Yesterday MTN and Huawei announced that they had successfully run a speed test on the MTN network which measured a download speed of 1Gbps.
With a slight bit of cynicism we went down to MTN’s Switching Centre in Centurion to see these speeds with our own eyes.
As is often the case, that download rate of 1Gbps represents the peak download rate, and during the trial we witnessed an average rate of approximately 968Mbps. The true value of this connection though is not in the speed, but the potential capacity 4.5G can add to the network.
“A device might not be able to support a 1Gbps download rate, but the technology allows 10 devices running at 100Mbps, or 100 devices at 10Mbps or even 1 000 devices at 1Mbps,” Ji Qiang from Huawei explained at the trial.
So what’s the problem?
The biggest roadblock preventing 4.5G from being rolled out en masse is spectrum. This is according to Edric Chu, managing director of Huawei’s MTN SA Account.
“The technology is here but we cannot do anything without the spectrum we need. Currently MTN does not have the spectrum needed for 4.5G so we used unlicensed spectrum to make this possible. For users to fully enjoy the benefits of 4.5G we need the entire ecosystem to be ready,” Chu told htxt.africa.
While the trial did manage to tip the scales at 1Gbps, this was only over a short distance. Although the peak download rate of 1Gbps achieved over a wireless connection through walls, floors and people is nothing to scoff at, rolling out that sort of speed to the general public is going to require that additional spectrum, and that’s where things get tricky.
Clash of WANs
Huawei and MTN used 5GHz LTE unlicensed spectrum to achieve these speeds. The trouble is that this spectrum is usually used by public Wifi hotspots, Wifi routers, laptops and the like. The 5GHz spectrum is usually used by cellular network providers to boost data speeds over a short distance.
This presents a challenge when implementing this technology, which is why MTN and Huawei are eyeing commercial sites and malls for the roll-out of this particular brand of 4.5G. Making it more prolific is going to require a lot of discussion with regulators and stakeholders.
So while MTN and Huawei demonstrated that it is entirely possible to reach 1Gbps on a wireless connection, there is still plenty of work to be done before us end-users can begin to stream 4K video to our phones and tablets as smoothly as if it was a local file.