Vodacom could deploy first 5G services ‘in weeks’ – if given the spectrum

 ·6 Sep 2018

At the end of August, Vodacom announced that it had launched Africa’s first commercial 5G service.

The service, which was launched in Lesotho, uses 3.5GHz spectrum to deliver fixed-wireless access to two enterprise customers in the country – the Central Bank of Lesotho and Letseng Diamonds.

Vodacom also announced it has deployed the same standards-based 5G technology in South Africa, with “speeds in excess of 700Mbps and latencies of less than 10 milliseconds”.

Speaking at an event in Vodaworld on Thursday (6 September), Vodacom CTO Andries Delport said that the company was planning on launching 5G services in South Africa, but was hamstrung by spectrum availability – with 5G requiring 700 Mhz, 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum.

Starting up

“We have already started upgrades to our 4G network in preparation of 5G roll-out,” Delport said to BusinessTech.

“It can literally take us weeks to deploy the first base-stations. The only other additional logistics would be installing new antennas on our towers for the introduction of other frequencies.”

Delport added that to make use of 5G technology South Africans would have to purchase new 5G smartphones – which would come at a cost.

However, he noted that this cost would come down as the technology becomes commonplace and that there are 5G-capable routers which are already available.

“Generally, the trend is that we would probably start the roll-out in urban areas as these are the area where people can afford the devices, and where people are looking for fibre-like services,” he said.

“I think to a degree we may also be dictated to by spectrum availability. 3.5 GHz is in theory available now, and next year we could, in theory, have a 3.5GHz network. However, digital migration is required for access to 700 Mhz – which could only become available as digital migration occurs in different parts of the country.”

Worst-case scenario

While Delport and the rest of Vodacom were excited about the possibilities of 5G, they were quick to point out that they were heavily dependent on government releasing more spectrum in the near future.

“The reality of it is that to re-farm Vodacom’s spectrum you must have the spectrum in the first place, and the technology you are refarming for must be able to use this spectrum.

“At the moment none of our spectrum bands support 5G, so that is a huge challenge.”

He added that, while Vodacom does have some 28 GHz spectrum available – meaning they could in theory launch some services using this spectrum in the near future – it would not be widespread and could only be used in estates or certain areas.

Another possible option was spectrum-trading with other operators, which was previously mooted as part of new legislation, he said.

“Ideally, what we want is our own spectrum, and I think we will have to wait and see if there is a chance of getting that spectrum or not.

“The director-general (of the Department of Telecommunications) has said that we will get 5G and will get access to 5G spectrum – so it sounds promising,”

Read: Vodacom said to be in talks with Telkom over network-sharing deal

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