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Leading pan-African telecoms group Liquid Telecom is to launch the first 5G wholesale roaming service in South Africa. The service will be available from early 2020 in all major South African cities.
According to Liquid Telecom, the 5G wholesale network will help accelerate the evolution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in South Africa. Reliable connectivity up to 10 times faster than 4G will allow businesses to harness trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Mobile network operators and ISPs will have open access to Liquid Telecom’s new 5G mobile network.
Liquid Telecom will use its 3.5GHz spectrum asset to build the 5G network and provide nationwide 5G wholesale services to the market early in 2020.
Jamie Davies from telecoms.com:
Although Liquid Telecom has a licence for the 3.5 GHz spectrum bands, the South African regulator, ICASA, is yet to decide plans for the rest. State-owned Telkom also has a licence, though it has not unveiled plans yet. MTN and Vodacom are yet to get their hands on the valuable assets, offering a very interesting opportunity for Liquid Telecom and its 5G wholesale network.
The unallocated 116 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum will be auctioned next year, though both MTN and Vodacom have said they are ready for aggressive deployments now. Rain is the only other to have access to 3.6 GHz spectrum, though it is rolling out fixed wireless access, as opposed to mobile, services currently.
Although it might seem unusual to discuss 5G for Africa considering the other challenges faced across the continent, South Africa should not be considered the norm.
In the most recent ‘State of the ICT Sector’ report from ICASA, population coverage for 4G is estimated at 85.7%, while it also estimates smartphone penetration is as high as 81.7%. These figures might be a bit massaged, as other estimates put the numbers noticeably lower, though South Africa is certainly ahead of other nations across the continent.
Looking at 5G penetration, Ovum estimates there could be some interest in 5G over the coming years. The business case for a Liquid Telecom wholesale network certainly seems to be present as it is assumed there is consumer appetite for 5G. The likes of MTN and Vodacom could be lured into a lucrative agreement while deploying their own networks over the next few years.
TechCentral reported in December that Vodacom and Liquid had signed a deal to exploit the latter’s legacy spectrum assignment in the 3.5GHz band. Neither company has commented on the plans. The timing for Vodacom is important as a range of 5G-ready handsets are set to begin hitting the South African market next year, including the next Apple iPhone, which will be unveiled in September. The next flagship devices from Samsung and Huawei, coming early in the new year, are also likely to contain 5G chipsets. Operators that can provide 5G services to customers buying these handsets will get a head-start in the lucrative high end of the market.