State of Mobile Networks: South Africa (August 2017)

The mobile broadband market in South Africa is still evolving, but according to OpenSignal's latest round of tests, half of the country's operators are already providing good accessibility to LTE services as well as decent speeds. Our first report on South Africa analyzes more than 289 million datapoints from 20,422 devices to examine the 3G and 4G consumer experience provided by four operators: Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom. What we found was a clear divide in our metrics between the two market leaders Vodacom and MTN and their two smaller rivals.

Report Facts

289,240,043
Measurements
20,422
Test Devices
2017-05-01 - 2017-07-31
Sample Period
South Africa
Report Location

Highlights

Vodacom led or tied in all OpenSignal metrics

Vodacom set itself apart with a trio of wins and an equal number of top-of-the-table draws in our six metrics. Vodacom stood out in particular in OpenSignal's 3G speed and latency categories, though it faced much stiffer competition from MTN in our core 4G metrics.

MTN, Vodacom in a close race for 4G dominance

Despite Vodacom’s long list of wins, MTN was hot on its heels in nearly every metric. The two had the fastest LTE speeds in South Africa in our tests, both averaging downloads greater than 22 Mbps. MTN and Vodacom were also neck and neck in our 4G availability results. Our users on both networks were able to latch onto their LTE signals more than 70% of the time.

Cell C and Telkom are far behind their rivals in speed

The two market leaders have a clear speed advantage: The overall speeds we measured on MTN and Vodacom were nearly twice as fast as the overall speeds we measured on Cell C and Telkom. In the 4G category, we measured download speeds for Cell C and Telkom at 13.8 Mbps and 11.6 Mbps respectively, scores that fell short of the global LTE average of 16.2 Mbps.

LTE availability in South Africa has room to grow

While MTN and Vodacom have just crossed over the 70% threshold in our 4G availability metric, Cell C and Telkom are still well short of that benchmark. When it comes to providing a consistently accessible LTE signal, South Africa overall ranked in the bottom third of 75 countries we examined in our recent State of LTE report.

Awards Table

Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: 3G Download Speed: Overall Latency: 4G Latency: 3G Availability: 4G

Cell C

MTN

medal medal medal

Telkom

Vodacom

medal medal medal medal medal medal

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Performance by Metric

Availability: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time OpenSignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: Overall

This metric shows the average download speed experienced by OpenSignal users across all of an operator's 3G and 4G networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE availability tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend more time connected to slower 3G networks.

Latency: 4G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Latency: 3G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Analysis

Mobile consumers in South Africa have four main operators to choose from, but two have broken away from the pack, providing the most consistent consumer mobile data experience in our metrics. Vodacom and MTN were the standouts in our report, providing not only fast data speeds but also good LTE service reach. However, South Africa overall still has some work to do if it wants to catch up to its global peers in 4G capabilities. As a result, future investment in spectrum and infrastructure will be key in the region going forward.

OpenSignal's State of Mobile Networks: South Africa report is the result of more than 289 million measurements collected between May 1 and July 31 of 2017 from 20,422 testers using OpenSignal and its partners' apps. We collated customer experience data on both 3G and 4G networks for the four nationwide mobile network operators in South Africa: Cell C, MTN, Telkom and the Vodafone Group's Vodacom.

Two distinct tiers of speed

When it comes to 4G network speeds, there is a clear separation between the four operators. MTN and Vodacom were essentially tied for first place in our LTE download rankings, providing average 4G connections of 22.6 and 22.1 Mbps respectively. Both operators' scores were well above the global 4G download average of 16.2 Mbps found in our most recent worldwide State of LTE report.

Though MTN and Vodacom well exceeded our global benchmarks for 4G speed, the same couldn't be said for Cell C and Telkom. Our users averaged 4G downloads of 14.2 Mbps on Cell C and 11.8 Mbps on Telkom during the three-month period of OpenSignal measurement. In our LTE report, South Africa as a whole averaged 19.3-Mbps 4G download speeds across all operator networks, which landed it in the bottom half of the 75 countries examined.

The different capabilities of the four operators' networks are the likely reasons for the speed differences we recorded between the top and bottom ranks of providers. Vodacom, for example, has launched LTE across three frequency bands and is experimenting with an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation to boost its connections speeds. Competitors are using fewer frequencies or have less bandwidth devoted to 4G services, although other operators are expanding LTE into two frequency bands.

Indeed, Vodacom’s aggressive technological approach may be the reason it won at least a share of all six of OpenSignal’s awards in this report. Vodacom is also currently showing the most forward momentum when it comes to adopting new LTE techniques. It's now offering voice over LTE services as well as using more sophisticated smart antenna technologies (4x4 MIMO) and more complex modulation schemes (256 QAM).

While we saw stark contrasts between the South African operators in 4G speed, all four provided a solid 3G experience in our tests. All of them exceeded the global 3G download speed average of 4.4 Mbps. Even in this area, however, Cell C and Telkom lagged behind market leaders MTN and Vodacom. OpenSignal measurements show a download speed range of 4.2 to 4.7 Mbps on the former pair's 3G networks compared to a range of 5.6 to 6.5 Mbps on the latter duo's infrastructure.

Network latency, which is a measure of a network's reaction speed, was also similar across the quartet of operators, at least on 4G. OpenSignal data showed lag times of 41 milliseconds or less for each. Vodacom again stood out, however, with the lowest network latency average of 32.8ms in our tests. Vodacom also showed both the fastest 3G download speeds and lowest 3G latency in our measurements. OpenSignal users on Vodacom experienced nearly three times less 3G latency as compared to those on Cell C.

4G availability is a mixed bag

Both Vodacom and MTN were statistically tied for the lead in our 4G availability metric. Our availability metric measures the proportion of time our users were able to connect to a particular network. In the case of MTN and Vodacom, both provided our users access to an LTE signal just over 70% of the time, which in our view is a good indication of a maturing 4G service. Again, our availability results for Cell C and Telkom were measurably behind the market leaders. Our testers were able to find a 4G signal 66.3% on Cell C's networks and 61.9% of the time on Telkom's networks.

4G availability has a big impact on our overall speed metric, which factors in not only 3G and 4G speeds but the proportion of time users connect to each network. The more often consumers have access to faster LTE connections, the faster their everyday mobile data experience will be. In the case of Vodacom and MTN, their high 4G availability scores and fast 3G and 4G speed tests compounded to produce overall speed metrics of 12.2 Mbps and 11.3 Mbps respectively. Meanwhile, neither Cell C nor Telkom had overall speed scores faster than 7 Mbps.

In OpenSignal's State of LTE report, which covered the January through March 2017 time period, South Africa had an overall availability score of 62.7%, which ranked it among the bottom third of the 75 countries we examined. That availability was on par with countries like Argentina, Indonesia and Israel. But South Africa's mobile industry did beat out several Western European economic powers, including France, Germany and Italy, all of which have been slow to build out their LTE signal reach. Since the LTE report was released, though, we've seen availability scores improve in all four major operators' 4G tests.

There is still room for South Africa's current networks to grow, however. To improve user experiences in South Africa, all of the operators are either researching or trialing LTE-Advanced technologies that would build more capacity into their networks and support faster average speeds. Operators like MTN are looking to pair the 5 GHz airwaves used for Wifi with existing LTE bands (a technology called LTE-U) to gain an additional edge. But some of South Africa’s operators suggest that spectrum is the primary roadblock for future network improvements.

This month, Vodacom Group’s CTO Andries Delpor said, “When do we run out of spectrum? We have run out of spectrum.” That’s likely why Vodacom is pressuring regulators to give it access to the 800 MHz spectrum band, the low frequencies of which can travel further and are more effective for reaching customers indoors. Such spectrum would likely improve both 4G availability and network speeds in buildings. However, Delpor also estimates that between 1,500 and 3,000 new cell sites would be needed to address network gaps in rural areas, so capital investment without additional spectrum is another potential solution to spurring South Africa's 4G progress.

Our Methodology

OpenSignal data is collected from consumer smartphones and recorded under conditions of normal usage. As opposed to drive-test data, which attempts to simulate what a user might experience by using the same devices to measure network performance in a small number of locations, we take our measurements from millions of smartphones owned by regular people who have downloaded OpenSignal’s apps.

Those measurements are taken wherever users happen to be, whether indoors or out, in a city or in the countryside, representing a mobile data service the way users experience it. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 289,240,043 datapoints were collected from 20,422 users during the period: 2017-05-01 - 2017-07-31.

All data has been collected from users of the OpenSignal mobile app for Android or iOS.

For every metric we've calculated statistical confidence intervals and plotted them on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric, our measured results are too close to declare a winner in a particular category. In those cases, we show a statistical draw. For this reason, some metrics have multiple operator winners.

©2017 OpenSignal, Inc. All rights reserved.

OpenSignal, Inc retains ownership of this report including all intellectual property rights, data, content, graphs & analysis. Reports produced by OpenSignal, Inc may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed, published for any commercial purpose (including use in advertisements or other promotional content) without prior written consent.

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