State of Mobile Networks: South Africa (September 2018)

In the six months since our last report on the South African mobile market, we've seen one operator extend its lead at the top of our awards table. Vodacom won six out of seven of our national awards, and it scored highly in all of our regional speed and latency categories. However, MTN topped our coveted national 4G availability metric, and dominated LTE reach in the regions. We've analyzed more than 433 million data samples collected from nearly 40,000 devices between May and July to examine the 3G and 4G experience provided by South Africa's four main operators, both at a national level and in the country's three largest cities.

Report Facts

433,860,547
Measurements
39,707
Test Devices
2018-05-01 - 2018-07-29
Sample Period
South Africa
Report Location

Highlights

Vodacom king of the speed awards

Vodacom won all four of our national network speed commendations, including the coveted 4G download speed award. The leader increased its LTE speed by over 3 Mbps in our measurements, while its rivals' speeds have stayed fairly stagnant over the past six months.

Vodacom and MTN in the top tier

Vodacom comfortably won our overall speed category with a score of over 17 Mbps, followed by MTN with 15 Mbps while the other two operators both scored under 10 Mbps. This disparity was reflected across much of our analysis, where we saw a “two tier” pattern with Cell C and Telkom falling some way behind the top two.

MTN extends its lead in 4G availability

MTN once again topped our 4G availability table, extending its lead to 6 percentage points ahead of its nearest rival. But there were just 12 percentage points separating all four operators, as our LTE availability scores were much closer than those in speed.

Vodacom and MTN rule in the cities

Vodacom dominated our cities table, scoring highly in all six of our speed metrics and scoring a clean sweep in 4G latency. MTN won our 4G availability award in two cities but was held to a surprise draw by Cell C in Cape Town.

Awards Table

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

Cell C

MTN

medal

Telkom

Vodacom

medal medal medal medal medal medal

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Performance by Metric

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.

Upload Speed: 4G

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

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.

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.

Regional Performance

This chart shows the regional winners in each category OpenSignal measures. Click on the icons to see a more detailed graph showing each operator’s metrics in a particular region.

Legend: Telkom Cell C MTN Vodacom
Region Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: Overall Latency: 4G Availability: 4G
Cape Town
Durban
Johannesburg

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Analysis

Vodacom has now firmly established itself as the dominant South African mobile operator in our metrics, showing its rivals a clean pair of heels in all of our national speed and latency categories. But MTN won our coveted 4G availability award, and the top two operators remain some way ahead of their rivals in most of our metrics, creating two distinct tiers of operators.

In our third report on South Africa, we analyzed more than 433 million data points collected from 39,707 mobile users in the 90 days starting June 01, 2018. We have compared the 3G and 4G experience offered by Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom on the national level, while we have included a regional analysis of the country's three biggest cities of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. First up, let's look at our speed metrics, where Vodacom is winning the race.

Vodacom: South Africa's speed king

Vodacom swept the board in our national speed awards, winning all four for 4G download and upload, 3G download, and overall download speeds. The Vodafone-controlled operator has pulled ahead of the pack in the last six months, after being held to a draw with MTN in both our 4G download and overall speed categories in our last report.

In our 4G download speed metric, Vodacom increased its average speed by over 3 Mbps to just under 25 Mbps. MTN's speed has stalled on around 22 Mbps in our measurements. Elsewhere our users on both Cell C and Telkom's networks saw their average 4G download speeds hold steady at around 14 Mbps. This notable gap between Vodacom and MTN and the other two national operators is part of a wider trend where we are seeing two tiers of user experience in our South Africa analysis.

Vodacom's success in 4G download helped it win our overall speed category, which measures the combined speeds of operators' 3G and 4G connections and the level of access to each technology. Vodacom also increased its score in this metric by over 3 Mbps to reach an average speed of 17.5 Mbps, topping MTN's 15.4 Mbps, while Cell C and Telkom were some way behind with scores of under 10 Mbps. Cell C did see an increase of some 1.5 Mbps, likely the result of increases in our 3G download speed and 4G availability measurements.

Vodacom kept its title at the top of our 3G download speed category, with a score of 7.4 Mbps. But it was Cell C who saw the greatest increase in this metric over the past six months, as its score grew by over 1.5 Mbps to reach an average of 6 Mbps – overtaking Telkom and closing the gap on the top two. This could be a result of the roaming deal it signed with MTN at the end of May 2018, which allows Cell C to piggyback on its rival's 3G and 4G networks in areas where it previously had little or no coverage. But this seems to have had little effect on Cell C's 4G download speeds which have stayed fairly static since our last report.

In our 4G upload category, the disparity between the two tiers was more apparent, as Vodacom's winning average speed of 8.5 Mbps was more than double that of fourth-placed Telkom. This rift was also apparent in South Africa's biggest cities, where Vodacom scored an impressive 4G download rate of over 30 Mbps in Johannesburg – more than double that of Cell C and Telkom in our measurements. Meanwhile MTN and Vodacom drew in our 4G and overall download categories in both Cape Town and Durban with notably higher speeds than their rivals.

Both MTN and Vodacom have put significant investment into their networks to achieve these results. But Vodacom now claims it is being limited in extending its 4G reach by a lack of available spectrum in the sub-1 GHz bands, while MTN is splitting its available spectrum between 2G, 3G and 4G services. The regulator is creating further uncertainty in this area, postponing a planned auction in 2017 and proposing the creation of a shared wireless open access network. But whichever road the government chooses to take, more spectrum resources need to be made available if the country hopes to continue to grow its mobile network speeds.

A closer-run race in 4G availability as MTN extends its lead

MTN once again topped our 4G availability metric with a score of 78%, extending its lead over closest rival Vodacom to over 6 percentage points. Vodacom's score of 72% in our measurements was followed by Cell C on 68% and Telkom with 66%. MTN saw the greatest increase since our last report of over 4 percentage points, while Cell C and Vodacom both increased their scores by over 2 points each.

The race was even closer in our regional metrics, where MTN scored over 80% 4G availability in all three cities — but was held to a surprise draw by Cell C in Cape Town. This pattern reflects a wider phenomenon we've observed in developing mobile markets, where operators are focused on rolling out 4G to as many people as possible. But 4G availability scores of over 80% are impressive in what is still an emerging LTE market, and the country is among the leaders in availability in its region as LTE reach in Africa grows.

Vodacom pulls ahead in latency

Vodacom won our 4G latency category, after drawing with MTN in our last report. Latency measures the response time of a network, and lower latency scores mean webpages begin loading quicker and real-time communications apps and online games experience less lag. Vodacom passed the 30 milliseconds threshold for the first time in our measurements, with a 4G latency score a full 4ms quicker than its closest rival MTN. Vodacom also scored a clean sweep in our 4G latency metric in South Africa's three biggest cities, with an impressive 24ms in Joburg, while the operator also trimmed over 12ms off its score to win our national 3G latency award.

The South African mobile market is still very much in its two-tier phase, with our users on Vodacom and MTN receiving a notably better experience than those on their rivals in almost all our metrics. But all the national operators are beginning to feel the pinch as their network spectrum resources become stretched thin. Repeated auction postponements and ongoing regulatory uncertainty is casting a shadow over the future of LTE in South Africa. Operators are taking action to mitigate the shortage by splitting and refarming their spectrum resources, but the government needs to continue to make fresh spectrum available so the country can take its place at the peak of 4G in Africa.

Our Methodology

OpenSignal measures the real-world experience of consumers on mobile networks as they go about their daily lives. We collect 3 billion individual measurements every day from tens of millions of smartphones worldwide.

Our measurements are collected at all hours of the day, every day of the year, under conditions of normal usage, including inside buildings and outdoors, in cities and the countryside, and everywhere in between. By analyzing on-device measurements recorded in the places where subscribers actually live, work and travel, we report on mobile network service the way users truly experience it.

We continually adapt our methodology to best represent the changing experience of consumers on mobile networks and, therefore, comparisons of the results to past reports should be considered indicative only. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data, see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 433,860,547 datapoints were collected from 39,707 users during the period: 2018-05-01 - 2018-07-29.

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.

©2018 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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