A visitor walks past a 5G sign during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Picture: REUTERS
A visitor walks past a 5G sign during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Picture: REUTERS

Telkom does not consider fifth-generation (5G) connectivity to be a priority given that consumers are only now starting to embrace 4G services, says Attila Vitai, the parastatal’s consumer business head.

Although international 5G standards have yet to be fully approved, 5G is expected to provide better internet speeds than 4G.

"We are planning for it [5G] of course, it’s a great technology. But we have invested heavily in 4G, as have our competitors, and customers are still learning to use the 4G applications that we’re offering," Vitai said.

"There are very many more 4G applications that we want to turn into mass-market services, such as music streaming and video streaming, and I really don’t see that 5G is a burning issue for us now."

Telkom was focused on "disrupting" the traditional voice calls market by encouraging consumers to make calls on data-based services like WhatsApp, he said.

Telkom’s larger mobile operator rivals have started testing the waters through tie-ups with technology companies.

Vodacom has partnered with Nokia, while MTN is collaborating with Ericsson. In addition to laboratory and network testing, they aim to identify potential 5G applications for SA, such as augmented reality and remote surgery, which require the low latency characteristics that 5G will offer.

MTN said earlier in January that its trials had recorded a peak throughput of 23-gigabits per second, with less than 5-milliseconds of latency.

"I think 5G right now is an awful lot of hype," Vitai said, adding that most 5G-compatible handsets were still "the size of a pretty substantial cupboard".

For consumers, the technology would herald ultrafast download speeds that existing mobile phone applications did not require.

"There’s a price to pay for delivering that speed, and will customers pay for it? Our belief is probably not yet."

Initiatives to change consumer behaviour and position Telkom as the provider for data-heavy users "need to bed down for the next few years — people are only now starting to use their phones for video streaming", Vitai said.

In its mobile business, 70% of Telkom’s revenues come from data while 30% stems from traditional voice.

In the six months to September, Telkom invested R1.2bn in its mobile business, increasing its footprint by a quarter to 3,445 sites. "We are filling in the gaps we have in the metropolitan areas," Vitai said.

Mobile service revenue grew 43.2% as the group’s active
subscriber base rose by more than a third.