G service is now available but it’s not available across the country. There are several sites with 5G like, in major South African cities. If you’re in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth and Durban, there is 5G coverage available. It’s not city-wide in all those locations, but MTN’s got ambitions in that line. The company hopes to expand 5G coverage to at least 10 million people in the next 12 months. Eventually, the company hopes to match its 96% 4G coverage in South Africa.

Google Stadia might be an option

Game streaming technology is the next big target for various tech companies but we’re not really on the list for it. That’s got a little to do with our local audience footprint but it’s mostly to do with our lack of internet speed. You need a very fat pipe to stream a PlayStation 4 game over the internet and to a smartphone. MTN demoed just that with gamer Sam Wrist, and the mobile service provider has partnered with Emerge Gaming to deliver games streamed from the cloud. Again, something else we’re very keen to try for ourselves.

Everything from self-driving cars  to business folks will benefit

MTN punted the various possible applications for the service, from self-driving cars (which will need to be connected to a reliable, speedy connection for various reasons) to internet-of-things devices becoming more commonplace — yes, even in South Africa — to creative types being able to upload content to services like YouTube or streaming live to Twitch without hindrance.

Businesses should also get a boost, as tech-based gatherings like hackathons (when those are allowed again) will see more people connected in the same area, streaming, uploading or testing new products without being bottlenecked by a mobile internet connection. This is also the starting point for so-called smart cities, which require constant, fast internet access in order to exist.

You can check your coverage/pricing here

MTN’s 5G is available in South Africa but the main question on everyone’s mind is: ‘Where the heck can I actually get it?’ MTN’s got a 5G coverage map available, which.. mostly disappointing at the moment, especially when compared with MTN’s LTE coverage.

In order to access 5G, you’ll need a 5G smartphone (there are three available from 1 July — Huawei’s P40, P40 Pro and LG’s Velvet 5G are the first on the network), while 5G contracts are also available. MTN’s also introducing an unlimited data package as well, but you’ll have to check with MTN stores for those. As for pricing, you can get your 5G contract from R700/pm (for 75GB/pm), all the way up to R1600/pm (for 500GB/pm). Expect your unlimited contract to cost more than that.

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