Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ
Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ

New spectrum given to mobile operators in April is starting to bear fruit as SA’s largest network operator launched 5G services in three cities on Monday. 

Vodacom said it had switched on “Africa’s first live 5G mobile network” in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

From Monday, Vodacom customers with 5G-enabled devices, and within a 5G-coverage area, will be able to access the next generation in wireless data technology, which allows for faster internet speeds and better service. 

This network will support both mobile and fixed wireless services and is currently available on 20 live 5G sites in Gauteng and the Western Cape, said Vodacom.

Further rollouts are planned in other parts of the country.

In April, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), the telecom regulator, assigned temporary radio frequency spectrum to operators in an effort to tackle communication challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic, valid until November.

Spectrum refers to the radio frequencies on which data and information are carried. Mobile operators have long argued that access to spectrum will help reduce the cost of mobile data in SA because it will allow the companies to cover a wider geographic area with existing towers while carrying more data traffic.

Vodacom was recently assigned spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, which was used to fast-track the 5G launch, making it the first operator to activate temporary spectrum, the company said. 

Last week, Altron Nexus affiliate Morai Solutions said it would use temporary spectrum assigned to it in television white spaces (TVWS) to provide affordable and reliable data access to rural communities during the Covid-19 crisis.

TVWS refers to “unused” spectrum located in the 470Mhz-790Mhz band, in which television broadcasters tend to operate. Icasa has allowed wireless access devices to transmit in these unoccupied channels as long as they do not interfere with licensed broadcasters.

Vodacom said the deployment of 5G — a more efficient technology than 3G and 4G — would help manage the 40% increase in mobile network traffic and the 250% increase in fixed traffic experienced during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The current 5G network equipment deployed also operates in the same frequency bands, which are expected to be permanently assigned through an auction later in 2020.

Vodacom and Liquid Telecom also concluded managed network services and national roaming agreements for a national 5G network in December 2019.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za