South Africa's 5G reality revealed

In SA, commercial rollout of 5G network technology will take a little longer than initially anticipated.

This is according to Saurabh Verma, head of ICT for Frost & Sullivan Middle East and Africa, presenting the business consulting firm’s 2019 predictions for the local ICT market yesterday.

Locally, data-only network Rain plans its own 5G rollout in SA sometime this year, while mobile operators MTN and Vodacom continue to move towards a 5G launch in SA.

Although telcos are conducting trials and looking at deploying 5G, Verma believes it still has a long way to go, especially from a business and utilisation perspective.

Given the current scenario in SA, the country is still fine with 3G, he notes. “Expensive data packages and delays in spectrum release are hampering subscriber base growth for 5G. While mobile operators are ready to develop 4G networks and deploy 5G services, 3G will be the dominant technology over the next three years.”

Verma points out the key trend around 5G adoption is happening in some of the mature markets because they have a strong ecosystem. “5G is all about use cases and identifying the right kind of use cases to really deploy 5G technology. Unless you have that, it will be a difficult conversation for the CFO or CEO to justify that kind of investment to the board.

“5G is not just the next generation of telecoms infrastructure; it is more about the ecosystem. Unless you go and collaborate with ecosystem partners, you will not be able to find the right use cases for 5G. Yes, 5G will solve a lot of problems in terms of delivering superior connectivity, speeds and lower latency but just looking at the investment, which is three times what it was for 3G or 4G, will be a challenge.

Sabelo Dlamini, senior research and consulting manager at IDC Sub-Saharan Africa, shares a similar sentiment as Verma, predicting 5G deployment will take off slowly.

Dlamini was speaking at the IDC Directions event held last night in Woodmead, Johannesburg.

According to Dlamini, spectrum uncertainty will persist in SA this year, and potentially pose a challenge to commercial 5G rollout. “The ECA Bill has been withdrawn and I think that will add some time in terms of the release of 4G spectrum. The auction that has been promised is 2019 for 4G spectrum and 2020 for 5G, but now it seems as if government is rethinking their allocation model, so that is likely to take a bit of time.”

Dlamini notes there have been a lot of discussions about 5G with no true commercial launches.

“Most of the operators have publicised that they have launched 5G but those can’t be counted as true 5G launches because the solutions and services are not available in stores.

“In 2019, we believe there will be network subscriptions and end-user devices available to the general public. Internationally, we expect to see one or two operators launching 5G. This won’t be a full portfolio of 5G but will only focus on enhanced mobile broadband. 5G has three legs: enhanced mobile broadband, hyper-reliable low latency and enhanced machine-type communication.

“We are yet to see the hyper-reliable low latency and enhanced machine-type communication legs of 5G, which are unique differentiators of 5G. We are going to see commercial deployment of 5G but it won’t be the full bouquet of 5G.”

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