Kathy Gibson is at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – Rain has officially launched the first 5G network in South Africa, making it not only the first in Africa, but among the first global adopters of the technology too.

Mobile data-only operator Rain has built the 5G network using its 3,6GHz spectrum, using Huawei’s end-to-end 5G solution.

Brandon Leigh, chief strategy officer at Rain, and Willem Roos, group CEO of Rain.

Willem Roos, group CEO of Rain, says the company has become one of the first African operators to roll out 5G with the aim of democratising broadband in Africa. “It is well known that when you have broadband you get better economic growth, which leads to better employment and quality of life.

“We are big supporters of the president’s initiative to re-energise investment in South Africa,” he adds. “To this end, we have made a significant investment in the 5G network which we are rolling out in partnership with Huawei.”

There is already a live network running in Johannesburg and the consumer network will roll out quickly, Roos says. “Hopefully, by mid-year we will have coverage in the two major centres and can have a commercial launch. Quite quickly after that we will roll out a 1 000-site network which will cover the major metros and more.”

Solutions will initially be targeted at the consumer market, Roos says. Take-up will depend on the availability of devices, but Rain expects to be able to offer services by the second half of 2019.

“We are initially aiming for very fast wireless – fibre in the sky – to people’s homes and businesses.”

5G is a key component of the fourth industrial revolution, he adds. “We want to make sure South Africa plays its part in the fourth industrial revolution and can play a leading role on the continent.

“We are looking forward to bringing fast wireless access to many more of the country’s citizens, to bridge the digital divide and make the country a better place for everyone to live in.”

On the partnership with Huawei, Roos says the company has been a valued partner in building first its 4G network and now its journey into the 5G world. “They really provide an end-to-end solution that allows us to execute quickly on our plans.

“We also admire the culture of the company and its can-do attitude that goes the extra mile to help us achieve our ambitions.”

Jaqueline Shi, in charge of cloud corporate business at Huawei, comments: “We are so excited about this. Huawei is an innovative company, and are the only provider that can provide an end-to-end solution for a 5G network.

“We think we can help Rain to launch more unique solutions in the future.”

Huawei provides a full range of end-to-end solutions, from the core network and bearer network to base stations and terminals.

The Huawei 5G base stations are based on the global mainstream C-band spectrum, use Massive MIMO and 256QAM to improve spectral efficiency.

The solution includes new base stations, as well as letting Rain fully leverage its existing LTE networks and allocated spectrum for 5G deployment. This sharing of facilities and existing infrastructure is key to the speed of rollout.