by Lux Maharaj, director sales – Africa, Parallel Wireless
The service providers in Africa have started to explore the 5G possibilities despite many apprehensions around its success. Though a mass rollout is a few years away, these are small but significant steps towards a technology revolution.
Vodacom and MTN, two of the major telecom operators in Africa, have begun testing viability of 5G in Africa. Vodacom recently launched Africa’s first commercial 5G network in Lesotho, a tiny country landlocked by Southern Africa. Besides, recently, MTN and Huawei started 5G field trial in Pretoria, South Africa.
5G: A paradigm shift
5G is the new buzzword and the exuberance around 5G is palpable everywhere. And this excitement is not without a reason. 5G as a technology promises a giant leap in wireless communication and opens many doors of new possibilities and innovations, especially for a developing economy like Africa.
It enables a number of Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) use cases in the field of agriculture, mission critical and healthcare. It can be a game changer for Africa as it allows the administration to use the digital platform to make the services available to the citizens. Dispersal of financial services, monitoring of water distribution and remote surgery are just some of the use cases that can truly change the lives of the people.
The 5G technology is different from the previous GSM standards mainly because it is not just about speed. It promises speed which is 100 or more times higher than the speed that we can get from existing network. Combine high speed with a latency of less than a millisecond and it opens up innumerable number of possibilities.
Network Transformation For 5G
Delivery of 5G use cases and services is not possible with the current networks. 5G demands high responsiveness and high capacity networks. Networks will need to be transformed to be ready for 5G.
One of the technology approaches which will be used for 5G is network densification, which means adding more cell sites to enhance capacity of the networks.
Since 5G network promises connect millions of devices and to provide network support for all of them, densification is an effective way of delivering on that promise.
Another key innovation under 5G would be slicing of network. Slicing of network allows the operator to provide a part of the network to a specific set of customers to suit their requirements – Internet of Things (IoT), critical medical procedures, connected cars, smart homes, etc.
For each requirement, the operator can define/allocate a unique set of resources and features such as connectivity, speed or capacity.
Each slice would be completely separate without interfering with the other network. This helps in lowering the risk of cyber attack as slicing ensures attack on one part of the network doesn’t impact the other part of the network separated by slicing. This also supports launch and deployment of new technologies on separate slices.
Virtualization: Transition from 2G to 5G
For Africa to realize the 5G dream, it must also first focus on bridging the digital gap. The continent continues to be one of the least penetrated telecom
Internet penetration in Africa is a paltry 25-30% against the global average of 43%. And smartphone usage is a low 34% in sub-Saharan Africa against 57% globally.
And while a lot of buzz has been created around 5G, almost 60% of the mobile subscribers in Africa are still using 2G services. And it would take a while for the population to warm up to 4G and 5G. The recent GSMA report says that only 3% of the total connections will be 5G in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
At the same time, the technology has huge relevance for Africa, as it is an opportunity for the region to circumvent the current obstacles in accessing infrastructure. It enables the authorities to provide services, including elearning and ehealth, through digital platforms, which is more cost-effective.
This means that the service providers need innovative solutions to address the current needs of their subscribers and also prepare the networks for 5G. Virtualized 2G is a new and disruptive technology approach which allows the service providers to cost-effectively move towards the 5G era.
Virtualized 2G is a software based solution and helps in adding agility and flexibility in the system. This implies that the same infrastructure can be used to deploy the new generation network without any significant investment. The upgradation itself is very easy and doesn’t even require a visit from the site engineer. Since the return of investment is low, the service providers can expand in the rural or unconnected regions without stressing about low ARPU.
The telcos can use 2G for voice today and 4G for offering data services and so on. It empowers the service providers to expand the network in keeping with the evolving requirements of the subscribers. It is clearly a more cost effective strategy. With Virtualization the service providers can focus on network expansion across all generation of communication technologies.
Access to connectivity can push the region’s economy. It allows
With ubiquitous broadband children can be taught remotely, lifesaving surgeries can be conducted even when people don’t have access to physical structures. It can then be said that 5G has the potential to truly transform the lives of the people.
The service providers should then leverage innovative concepts, like virtualized 2G, to address the current requirement of their subscribers and evolve the network when the market is ready and not because a new technology is the latest buzzword.