Zimbabwe is not yet ready for 5G as the economic outlook continue to hinder future adoption. Pic by Zimobile

THE recent pronouncements by Huawei that it’s rolling 5G-despite a USA ban-caught many technology followers with interest. Locally, some do not know what 5G means, while others are keen to know when it is coming as it has proven to be a game changer.

According to Digital Trends, 5G is the next generation of mobile broadband that will eventually replace, or at least augment, your 4G LTE connection. With 5G, you’ll see exponentially faster download and upload speeds. Latency, or the time it takes devices to communicate with each other wireless networks, will also drastically decrease.

But the 2019 sector performance report by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe-Potraz– could provide valid indicators. We are not yet there and it’s going to take a while before 5G knocks on our doorstep.

The performance of the telecoms industry in Zimbabwe is largely dependent on the economic environment. For example, the decline in active mobile subscriptions is reflective of the general depressed demand in the economy.

The macroeconomic environment in Zimbabwe and relatively low uptake of digital services are sufficient reasons to take a dim view of 5G deployment and adoption.

Deployment and adoption of 5G in Zimbabwe might not come anytime soon. “The 2020s will see an increase in 5G activities, with South Africa – the most advanced market in the region – leading the way.

By 2025, there will be 28 million 5G connections in the region, equivalent to 3% of total mobile connections, with commercial services available in at least seven markets, including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa” according to report by GSMA titled, ‘5G in Sub-Saharan Africa: laying the foundations.’

In 2014 Econet-one of Zimbabwe’s largest mobile service network provider indicated that it was speculating on 5G. This was despite 3G- which had not fully covered Zimbabwe and 4G roll out was ongoing. While one would argue that Econet was hurriedly setting the pace, the appetite for 5G was revealed.

The question that follows such a development about the growing demand for enhanced connectivity is: will that appetite put Zimbabwe on the track ahead of others in sub-Saharan Africa? What role will 5G play in the future connectivity landscape?

The GSMA has identified five mobile industry goals for the 5G era.

  • Boundless connectivity for all: 5G networks will coexist with 4G networks and alternative network technologies to deliver a high-speed, reliable and secure broadband experience, and support a plethora of use cases.
  • Deliver sustainable network economics and innovation: 5G era networks will rely on a combination of established and innovative technologies, and use both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, across different spectrum bands to cost effectively deliver better quality networks either independently or through sharing/partnerships.
  • Transform the mobile broadband experience: 5G networks will enable an enhanced broadband experience with speeds of up to 1 Gbps and latency of less than 4 milliseconds, and provide the platform for cloud and AI-based services.
  • Drive growth in new use cases for massive and critical IoT: 5G era networks will support the massive rollout of intelligent IoT connections for a multitude of scenarios and provide an enhanced platform to support widespread adoption of critical communication services.
  • Accelerate the digital transformation of industry verticals: The mobile industry will provide the networks and platforms to accelerate the digitisation and automation of industrial practices and processes (including supporting Fourth Industrial Revolution goals).

“The arrival of 2G in 1999 marked a revolution in the telecoms landscape, at a time when less than 1% of the population had access to any form of telecoms service. In contrast, 5G is more of an evolution as voice and data services have already reached mass-market levels in the region” said the GSMA report.

“In 1999, it was voice; in 2019 it is data. The demand for data will underpin growth in enhanced connectivity services during the 2020s, including initial take-up of 5G. The Market Readiness Index paints a picture of a region not ready for 5G as of early 2019.

Most markets in the region are still in the early stages of mass-market 4G rollout and this has yet to translate into widespread 4G adoption. Furthermore, there is limited availability of key 5G spectrum across most markets, particularly in the mid- and high-frequency bands.”

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