You can now buy a 5G phone in SA for R13 600, you just can’t use it properly – yet
- Vodacom is now selling the LG V50 ThinQ – the first mainstream phone available via a major operator in SA punted primarily for its 5G capabilities.
- Vodacom doesn't have a commercial 5G network yet. Nor does any other cellphone provider in SA.
- But the company plans to launch just such a network this year, in a manner that has stirred up some controversy.
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You can now buy a 5G cellphone from a mainstream South African provider for R13 600 – even though you can't use its 5G capabilities yet.
Vodacom is now selling a flagship phone from LG that offers the next-generation data service, the LG V50 ThinQ, for R13 600 on prepaid. It is also available on contract. The phone has received fairly decent reviews since its launch in 2019, with the major criticism that it is "boring" and has been "left behind" by more cutting-edge designs.
Other than data-only provider Rain, no South African operator is currently providing a 5G service, for lack of the necessary spectrum. But through deals with other operators – which happen to have access to 5G spectrum through historical quirks – Vodacom expects to launch consumer 5G operations in South Africa during 2020.
Telkom has been critical of Vodacom's plans, and has suggested it may seek regulatory intervention to stop them.
Allowing Vodacom to effectively aggregate spectrum through deals with smaller companies would perpetuate SA's mobile operator duopoly, Telkom argues – unless others, including Telkom, are granted some form of preferential spectrum allocation.
South Africa has a large amount of unused spectrum in crucial bands, including 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz, and some of that had been due to be allocated to operators for years. But various regulatory and policy failures – and frequent changes of direction – have held back the process.
An auction for some of that spectrum may take place this year, but consultation still needs to take place first, in part to figure out how to give preference to smaller telecommunications companies.
Without 5G service, the LG V50 ThinQ will be functionally the same as a 4G phone.
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)
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