from THABISO MAHLOKOHLA in Maseru, Lesotho
MASERU – THE squabbles and incapacitation of the country’s regulatory body has stalled the switchover to fifth-generation (5G) in Lesotho.
This is despite Lesotho being the pioneer of the 5G network testing in Africa.
Plans of a switchover to high speed network by Econet and Vodacom are thus on hold as the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) is caught up in the infighting.
A source within the Lesotho telecoms industry who requested anonymity confirmed the LCA does not have the technical know how or manpower capacity to monitor the implementation of the 5G network.
According to the source, government interference on the matters of licencing at the LCA, coupled with corruption by senior public servants, could have led to the delay in the launch of 5G technology in Lesotho.
For example, he said, when the LCA awarded a South African company, Global Voice Group (GVG), a M500 million (about R5 million / US$312 500) tender to supply a Compliance, Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system in December 2020 the then LCA Chief Executive Officer, Mamarame Matela, was suspended after accusing then Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Keketso Sello, of refusing to approve the GVG tender until he was given a M3 million bribe.
According to court documents, Matela also claimed the minister had also demanded to have his company subcontracted by GVG before he could approve the tender for the supply system to the LCA.
Sello has since been reshuffled to the Ministry of Public Service while the matter is still before the High Court.
Sello has also gone as far as dismissing the LCA board chairperson, Motanyane Makara, who was said to be frustrating the board’s efforts to suspend Matela in connection with the awarding of the GVG tender.
Sello fired Makara in 2021 on allegations of misconduct and insubordination.
The source also claims the LCA is still using some archaic laws such as the Broadcasting and Communications Act of 1997.
Meanwhile, Nizam Goolam has been appointed as the acting CEO of the LCA. Efforts to get a comment from Goolam were fruitless.
Vodacom was the first network operator to launch a 5G commercial service in Africa.
This was in Lesotho in 2018.
According to the company the widespread rollout of 5G was expected to support the government’s fourth industrial revolution objectives and facilitate the creation of an entirely new technologically enabled world.
According to the company, Lesotho was chosen as the test-bed for the new technology because of its high altitude and rugged mountains that would determine the penetration of the spectrum in sometimes difficult physical conditions.
The 5G licence was awarded to commercial entities such as banks and diamond mining conglomerates that required high-speed internet connection.
“Vodacom was given a temporary spectrum by the LCA to experiment with 5G technology in Lesotho in 2018. The company successfully put up base stations at different areas in Maseru and the results of the experiment were used to launch the network elsewhere in Africa, particularly in South Africa,” the source said.
Eventually, Vodacom South Africa switched on Africa’s first live 5G mobile network in South Africa in 2020.
The company has also announced plans to roll out the network across Africa but has not made any official announcement about Lesotho.
Econet has also its 5G rollout in Zimbabwe in February 2022.
At the launch ceremony in Harare, the Econet Group CEO, Douglas Mboweni, announced plans to roll out the network in Lesotho and other countries it operates in.
He said Econet was in negotiations for rolling out the network in the country.
Questions sent to both Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Lesotho management on the introduction of the 5G network.
This is not the first time that the LCA has stifled the working of the communications sector in Lesotho.
In 2020, LCA proposed new regulations stipulating that individuals with more than 100 followers on social media platforms would be considered as internet broadcasters and may need to register with authorities.
In addition, internet posts that were accessible to at least 100 users would also be classified as internet broadcasts.
This move by the LCA is meant to regulate “internet broadcasting distributed over the internet” and anyone deemed to be conducting internet broadcasting would be required to register within six months of the publication of the new law.
However, the law, which was widely condemned, was quashed in parliament.
– CAJ News