Planning for licensing of Fifth Generation (5G) wireless technology in South Africa is under way, but no definitive timelines have been set, according to Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele.
Cwele was speaking at a media briefing on the first day of the International Telecoms Union (ITU) Telecom World Conference 2018 at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban this afternoon.
“We are doing trials on 5G but we are already starting the planning of the licensing of the 5G spectrum … so that we don’t have delays in working with our private sector,” he said.
“We have been working with our private sector because this is the spectrum that is used in the Internet of Things and is critical for the digital economy. Those are the things we are putting in place,” said Cwele.
In his keynote address earlier in the day, President Cyril Ramaphosa said government would be accelerating licensing of radio frequency spectrums “in the 2.6 gigahertz, the 700 megahertz and the 800 megahertz band to hasten the growth of mobile telecommunications”.
Cwele said South African companies such as MTN and Telkom were laying the foundations for the digital revolution. “We are also finalising our approach to data management, because data is the gold of the digital economy.”
Like 4G was to 3G, the new generation 5G will offer significantly quicker connectivity speeds to users and will, amongst other benefits, increase the ability of small businesses to become more competitive, increase technological innovation and drive economic development.
The technological empowerment of small, medium and micro enterprises in South Africa and throughout the African continent would be a continuing theme throughout the conference, according to ITU secretary-general, Houlin Zhao, who encouraged small businesses to exhibit their wares to a global stage through the event.
Cele said that the 4G advanced spectrum and eventually 5G was part of President Ramaphosa’s initiative to encourage investment. Government was also starting to implement rapid deployment policy, he said, which would reduce the cost to operators who laid the infrastructure.
It is estimated that 5G will offer speeds between 10 to 20 Gbps. Currently, 4G offers up to about 100Mps, which is five times faster than 3G.
Although initial outlay costs of 5G are expensive, it has lower energy consumption and maintenance costs.
Speaking at the same press conference, MTN CEO and group president Rob Shuter, said that of MTN’s 220 million customers, only about 70 percent were connected to the world through the internet.
“Internet penetration, digital inclusion and financial inclusion are big challenges. This generation needs to bring so many more of our people into the digital world. The ITU conference is a great opportunity to try and coordinate and align private and public players to move society forward,” said Shuter.