Liquid Telecom has said it plans to launch a 5G wholesale network in all major South African cities in early 2020.
The firm will make use of the 56 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum, building a wholesale network before most of the domestic operators have a chance to bid for their own 5G spectrum licenses. The team has previously said it has no intention of launches retail services in the market.
“This breakthrough 5G wholesale service will create innovation in every aspect of South African society and industry,” said Liquid Chairman Strive Masiyiwa.
“For the first time, mobile network operators and ISPs will have open access to Liquid Telecom’s new 5G mobile network. The launch of the service also underscores Liquid Telecom’s vision to bring high-speed connectivity to everyone.”
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.
“This is a milestone moment for Liquid Telecom South Africa,” said Liquid Telecom CEO Nic Rudnick.
“Our wholesale operating partners can exploit our new ultra-fast 5G roaming network to build the next generation of communications and make innovation possible, anytime, anywhere. 5G will facilitate real-time remote collaboration, improved business efficiency and lower costs – ultimately driving growth in the South African economy.”
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.
|Total South African 5G subscriptions – Ovum World Information Service estimates|