5G is coming to a cellphone near you and why it’s a gamechanger for SA

The 5G technology offers faster and more affordable internet connection.
The 5G technology offers faster and more affordable internet connection.

The 5G technology or fifth-generation cellular network is already available in some parts of South Africa, offering a faster and more affordable internet connection. At the same time, there are concerns about access to the new technology given the socio-economic inequality in the country, the proposed legislation allowing masts to be erected on private property, and even the conspiracy theories that 5G rollout sparked the Covid-19 outbreak.

There is no doubt that 5G is a gamechanger for the world and the technology is the enabler for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), allowing the application of other technologies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, and other widespread automation to accelerate.

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO South Africa of global internet group, Naspers said, “The digital transformation has the potential to usher in a more equitable foundation on which to increase access for those currently marginalised, especially women and those living in poverty. But all the stakeholders need to collaborate to ensure this happens.” 

Here is everything you need to know about 5G.

1. What is 5G?

5G refers to fifth-generation cellular network technology, which has been evolving since the 1980s. The first generation was voice; the second relates to SMS messaging; 3G put the mobile internet into our hands, and 4G or fibre, can reach hundreds of megabits per second.  Wireless communications utilise radio frequencies: 5G uses higher radio frequencies than 4G, providing faster access to information, for example, entire movies or books can be downloaded in seconds.

2. Why has it taken SA so long to roll out 5G

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which ratifies communications standards, devised a roadmap for 5G in 2015. In his June 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised that government would upgrade South Africa to 5G to enhance the country’s connectivity, drive down data costs, and enable economic development. The big mobile operators were unable to launch 5G services until more spectrum was licensed by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

3. But wait, some mobile networks are already using 5G?

In April?2020, Icasa, in response to the coronavirus crisis and additional demands placed on the country’s networks during the lockdown, released temporary spectrum.  Rain, Vodacom, and MTN currently offer 5G services to customers in parts of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. 

4. Why are 5G conspiracy theories linked to COVID-19?

The early versions of the theory claimed that 5G technology was trialled in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began. This claim is inaccurate as 5G was rolled out in several other locations first. Some claimed the radiation emitted by the towers caused the infections. There is no credible evidence linking 5G or mobile technologies to the spread of the coronavirus.

5. When will SA finally receive full 5G coverage?

Icasa has committed to holding an auction to issue permanent high-demand spectrum licenses by December this year.

6. Who will benefit from 5G rollout?

SA still has a long way to go before there is equitable access to the internet. According to Statistics South Africa’s community survey in 2016, 40% of households have no internet, 50% have a connection on a mobile phone, while just 10% have fixed-line access. There are also concerns about high mobile costs which network operators say will decline when government releases additional spectrum. 

An advantage of 5G technology is that it is a more cost-effective way to serve customers as it does not require fixed-line infrastructure, such as copper cables. In online education, 5G will allow simultaneous access to millions of devices without delay, enabling students and tutors to receive high-quality lessons using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).With 5G, robot apps will be able to respond immediately to assist those students with learning difficulties or special needs. 

For consumers, 5G has the potential to resolve urban network congestion and offer an array of home broadband choices. According to recent surveys, three hours more video content will be consumed weekly on 5G mobile devices away from home. The 5G mobile cellular data usage is predicted to increase by more than 50%. One in five users expects a ten-fold increase in usage.It also revealed that 60% of consumers think 5G-connected home robots will be a “must-have” status symbol and that 40% think 5G-connected cars will be as important a factor as fuel efficiency and engine power when buying a car.

However, the 5G network will require more base stations, closer together, which increases the cost of the initial investment. Cell C warns that the capital investment will be more than R100 billion and is unlikely to reach far-flung areas soon due to the lack of density and fewer potential customers.

The larger operators point out that the agricultural and mining sectors, which are primarily based in rural areas, are increasingly reliant on technology, and this will create an incentive to roll out 5G. 

The 5G network will require a massive infrastructure build which is being prioritised in government’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan to create jobs. Currently, there are only a few smartphones in South Africa that are 5G-enabled.

7. Can 5G masts be built anywhere, even on your property?

On 22 July, Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams released the proposed policy direction for the rapid deployment of electronic communications networks and facilities. The legislation proposes that network service licensees have the right to enter and use public and private land and no access fee may be charged. This sparked an outcry and people had 30 days to submit comments before the policy document is finalised.

8. What does 5G signal for the future?

Industrial revolutions have been led by the transformation of physical infrastructure networks. Electricity powered the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. According to the World Economic Forum, the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s full potential will only be realised through the broad usage of 5G communication networks, offering unprecedented levels of connectivity. Already, the complicated and laborious process of finding COVID-19 vaccine and treatment is being improved by 5G and the increased ability to gather and process rapidly massive amounts of data.

This post was sponsored by Naspers and produced by BrandStudio24. 

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