Vodacom to launch 5G pilots in SA, but govt DRAGGING its feet on spectrum

By John Bowker

(Bloomberg) — Vodacom Group Ltd. agreed to a partnership with Nokia Oyj that will see South Africa’s biggest mobile-network operator trial the country’s first high-speed 5G internet service.

The two companies will work together to see how the mobile broadband can be best used in Africa’s most industrialized economy, where the government has delayed a proposed auction of new spectrum. They will also examine how 5G can be used to boost industries that are important to the economy, including manufacturing, mining, and health care.

A logo sits on display outside the headquarters of Vodacom Group Ltd. in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photographer: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

“Africa is in the middle of a mobile connectivity boom, and as such, 5G will help us to deliver faster internet speeds to our almost 70 million customers,” Vodacom Chief Technology Officer Andries Delport said in a statement on Tuesday.

South African mobile-phone companies including Johannesburg-based Vodacom are investing in improving networks and data services to offset a declining market for voice calls. They have been frustrated by the government and main telecommunications regulator, which last year disagreed on how to best roll out new spectrum. Vodacom had 39.4 million customers in South Africa at the end of June, leading MTN Group Ltd.’s 30.9 million by end September.

Nokia and main rivals Huawei Technologies Co. and Ericsson AB are currently testing 5G equipment in dozens of locations worldwide, with a view to start large-scale commercial deployments in 2020. The service is fast enough to download a feature film in less than a second, and the network operators have shown how it can be used to drive autonomous cars and stream patient X-rays to emergency rooms as ambulances race toward hospitals.

Vodacom shares declined 0.8 percent to 151.16 rand as of 2:10 p.m. in Johannesburg, valuing the company at 260 billion rand ($18.3 billion).

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa held a two-day meeting in Johannesburg last week to discuss 5G with representatives of industry, government, education and research institutions.

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