Africa-focused mobile operator MTN and Chinese telecommunications company ZTE have successfully showcased Africa's first live video call using the telco's 5G network technology at AfricaCom 2019 in Cape Town.
The companies used the opportunity to sign an MoU dedicating both businesses to collaboration around 5G innovation, device and network implementation, and to develop further use cases.
ZTE senior vice president Jerry Zhou and MTN South Africa chief technology officer Giovanni Chiarelli were joined by South Africa's Deputy Minister of Telecommunications & Postal Services Pinky Kekana in a live call streamed over 5G.
The companies emphasised that the uplink and downlink speeds achieved in the demonstration was on technology connected to MTN's live core network and linked to its centre in Tyberberg, Cape Town.
The companies also demonstrated their virtual reality capability, unveiling a 5G motional control robot and orchestrated a live interview via hologram.
Zhou said ZTE is very confident in 5G and has invested a substantial amount in its development, and the company has over 35 commercial contracts. He believes that the high throughput and low latency of the technology makes it a practical fit for e-education, e-health, mining and manufacturing.
Zhou described 5G as a game-changer that will revolutionise the technology industry and "gradually affect other industries positively."
"We are proud to be partners with MTN and our intention is to be the champion in South Africa's telecommunications sector and champion on the continent."
South Africa must take the opportunity to leapfrog with this technology and not be left behind, Zhou added, advocating next year as a critical timeframe for serious uptake and application.
MTN's Chiarelli said for 5G to eventually become commercially available, several "ingredients" are required including radio telecommunications equipment, core network to be 5G-enabled and devices, along with regulations.
South Africa is ready in terms of the equipment necessary and that the company's network is 5G-ready.
He acknowledged that devices will be rolled out in the future, but these will be specifically targeted at the high-end market segment.
Both companies also emphasised the need for confirmation of spectrum allocation, which remains a critical component of the entire end-to-end 5G puzzle in South Africa.
Kekana reiterated the South African government's commitment regarding spectrum allocation and said President Cyril Ramaphosa had confirmed the government "could not be found wanting" and had recognised the game-changing quality of 5G.
"Government must be as agile as possible because industry is ready," said Kekana, adding that the government continues to engage with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and there is a lot to do, but they are happy to report "there is movement from that side"