At the beginning of the month, 4th May to be more precise, Vodacom detailed its new 5G network, with it spanning six clusters across the country and providing connectivity of the latest broadband standard to 20 live areas.

The local carrier was able to do so thanks to emergency spectrum being assigned by ICASA, making Vodacom one of only two service providers in South Africa to offer 5G, with the other being Rain.

Vodacom’s offering is slightly different, however, offering connectivity both in terms of mobile devices and Huawei-designed CPEs, provided you fall within one of the aforementioned 20 live zones.

Intrigued by what kinds of speed this connectivity could offer, Vodacom sent us the LG V50 ThinQ 5G to test out what the new network offering is capable of.

This smartphone is the first official 5G-supporting device available to purchase in the country, but we have also been seeded a P40 Pro 5G phone by Huawei for a separate review, and decided to use both devices to test out Vodacom’s new 5G network.

So this is what our experience has been like, and what our first impressions of Vodacom 5G is.

The right area

The first hurdle we encountered was coverage. While we do fall within the Midrand cluster for testing the 5G, unfortunately our home location falls outside the live zone. Luckily, we do live close to one – Vodacom World.

After checking out the coverage map for 5G in the area, we headed to Vodacom World to run some 5G and LTE/4G+ speed tests.

Given the country’s current lockdown, this proved a little bit more difficult than anticipated, but luckily as media, we are deemed essential service providers, so after an explanation of what we were doing, as well as showing our necessary CPIC documents, we got access to the campus.

This showcases that while Vodacom has its 5G up and running, the issue of coverage will still prove a hurdle for those wanting to experience it. If you happen to find yourself in a coverage area, great, but if not, the wait is on.

Once the lockdown ends, access should prove far easier to come by, with it no doubt also freeing up capacity for the service provider to improve the level of coverage as well.

Still, with other large networks playing catch up, Vodacom is leading the charge as far as 5G connectivity does at the moment.

A snapshot of the Vodacom World 5G coverage in Midrand.

Make and model

Now for the speed tests, and these yielded some interesting results. The first is that not all 5G is created equal. We’re not simply talking about the quality of service, but the type of devices you’re testing on too. The Huawei P40 Pro 5G for example, clocked faster download speeds than that of the LG V50 ThinQ.

We think a couple of factors are worth noting here. The Huawei tests where done on the browser version of Ookla’s speed test, as the HMS App Gallery does not have access to the mobile app. This is not the case with the LG tests though, so we ran them on the app.

Added to this is the difference in hardware, with Huawei’s one developed in-house and LG’s variant designed by Qualcomm, along with the processor. The LG device was also debuted in 2019, before launching in the country earlier this year.

As such, Huawei’s tests feature devices that pack newer technology, not to mention the Chinese firm leading the way among vendors when it comes to 5G in general.

Focusing on the speed tests now, and the Huawei ones topped out at 223.15 Mbps with a 9ms ping. Other tests we ran also hovered around the 200 to 205Mbps range. As for the LG ones, they topped out at 185Mbps download speeds with a 10.5ms ping.

While impressive, it was interesting to see that 4G+ was not lightyears behind 5G in terms of performance, with it hitting 145.24Mbps with a 18ms ping. These tests were done at the same spot on the Vodacom World campus, and show that the network’s LTE speeds are pretty impressive too. Unfortunately we could not do the same comparison on the LG device, as it has no way of toggling 5G connectivity off, while the Huawei P40 Pro 5G can.

Early verdict

Our early assessment of Vodacom’s new 5G network is this. The speeds on offer are very impressive, and if you find yourself in the right area, or have the budget to purchase a phone that supports 5G (most are quite expensive currently), then trying this new quality of broadband connectivity makes sense.

The CPE solutions in particular intrigue us, and if you reside in one of the current 20 live zones in the country, are worthwhile investigating and pricing.

For mobile-only though, we think it would be more advantageous to wait for larger 5G coverage or premium mid-range devices that support 5G to enter the market.

Either option, will need to wait until post-lockdown to happen though. Still, as we mentioned earlier, Vodacom is leading all others in the country at the moment when it comes to 5G.