Vodacom Group, South Africa’s biggest telecoms company by value, expects to offer 5G mobile services in its home market this year thanks to a recent roaming agreement with Liquid Telecom, Chief Executive Shameel Joosub said on Tuesday.
Last month Liquid Telecom said it would launch the first fifth generation (5G) wholesale roaming service in South Africa in early 2020, using its share of the 3.5 GHz spectrum and allowing mobile network operators to have open access to the new network.
“Having been the first network to commercially launch 5G in Africa through Vodacom Lesotho, we expect to be able to launch 5G services in South Africa this year,” Joosub said in a statement.
“This is possible thanks to a recent roaming agreement with Liquid Telecom, as 5G spectrum is largely unassigned in South Africa,” he added.
Although data-only mobile operator Rain launched the first commercial fixed-wireless 5G network in parts of Johannesburg and Tshwane in 2019, Vodacom will be the first incumbent operator to offer commercial mobile 5G services across the country.
Both Vodacom, majority owned by Britain’s Vodafone, and rival MTN have been running pilots of the super-fast next-generation technology using spectrum from the regulator that they are not yet permitted to commercialise.
Mobile operators have complained about delayed spectrum allocation, which is needed to roll out 5G.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa told an investment conference in November that his government had started the process of releasing spectrum and that a policy framework had been published.
Joosub also said that Vodacom’s 4G capacity in South Africa would expand after it agreed a revised roaming deal with Rain in an environment “where delays in assigning available spectrum will constrain capacity for all networks”.