Vodacom launched the first commercially-available mobile 5G network in Africa this month, with 18 5G sites around Johannesburg and Pretoria, and two 5G sites in Century City in Cape Town.
While the network was launched using temporary spectrum issued by ICASA, Vodacom has stated its 5G service in South Africa is here to stay.
Vodacom explained that once it no longer has access to the temporary spectrum, it will roam entirely on Liquid Telecom’s 5G network.
For now, Vodacom’s 5G network mostly uses 50MHz of bandwidth in the 3,500MHz band that it was temporarily assigned.
“On the few sites where [Vodacom 5G] is roaming on the Liquid Telecom network, Liquid Telecom has deployed the 1×56MHz permanent assignment and also the 1×4MHz temporary assignment, for a single 1×60MHz Liquid Telecom carrier,” said Vodacom.
While 5G does promise faster speeds than 4G, one of its major features is a dramatic improvement in latency.
Latency, measured in milliseconds (ms), is the amount of time it takes for you to send a request from your computer and receive a response from another computer.
5G is touted to have such low latencies that it will make self-driving cars a reality, or allow surgeons to wirelessly control precision robots to perform operations from anywhere in the world.
For the purposes of this article, we will therefore be looking mainly at latency.
Download and upload speeds remain important, and Vodacom’s 5G network performed brilliantly in terms of bandwidth and throughput.
When you’ve got enough bandwidth, though, the latency and the stability of your connection is what will impact your experience more than anything.
All of our testing was conducted on a Huawei 5G CPE Pro H112-370, with a laptop connected to the router using a standard Ethernet cable. The laptop had a Gigabit Ethernet interface. No Wi-Fi connections were used for this test.
It should also be noted that these tests were conducted on an empty network. This is effectively the best possible performance you could expect to see from the Vodacom 5G network as it is currently implemented.
Baseline speed tests
MyBroadband has already performed several tests around Gauteng to gauge the performance of Vodacom’s 5G network.
However, to establish a baseline for this test, we ran throughput and latency tests using Speedtest.co.za and Netflix’s Fast.com. An example of the results of these tests is embedded below.
Speedtest.co.za yielded download speeds of between 200Mbps and 300Mbps. Upload speeds were relatively stable at around 31Mbps.
Fast.com’s results varied from 110Mbps to 170Mbps, with upload speeds of between 28Mbps and 30Mbps.
The latency results from the speed tests above gave impressive results of between 13ms and 15ms.
To complement these results, which test the performance over the network to Internet exchange points, a series of traceroute tests were run to a home fibre connection.
The FTTH connection uses Frogfoot’s infrastructure and Mind The Speed as an Internet service provider.
This result is useful to gauge the performance you would expect to see for network-to-network communication within South Africa. Certain multiplayer games, for example, allow for direct connections between players like this.
It should be noted that the 5G tower being tested and the FTTH connection are both in Gauteng.
As the screenshot below shows, over the course of 270 tests, the wireless connection to the 5G tower remains a major source of latency.
Skype, WhatsApp calling, Discord
Voice over IP (VoIP) calls conducted over Skype, WhatsApp, and Discord were seamless. There were no problems with the quality of the audio sent or received for the duration of the calls, which ranged between a minute and an hour.
A screenshot of the latency reported by Discord to one of its South African nodes is shown below.
To test the latency of 5G in a real-world application, we used the game Warframe.
Warframe uses a peer-to-peer connection model rather than the client-server model that is seen more often in multiplayer games.
All players in a squad connect to all other players, with one of the players designated as the “host”. Should a host leave their squad, the game triggers a “host migration” and designates one of the remaining players as the new host.
As a result of Warframe’s approach to handling network traffic between players, our test ran into an interesting security feature of Vodacom’s network – it blocks incoming requests by default.
While Warframe has ways of working around such issues, it causes a huge increase in latency.
The solution to the problem was to apply for access to Vodacom’s “unrestricted” APN. The application and provisioning were quick, requiring only that you complete a form stating that you are aware of the risks of using the unrestricted APN.
Once the SIM was provisioned, it was necessary to change the settings on the router to use the unrestricted APN.
When that was done, Warframe ran without a hitch.
With the squad host on a fibre connection, latencies hovered around 40ms. They occasionally dipped below 30ms or spiked up to 60ms or 70ms.
Streaming video to Twitch, YouTube
For a final test of connection stability, we streamed gameplay to Twitch and YouTube. This tests one of the weaker aspects of the Vodacom 5G connection – the upload speed.
While the 30Mbps upload speed is significantly slower than the 200Mbps-plus download speeds we have seen in our tests, it is still a decent amount of bandwidth.
Gameplay from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was streamed at 1080p and 60 frames per second, using a video bitrate of 4,664kbps and an audio bitrate of 160kbps.
Video was first streamed to Twitch, and a separate gameplay session was streamed to YouTube the following evening. The YouTube stream was set to ultra-low latency mode.
Viewers reported excellent streaming quality at the maximum resolution being streamed from our test computer.
Screenshots of the data consumed by the streaming software, OBS, are shown below. The first number (1.82GB) was measured after around 50 minutes of gameplay streamed to Twitch.
The second number (4.65GB) was measured after two hours of total gameplay – 50 minutes streamed to Twitch, and another 1 hour and 10 minutes to YouTube.