5G in South Africa: What You Need To Know
- 12 Aug, 2019
What is 5G Technology?
Fifth-generation wireless technology is coming. 5G brings the potential to unlock incredible new digital technology including self-driving cars, drone deliveries, artificial intelligence and smart, connected cities to name but a few. These technological advances will be made possible by ultra-fast data speeds which 5G promises, and will be hundreds of times faster than today.
One extremely important fact that’s often overlooked is that 5G is a standard, meaning there is a definitive data speed which carrier networks must meet in order to be recognized as true 5G. Therefore, we can expect carriers to come up with various 5G-ish marketing phrases to let us know that the speeds we’re receiving are faster than 4G...but not quite 5G. Even if we start seeing 5G compatible devices, don’t expect true 5G for a number of years.
5G is totally different from the technologies that came before it. It shouldn’t be thought of as a spectrum or network, this technology has various functioning layers, so think of it more as a platform
Some 5G Technologies to look forward to:
5G's super-fast speed will bring ultra-low latency which will make technologies such as self-driving cars, remote gaming, quick responsive flying drones, and remote medical procedures a possibility.
Facebook-backed Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which aims to change the way networks are deployed using a community-driven R&D approach.
When should we expect 5G in South Africa?
At the moment the only company in South Africa to launch its 5G commercial network during February 2019 is the data-only network operator, Rain. They were able to launch 5G service by using the 3.6 GHz spectrum already licensed to them. South Africa’s more established mobile operators, Vodacom and MTN are unable to launch their 5G services until more frequency is licensed to them by the communications regulator, ICASA. We expect licensing of these additional frequencies to start towards mid-to-end 2020. In the meantime, mobile operators are gearing up and testing their 5G services, and Vodacom demonstrated Africa’s first live, 5G data session on a commercially ready 5G mobile phone and network at this year’s Vodacom Durban July.
Worldwide, the release of 5G spectrums has led to more affordable and faster mobile data services due to increased competition and innovation. South Africa might be a step behind as we face issues with the regulation on the spectrum frequencies required. Data is expensive for many reasons in South Africa, but the shortage of spectrum is an important one.
Another issue that sets us back and contributes to the shortage of spectrum is that South Africa did not adhere to the worldwide agreement to switch off analogue television services and replace it with digital terrestrial broadcasting in 2015. It could easily take up to two years to revise channel plans and move broadcasters out of the analogue bands, to free up the frequencies.
ICASA has now started the much-awaited 4G-spectrum auction, which will free up much-needed frequencies and have a positive influence on data prices and future 5G development.
When will 5G-compatible cell phones be ready?
2019 without a doubt. You can expect early adoption from Android devices very soon. In fact, American carrier Sprint has a “5G” ready phone out now, boasting speeds faster than 4G or LTE in select parts of the United States (but not at true, benchmark 5G speeds).
About 20 cellular phone manufacturers, including, Samsung, LG, and Huawei, indicated that they would launch 5G-ready handsets in 2019. Due to the additional component costs for the 5G smartphone, it could cost about R750 more than a 4G phone.
Apple has a history of waiting on mainstream adoption, so the first 5G-compatible iPhone won’t be available until at least 2020 or 2021.
As for growing pains, the first generation of 5G phones will most likely be network operator-locked because of the variety of different frequencies each network is using to deliver 5G. Current hardware has limitations to support them all. However, 5G network unlocked phones will happen after the technology is fully available.
What will happen to 4G?
A brief bit of history first: 4G is a specification laid down by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2008. It stipulated a minimum specification of 100 Mbps download speed, which, at the time, was extremely hypothetical. LTE was the stopgap term cellular carriers came up with to show that their networks were more powerful than 3G, but not true 4G. In fact, carrier networks today are only just now realizing true 4G, many years later.
In other words, 4G and LTE are not going anywhere anytime soon.
While 5G is expected in major urban cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban during 2021 and 2022, full nationwide rollout to rural areas won’t most likely happen until 2030.
In fact, 4G and LTE is still being built out and won’t peak until 2028. Improvements like LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro support data rates up to 3 Gbps which is 5G-like speeds. Many networks have stated the importance of 4G and LTE coverage until 5G fully matures, which some predict to be 2035 to 2040.
So yes, 4G LTE will be around for at least another decade or two.
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