A woman looks at her mobile phone next to a 5G sign. Picture: REUTERS/SERGIO PEREZ
A woman looks at her mobile phone next to a 5G sign. Picture: REUTERS/SERGIO PEREZ
Image:

SA’s data-only network operator Rain, which is partly owned by businessmen Patrice Motsepe, Paul Harris and Michael Jordaan, has partnered with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to roll out the high-speed 5G network by the middle of 2019.

The roll-out will make SA one of the first countries to launch 5G, which promises faster download speeds, reliable network connectivity and the ability to connect more devices at once.

"The network will provide fibre-like speeds without installation complexities, time delays and cost of laying fibre in underserviced areas," Rain CEO Willem Roos said on Tuesday.

Rain and Huawei made the announcement at the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, where 5G took centre stage.

"5G is here. If there is any doubt, you only have to walk around [the conference]," said Harris, who is also Rain chair.

He said that the development of 5G products later in the
year would hit the industry like a tsunami.

Roos said Rain would take advantage of its existing 4G network and allocated spectrum.

Huawei said its products would enable Rain to use the existing network, saying leveraging existing infrastructure would accelerate the roll-out of the 5G network. Rain had about 3,000 4G sites in SA, Roos said.

"It is well-known that as broadband penetration increases in a country, you get better economic growth. With better economic growth, you can see improvement in employment. We are big supporters of [President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plan] to re-energise investment in SA.

"We made a promise to invest a significant amount of money in 5G," Roos said.

"We hope to have rolled out a significant number of towers in [Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban] by mid-2019 to offer commercial services to clients."

Rain planned to roll out the network rapidly, aiming for "significant" coverage in metropolitan areas initially, he said. The company said it wanted to deploy 1,000 5G sites in major cities in the next two years.

Responding to a question during the announcement, Roos said Rain had no immediate plans to expand to the rest of Africa. "Obviously, there is complexity around spectrum, licences and those kinds of issues. Certainly, SA can play a crucial role as the gateway to Africa. We will see if commercial opportunities that make sense arise."

GSMA director-general Mats Granryd said: "The arrival of 5G forms a major part of the world’s move towards an era of intelligent connectivity, which alongside developments in the Internet of Things, big data and artificial intelligence, is poised to be a key driver of economic growth over the coming years."

GSMA is a global mobile industry body.

It said in a report that 5G would account for 15% of global mobile connections by 2025.

njobenis@businesslive.co.za