South African operator Vodacom Group expects to launch commercial 5G services during 2020 by using a network being built by rival operator Liquid Telecom, Vodacom Chief Executive Shameel Joosub said.

Liquid Telecom had recently announced it was building a wholesale 5G network in South Africa that would be available from early 2020. Liquid Telecom, which will use its own spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, said it would allow other operators to use this infrastructure for the provision of 5G technology. Liquid added that its 5G service would be available in major South African cities.

“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. This is possible thanks to a recent roaming agreement with Liquid Telecom, as 5G spectrum is largely unassigned in South Africa,” Joosub said.

Vodacom, which is majority owned by U.K. telecom group Vodafone, said it would manage the 5G network on behalf of Liquid Telecom. The telco did not provide further details about the locations where the 5G offering will be commercially available.

Mobile operators in South Africa have complained about delays by the local government to award spectrum for the provision of 5G technology.

Vodacom and rival telco MTN have been carrying out 5G pilots using spectrum from the regulator. The watchdog said that the process and timing for the award of 5G spectrum license will be announced in April this year.

Rival operator Rain already offers a fixed 5G service in parts of Johannesburg and Tshwane. The company said it expects to expand 5G coverage to additional cities including Cape Town and Durban during 2020.

According to a recent GSMA report, the increase in 5G activity expected in sub-Saharan Africa will be led by South Africa. However, the report also stated that mass deployment and adoption of 5G in sub-Saharan Africa are still several years away, mostly due to the cost of 5G infrastructure.

The GSMA also highlighted that local enterprise and public institutions are expected to be the first adopters of emerging 5G networks. Adoption will most likely take the form of 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) points acting as hotspots, and in a region with very low fixed broadband penetration, 5G has the potential to fill a critical infrastructure need.

South African enterprises are expected to implement 5G technology in areas such as real-time analytics and the internet of things, according to the GSMA report.Vodafone

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