Vodacom Group launched Africa’s first commercial 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) network, in Lesotho, while announcing the technology was ready for deployment in South Africa when spectrum is assigned.

Its Lesotho 5G network uses 3.5GHz spectrum previously assigned by regulators to deliver “fibre-like speeds”: two enterprise customers are already signed-up to use Vodacom’s service.

Lesotho is a relatively small market with the UN estimating its population stands at around 2.3 million. However, the 5G FWA network in the country is likely to be seen as a testbed for deployments in its larger operations on the continent.

In a statement, CEO Shameel Joosub (pictured) talked-up the achievement, but warned Vodacom’s home market of South Africa could not afford to be left behind as 5G rolls out elsewhere.

Vodacom used a temporary licence in South Africa to showcase the technology, but is still waiting on regulators in the country to begin the process of assigning 3.5GHz spectrum.

“What we’ve accomplished in Lesotho is an example of what can be achieved in Africa, should the requisite spectrum also be made available,” Joosub said. “Vodacom will be able to make 5G services available to its customers in South Africa once requisite spectrum is assigned.”

“Global technological advancements are evolving at a rapid pace and South Africa can’t afford to be left behind, particularly when we look at some of the potential use cases for 5G to support critical sectors of our society such as healthcare and education.”

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa is yet to confirm a date for its 5G auction. A number of trials have taken place in the country including a collaboration between MTN and Ericsson unveiled in January, and Vodacom’s newly announced deployment.