Is 5G in Africa a digital dawn?
As transformative as 5G is, it is also overhyped with many of the more exotic use cases over the horizon of practicality for most countries.
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Across the globe, 5G technology is enabling sci-fi-like applications and, in Africa, it is starting to drive important innovations in industry and elsewhere. In Beijing, Baidu’s Apollo driverless taxi service, enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G’s speed, has covered over seven million kilometres accident-free.
In the UK, 5G allowed rugby players to practise tackles from 100km apart using haptic suits. This would be impossible without 5G’s low latency. By September, China had 3.19 million 5G base stations, enabling a $1.1 trillion (about R19.9 trillion) digital economy contribution to GDP and it’s tempting to imagine that the headline-grabbing 5G use cases in China and elsewhere provides a peek into a near future for Africa. But as transformative as 5G is, it is also overhyped with many of the more exotic use cases over the horizon of practicality for most countries.
As Telkom pursues a strategy to position the business as an infrastructure-focused national asset leading South Africa’s digital future, 5G is a key enabler of that strategic vision. Telkom has significant critical assets, such as its 170 000km footprint of fibre which is needed for the kind of backhaul bandwidth required for 5G, as well as its spectrum assets and growing base station infrastructure.
Telkom’s focus has been on delivering lightning-fast 5G fixed wireless access solutions and then mobile solutions as the volume of 5G devices on our network grows, a development which is shortly anticipated.
There are examples in SA and elsewhere which show how 5G can enable important innovation in industry and other sectors. For example, Telkom business unit BCX, Huawei and MPI Mining implemented a 5G smart mining solution at Nungu Mine using 5G, sensors, drones and AI.
This enables facial recognition, remote monitoring and autonomous drills and vehicles to significantly enhance the mine’s efficiency and safety. MTN has projects in mining and at the ports and Vodacom has projects in mining where Internet of Things (IOT) strategies are being embraced. The IOT is a network of physical objects – “things” – embedded with sensors, software and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.
It is also anticipated that 5G will enable small start-up internet service providers to offer broadband products to localities where these would not have easily existed before. An Ericsson Mobility Report estimates that sub-Saharan Africa had about three million 5G subscribers at the end of 2022.
This was expected to rise to over 140m by the end of 2028, an exponential growth curve. There is no doubt that the proliferation of 5G technology is a significant breakthrough.
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