Vodacom Group has agreed to a partnership with Nokia that will see SA’s biggest mobile-network operator test the country’s first high-speed 5G internet service.

The two companies will work together to see how the mobile broadband can be best used in the country, where the government has delayed a proposed auction of new spectrum. They will also examine how 5G can be used to boost industries important to the economy, including manufacturing, mining and healthcare.

“Africa is in the middle of a mobile connectivity boom, and, as such, 5G will help us to deliver faster internet speeds to our almost 70-million customers,” Vodacom chief technology officer Andries Delport said in a statement on Tuesday.

South African mobile-phone companies, including Vodacom, are investing in improving networks and data services to offset a declining market for voice calls. They have been frustrated by the government and the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), which, last year, disagreed on how to best roll out new spectrum. Vodacom had 39.4-million customers in SA at the end of June, leading MTN’s 30.9-million by the end of September.

Nokia and its main rivals, Huawei Technologies and Ericsson, are currently testing 5G equipment in dozens of locations worldwide, with a view to starting large-scale commercial deployments in 2020. The service is fast enough to download a feature film in less than a second, and the network operators have shown how it can be used to drive autonomous cars and stream patient X-rays to emergency rooms as ambulances race toward hospitals.

Vodacom shares declined 0.8% to R151.16 as of 2.10pm in Johannesburg, valuing the company at R260bn ($18.3bn).

Icasa held a two-day meeting in Johannesburg last week to discuss 5G with representatives of industry, government, education and research institutions.


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