Vodacom launches commercial 5G mobile network in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Mobile operator Vodacom Group said on Monday it had switched on Africa’s first live 5G mobile network in three cities in South Africa, with further rollouts planned in other parts of the country.

Vodacom was recently assigned temporary additional spectrum by South Africa’s telecoms regulator for the duration of a national state of disaster to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which has been used to fast track its 5G launch, the company said in a statement.

Chief Executive Shameel Joosub said in February Vodacom expected to offer 5G mobile services in South Africa this year by using a network being built by another African operator, Liquid Telecom.

The deployment of 5G will help Vodacom manage the 40% increase in mobile network traffic and the 250% increase in fixed traffic experienced during the five-week long coronavirus lockdown, it said.

The lockdown has resulted in a spike in online activity, from video conferencing to streaming movies.

The three cities are Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, Vodacom said, adding the 5G network would support both mobile and fixed wireless services.

“Vodacom’s 5G launch in South Africa comes at an important time as it will help us improve our network efficiency during the COVID-19 national state of disaster,” Joosub said.

“This is largely due to the allocation of temporary spectrum by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which has already mitigated the network congestion we have experienced since the start of the lockdown period.”

Fifth Generation (5G) spectrum is largely unassigned in South Africa. The regulator, ICASA, has said it will auction additional spectrum, including the highly sought after 5G spectrum, by the end of the year.

Vodacom expects to expand its 5G rollout as more 5G enabled smartphones, Wi-Fi and fixed wireless access routers become available.

The company is currently selling the LG V50 5G smartphone and Huawei 5G CPE PRO fixed wireless router.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark POtter