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Africa taking baby steps towards 5G future

Vodacom's Africa Director in charge of sales and parallel wireless, Lux Maharaj
Vodacom’s Africa Director in charge of sales and parallel wireless, Lux Maharaj

JOHANNESBURG – AN expert has advised African
telecommunications providers to address network gaps before aggressively exploring possibilities of fifth generation of cellular mobile communications (5G).

The encouragement comes amid the dilemma of whether African providers should assertively explore 5G prospects or instead try to fill the gap in the 2G and 3G networks, as millions of people still remain unconnected.

Vodacom, a key player in the continent, has recently launched commercial 5G services in Lesotho.

Although the services have been launched for two of its corporate client, it’s a giant leap for the region still struggling with basic connectivity, said Lux Maharaj, Director Sales – Africa, Parallel Wireless.

He pointed out another key player, MTN, in collaboration with Huawei, has started 5G trials in South Africa.

Maharaj said Africa still remained a 2G market primarily, with almost 60 percent of the mobile subscribers still using 2G services. There are only 44 percent unique mobile users, and internet penetration is as low as 30 percent.

“So, before Africa starts to warm up with 5G, it needs to first focus on filling the network gaps which are already there,” Maharaj said.

He said telecom service providers could not introduce the unconnected regions directly to 4G and 5G networks.

“They have to first connect these regions or unconnected people to 2G networks first.”

Maharaj argued low average revenue per user (ARPU) and high price of smartphones further made it imperative that people started using 2G services before moving to 4G or 5G networks.

“However, to ensure the transition from 2G to 5G is cost-effective and seamless, telecom service providers need to shift their hardware-driven networks to a virtualized network.’

Maharaj added to enable the use and expansion of the 5G network, operators need to make structural changes in the existing network.

The existing networks are not suitable for deployment of 5G technology as the latter requires high capacity and high responsive networks, he said.

For 5G to deliver on its promise of deeper coverage, telecom operators have to resort to what is called as network densification, which requires the service provider to add more cell sites, macro-sites and deploy more small cells so to increase the capacity of the network.

“Without an enhanced network capacity and coverage, 5G cannot connect the millions of devices as it promises,” Maharaj said.

Maharaj however concluded with over 750 million people in Africa yet to be connected by internet and over 600 million yet to have mobile, Africa has huge potential in economic and social growth if telecom operators made the transition from 2G to 5G in a quick time.

“Virtualized 2G hastens the process and makes it easier for the service providers to transition to newer technologies.”

– CAJ News





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