SA unreserved in willingness to test out 5G

Comsol, Verizon and Samsung have jointly deployed 5G pilot infrastructure in Soweto, Johannesburg, as part of 5G fixed wireless trials in South Africa to strengthen the local business case for the adoption of the technology.

Iain Stevenson, CEO of Comsol said early trials by Verizon in the US showed the potential of the 28GHz millimetre spectrum which has been identified for 5G services by that country's Federal Communications Commission.

"With our access to the lion's share of the 28GHz band in South Africa, we're excited to work together and accelerate the development of the 5G ecosystem. Verizon and Samsung's involvement is a fantastic endorsement of our capabilities in the local market."

The collaboration aims to deliver a wireless solution that rivals FTTx offerings, including Fibre-to-the-Business (FTTB) and Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH), by early 2019.

According to Comsol, this will be achieved by using the Verizon's 5G Technical Forum (5GTF) standard, which will ultimately be converted into the 5G New Radio (5GNR) standards, once these have been confirmed.

While official standards for 5G will likely only be ratified by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) by 2020, Stevenson said the partnership with Verizon and Samsung will focus on developing and jointly testing the technology in order to ready it for commercial launch.

He believes that 5G fixed wireless access holds the promise of connecting millions of South Africans with high-speed connectivity that would never otherwise be possible with fibre solutions because they require significant physical investment.

"While this agreement initially focuses on 5G fixed wireless access, over time this will evolve into consumer offerings, similar to the way that we use 4G services today."

Sung Yoon, President & CEO of Samsung Electronics Africa, which is providing hardware that includes the base station technology , as well as several other customer premises equipment (CPE) requirements, says the continent is critical to the quest for practical implementation of 5G globally.

"We're excited to be partnering with Comsol to demonstrate just how important Africa is to the 5G revolution. There is so much opportunity in the region due to the diversity of markets and services already in place here, and we think the South Africa is a prime candidate to show off the benefits that 5G can bring to consumers here."

Not a marketing gimmick

Jason Chen, Chief Marketing Officer of the Consumer Business Group in Middle East and Africa at Huawei, which recently conducted a 5G trial of its own with MTN in Pretoria, said while 5G is used extensively for marketing and brand positioning at the moment, this is not detracting from attention to the technology's feasibility.

"Right now every company sees 5G as the next step and the future which we need to go to. If you don't focus on the future you will lose your current consumer. Operators are looking at it to build a business case and Huawei is helping them to find the real benefit to the consumer. Maybe right now a large part of the focus is on marketing, but the potential to show power of innovation by the company or operator using 5G is not just to push our brand - we also focus on the network technology."

Chafic Traboulsi, Head of networks at Ericsson Middle East and Africa, said the business opportunities provided by 5G "are boundless" if operators in the region adapt their business models.

"As industry digitalisation investments continue to grow and generate revenue for ICT players, operators can benefit from an additional thirty-six percent revenue from 5G-enabled market opportunities in the next eight years. 5G has the potential to deliver unparalleled benefits to society, business, and ICT players as well - meaning that the time to start creating a 5G business is now."

Ericsson, along with MTN South Africa, recently conducted a 5G trial on a racing track in Pretoria, while Nokia and Vodacom also hosted a trial in Durban in July 2018.

On the horizon

Steven Ambrose, CEO of Strategy Worx Consulting believes a solid business case for 5G is on the horizon.

"There are only three major manufacturers of telecommunications equipment in the world, Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. Those three drive the mobile agenda although it used to be a lot of other people. Samsung are pretty good as well but when it comes to major innovation, Huawei have been driving 5G for a while including the patents, technology, platforms, systems and they are one of the most advanced so they will bring out 5G implementations across the world and are likely to bring out versions of their devices next year that have 5G capabilities whether there is a business case or not. It is a competitive advantage. The business case will come eventually."