It may seem strange for a major operator to be launching a commercial 5G mobile network in the middle of a pandemic, but, it appears, that is what has just happened in South Africa.
However, there is logic to the launch – as Vodacom points out in its announcement of the switching-on of Africa’s first live 5G mobile network in three cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
Vodacom was recently assigned temporary spectrum by South African telecommunications regulator ICASA. This was to be accessible for the duration of the present health emergency and includes 1 x 50 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band. This is the spectrum that has been used to fast-track the Vodacom 5G launch.
The network will support both mobile and fixed wireless services. It is currently available on twenty live 5G sites, 18 of which are in Gauteng (the province that contains both Johannesburg and Pretoria) and two in Cape Town. Vodacom customers with 5G-enabled devices, and within a 5G coverage area, are now able to access what Vodacom calls one of the fastest and most sophisticated network connections in Africa. Further rollouts are planned to other parts of the country.
The deployment of 5G will help Vodacom manage the increase in mobile network traffic and fixed traffic experienced during the five-week long coronavirus lockdown, it said. The lockdown has resulted in a spike in online activity, from video conferencing to streaming movies.
Vodacom also points out that this makes it the first operator to activate temporary spectrum in South Africa.
ICASA has said it will auction additional spectrum, including 5G spectrum, by the end of the year.