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Why South Africa could be one of the early adopters of 5G - and is prepared to work with Huawei

In a special 2019 series, Compelo is shining a spotlight on South Africa. Here, Sam Forsdick looks at how the country is set to be an early adopter of 5G technology

The next-generation of communications technology promises to bring fast-paced mobile connectivity – and South Africa will be among the first countries to introduce 5G commercially.

Although 5G-capable phones are yet to launch in the country, telecommunications provider Rain announced the first commercially-ready 5G network to South Africa in February – making it one of the few countries that are prepared for the mobile connectivity revolution.

It plans to release its 5G products in September this year, putting it ahead of tech pioneers like Europe and Europe.

We take a closer look at the South Africa 5G situation.

 

What is 5G?

When compared with 4G, technology insight firm ABI Research predicts 5G will decrease connection latency by 1,000%, and enable a 100-times improvement in both traffic capacity and network efficiency.

The added connectivity boost means that it has applications for supporting more advanced smart devices, connecting rural communities to fast internet and providing a wireless grid for operating self-driving cars.

self-driving buses and taxis, 5G South Africa
5G technology could help to power driverless cars

Mobile network providers have been bold in their claims for the new technology, with EE CEO Marc Allera saying at a London press conference that “5G is going to change everything all over again”.

While the UK will have to wait until the end of the month to experience its first taste of 5G when EE begins a roll-out into ten cities, countries such as the US, South Korea and South Africa have already experienced its additional speed during trials.

 

Huawei helping to construct South Africa’s 5G network

The controversial Chinese technology company Huawei has been influential in constructing Johannesburg’s 5G infrastructure.

Huawei, which has recently been banned from working with American firms by the US government over fears of state espionage, has provided the end-to-end technology for Rain’s 5G network.

South Africa 5G
Rain CEO Paul Harris and Jacqueline Shi, President of Huawei cloud core network, jointly launched the first 5G commercial network of South Africa (Credit: Huawei)

On announcing South Africa’s first commercial 5G network at Mobile World Congress 2019, Huawei’s cloud core network product line president Jacqueline Shi said: “It is an important step to work with Rain in bringing the first 5G network construction in South Africa.

“With our leading solutions, we are committed to working with operators and partners to build future-oriented networks for smooth evolution and migration for the maximum value out of their investment and the best user experience.”

Rain will expand its 5G capabilities to the rest of South Africa throughout 2020 alongside another mobile technology company, Nokia.

Nokia CEO Willem Roos said: “The network will provide fibre-like speeds without the installation complexities, time delays and cost of laying fiber in under-serviced areas.

“With the 5G network, we will be able to be a catalyst for the socio-economic development in the country.”

 

Other companies bringing 5G to South Africa

South Africa remains one of the most technologically-advanced countries in Africa, with 60% of internet traffic from the continent coming from the country.

Despite the concentration of internet traffic, the CIA World Factbook estimated that only 3% of the country’s population had broadband subscriptions.

This makes mobile connectivity particularly important for South Africans.

MTN, South Africa’s biggest mobile provider and the country’s most valuable brand, partnered with Ericsson for its customer trials of 5G.

South Africa 5G
MTN partners with Ericsson for its 5G trials (Credit: Ericsson)

Vodacom, which is jointly owned by Vodafone and Telkom, boasts more than 100 million customers across the African continent.

It first brought 5G to South Africa’s neighbour Lesotho in 2018, where the network is available to two business clients.

Telecoms company Comsol picked a different technology partner in Samsung.

It helped to launch Comsol’s 5G pilot for residents on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, South Africa in 2018.

The trial saw download speeds exceed 1.5 gigabits-per-second (Gbps), demonstrating the speedy potential for 5G in South Africa.