5G, short for ‘5th generation’ mobile connectivity, is the application of a new spectrum of radio waves that will be used by mobile phone providers to increase speed of data delivery and bandwidth. It will rival fibre connectivity on both speed and bandwidth without the hassle of major infrastructure (digging hundreds of thousands of kilometres of trenches or hanging wires from pole to pole where it can be stolen).
Experts agree it will usher in a new era of businesses connectivity bringing with it opportunity in South Africa as well as the rest of the African continent.
1G was the 1st generation of mobile connectivity. It was developed in the late ‘70s and supported mobile phone voice calls.
2G came in the early ‘90s and supported Short Message Services (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS), like images and videos.
3G came just before the turn of the Millennium and supported faster data-transmission speeds to allow your cell phone to make video calls and connect to the mobile internet.
4G, introduced in 2008, is the current standard. It supports mobile web access like 3G does but also enables gaming services, HD mobile TV and video conferencing.
5G will bring significantly faster data download speeds (up to 20 Gbps per second), higher connection density, lower latency and energy saving. It will offer fast and reliable cell phone wireless connectivity with the ability to download video streaming in milliseconds. Add to this the network’s potential to also carry advanced virtual reality experiences, this is amazing technology.
Apart from improved individual online experiences it will benefit communities. 5G is the technology that will make smart cities work smarter, autonomous cars run autonomously, rural schools get online libraries and virtual teachers, make startups develop faster and provide a responsive network that can handle huge amounts of data generated by new industries.
In the words of Sudhir Juggernath, head of Orange Applications for Business, Africa: “5G provides benefits that have the potential to change lives on the African continent, and will bring with it immense innovation, which will provide a better life for all those living in Africa – the possibilities are endless.”
The website ITouch argues that mobile data in Africa will be key in driving economic development in the future. The amplified capacity provided by 5G could lead to lower data costs – provided enough spectrum is allocated to the 5G standard. 5G services will deliver under 5 millisecond latencies combined with speeds over 1Gbps, making fixed wireless 5G services a potential alternative to high-speed fibre connections.
Technically it is already in South Africa but not in general use. During the 2019 Mobile World Congress earlier this year, Rain, South Africa’s mobile data-only network operator, announced that it has launched the first 5G commercial network in South Africa in partnership with Huawei. For now it is limited to Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban but you first need a 5G phone to use it.
It’s not entirely clear who will be the first to debut a 5G smartphone in South Africa. Vodacom has trialed a LG V50 ThinQ 5G phone and Samsung is already selling the Galaxy S10 5G overseas. But expect 5G phones to be on the market in South Africa pretty soon and the rollout of 5G serviced to the rest of the country to follow fast.
All wireless communications happen over radio frequencies. That’s what makes your cell phone work. So, whether you’re making a call, sending a text message or connecting to the internet to download information, videos or live streaming, you need the fastest and most reliable radio frequencies out there. At the moment it is 5G because 5G uses higher frequencies than 4G. It is faster and can carry more information. 5G will also support more devices being used at the same time. This will include smart devices from smart speakers to domestic appliances to driverless cars.
Ultimately it might but not now. 5G is not intended to replace 4G any time soon. It will simply add another layer to the existing cellular network to provide users with a faster, smoother and better user experience.
If you’ve ever struggled to get online in busy places (think of a Springbok Test), even though you appear to have a full signal, you’ll know the frustration. It’s because lots of people are trying to connect in one place at the same time. With 5G there will be enough bandwidth for everyone – and more devices – to connect at the same time. You will even be able to stream the game while you are visiting the stadium toilet.
You’ll be able to download data (films, information, etc) onto your phone in seconds instead of minutes. It simply means that if you want to work, you will work faster, and if you want to play, you will play faster. You’ll be able to stream in the highest resolutions available. Video calls will be smoother and better.
5G gives you an almost instant internet connection. Everything will happen super-quick and this will allow for exciting new possibilities for augmented and virtual reality experiences.
To be able to use 5G, you’ll need to get a brand new 5G phone. You will also need to enter into a new contract with your mobile service provider. Initially expect this to be more expensive.
MTN says 5G will allow for the following improvements over 4G: