Johannesburg-headquartered Vodacom Group said on Saturday that it has become the first operator in Africa to launch a standards-based, commercial 5G network. And it’s done it not in South Africa, its biggest market, but in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
The service uses spectrum in the 3.5GHz band and will initially deliver fixed-wireless access broadband services to two business customers.
The group also announced that it has deployed the same standards-based 5G technology in South Africa, with speeds more than 700Mbit/s and latencies of less than 10ms. This will exceed 1Gbit/s as new software versions and devices become available, it said. However, until 3.5GHz spectrum becomes available to Vodacom South Africa, this network will not be available to its customers.
“The immediate benefit of 5G technology for Vodacom subscribers in Lesotho includes the quicker deployment of broadband services with fibre-like speeds,” it said in a statement. “With early access to this new technology, entrepreneurs, industry shapers and government will in future be able to work with Vodacom to develop and incubate innovative applications to power digital transformation in Lesotho.”
“What we’ve accomplished in Lesotho is an example of what can be achieved in Africa, should the requisite spectrum also be made available,” said group CEO Shameel Joosub in the statement.
“Vodacom will be able to make 5G services available to its customers in South Africa once requisite spectrum is assigned. Global technological advancements are evolving at a rapid pace and South Africa can’t afford to be left behind, particularly when we look at some of the potential use cases for 5G to support critical sectors of our society such as healthcare and education.”
Vodacom Lesotho has been able to deploy the 5G service because it has been assigned spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. Vodacom South Africa has been granted a temporary spectrum licence of 100MHz in the 3.5GHz band to showcase the same standards-based 5G network capabilities, but it is not able to launch commercial services yet.
The 3.5GHz spectrum band is considered optimal for 5G network deployments due to its suitability for throughput and capacity and it is not dependent on digital terrestrial television migration in South Africa, Vodacom said.