/ 28 June 2022

Unlocking the full potential of the 5G ecosystem

65eb6d99 5g Tower

At the end of this decade, we will reflect on this era and see that a phenomenal 5G ecosystem was created for economic growth. Industries will leverage 5G as an innovation platform and as an integrated part of their digital transformation.

But the rapid expansion of 5G networks is the foundation for growth across most industries. With the broader reach of the 5G ecosystem, businesses can look forward to unlocking new opportunities. There is no doubt that 5G will be the biggest growth market over the next decade.

As part of a digital infrastructure strategy, and as an enabler of other emerging technologies — such as the internet of things, extended reality, artificial intelligence and edge computing — 5G has an important role to play.

A PwC study of the economic effect of 5G-enabled use cases across industries forecasts these technologies will contribute $350-billion to global GDP by 2025, rising to $1.3-trillion by 2030.

There is certainly a sense of urgency for a rapid 5G network expansion and consumer conversion. With 5G-powered smartphones available from all key vendors, there is an enormous battle to capture a substantial percentage of the 5G subscription market.

For example, MTN South Africa aims to provide 5G coverage to a quarter of the South African population by the end of 2022 and to reach 60% by 2025.

It must be a priority to maximise existing spectrum assets. New mid-band spectrum additions need to complement low- and high-band spectrum and they must be universally available. This will certainly encourage innovation where 5G can leverage existing models in low- and mid-band spectrum. The innovation potential comes from a combination of fixed wireless access, high-band spectrum and network slicing.

There is an urgent need to use 5G-enabled technologies to accelerate a broader distribution of economic resilience. There has been a influx of new 5G devices entering the market. 5G smartphones account for half of all launched devices. Others include fixed wireless terminals for indoor and outdoor deployment and battery-powered pocket routers. 

Not only are new communication service providers emerging on multiple fronts, but mobile virtual network operators are building their own 5G networks in areas with high potential. Geographically limited providers are offering fixed wireless services by converting legacy networks or entering areas with insufficient broadband options.

Enabling the widespread use of extended reality using 5G to usher in a more immersive alternative to current collaboration tools will unlock efficiencies and opportunities in the workplace. 5G is equally essential to the digital transformation of small and medium-sized businesses.

It can become the go-to connectivity option for personal productivity in smartphones, tablets and laptops to bridge gaps in fibre-based fixed broadband, which will enable us to work from wherever we want. It is driving new demand for fibre to 5G sites and edge computing close to end-customers.

The focus is on securing fibre to 5G macro and small cell sites on black fibre to complement managed ethernet services. Network edge computing is attractive for collocating with mobile core functionality.

Through ongoing efforts and determination, telecom operators are implementing a 5G digital ecosystem to create a better digital world. It will provide everyone with a real-time, on-demand, all online, DIY, social (ROADS) experience. However, it requires an end-to-end coordinated architecture featuring agile, automatic, and intelligent operation during each phase.

5G has been viewed as a long-term opportunity and left to the telecoms industry to determine the timing of deployment. However, with much of the required technology now available, it is important that the government incentivises the large investments required to realise these benefits and to increase resilience in this economy.

Matone Ditlhake is the chief executive of Corridor Africa Technologies.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.