Africa's 5G capital flops load speed test

South Africa had the slowest 5G page load speeds, falling even behind Nigeria despite having a more commercialized market for the technology

Africa's 5G capital flops load speed test
Struggling in the rear

In South Africa, fifth-generation connectivity networks have yet to make good on their promise of substantially lower latency for users. Per a new speed test by Ookla,  a global frontliner in network intelligence and connectivity insights, the country has seen only a slight improvement compared to fourth-gen performances. 

The newly released report considers data from Q1 2024 and assesses page load speeds not just in South Africa, but also in eight other countries—Brazil, Canada, France, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, and the United States. The analysis majors on loading times for popular platforms like Facebook, Google, and YouTube using 4G and 5G connections. 

Across all surveyed markets, 4G still outperforms 5G for page loading speeds for all the considered services, with extents increasing country after country. Notably, among the five accounted countries, South Africa had the slowest 5G page load speeds, falling even behind Nigeria despite having a more commercialized market for the technology. 

Courtesy: Ookla

“Speedtest data shows 5G delivered a much better page load speed than 4G on all three services in South Africa during the first quarter of 2024. Google loaded 22% faster on 5G than 4G, YouTube was 27% faster on 5G and Facebook was 36% faster,” the report finds

Despite over-the-year improvements, the anticipated reduction in latency—expected to quicken page load times—has not been fully realized. The country received its first 5G network in 2019 courtesy of Rain. Vodacom followed in May 2020 with deployments in Joburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town. A month later, MTN launched in 100 city sites.

But this is not happening in total isolation. Consider India, where 5G arrived less than 2 years ago. Speedtest data shows the page load speed on all three services was much lower on 5G than on 4G in the country. Google loaded 23% faster on 5G than on 4G, YouTube was 32% faster, and Facebook was 33% faster on 5G. 

In March 2022, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) held a long-awaited broadband spectrum auction, where six MNOs, including Telkom, Liquid Telecoms, and Cell C, bade for frequency in various bands to improve the quality of their 4G services and offer customer 5G.  

Courtesy: Telegeography

With 5 million subscribers, South Africa is the unofficial 5G capital in Africa, a continent in which a dozen markets have the network commercially. Nigeria follows closely with 2.3 million subscriptions as of 2023. But per the study, the West African nation has more 5G load speeds than South Africa, performing up to 24% faster on Google, 27% on YouTube, and 47% on Facebook. 

In the fold, Canada had the fastest load speeds across all the social platforms. 5G delivered reasonably better than 4G; YouTube, Google, and Facebook loaded 16%, 18%, and 23% faster on 5G than 4G. Other things being equal, this means the country has the fastest 5G speeds globally.

“Page load speed is a critical measure of a user’s web browsing experience. It measures how long it takes for a page to load, fully displaying the content on that page. This is directly impacted by latency, which is how quickly the device gets a response after a user has sent out a request,” the report reads. 

5G, as the newer generation of cellular technology, offers enhanced mobile broadband capabilities, higher capacity, and increased bandwidth compared to 4G. A typical page load request involves two to five round-trip communications between various entities over different latency-sensitive protocols.

According to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the global average for mobile latency was 27 milliseconds, with fixed broadband latency at nine milliseconds as of May 2024. Leading brands like Walmart and Amazon indicate that 40% of users abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load.

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