MTN South Africa conducted a 5G technology and applications trial at its head office in Johannesburg in partnership with Ericsson. 5G refers to fifth generation mobile networks or wireless networks.
The two companies are collaborating on the rollout of 5G technologies in South Africa. The trial, which was part of their 5G demonstration as well as being the first in Africa, was based on commercially-available baseband hardware.
Some geek speak here: MTN received a temporary licence for 800MHz of spectrum in the 15GHz band to conduct its 5G trial. The test achieved a throughput (data transfer rate) of 20Gbps with a latency of less than 5 milliseconds (ms). (Latency refers to the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer.)
Note that it says throughput and not bandwidth. Throughput refers to the actual data that travels through a channel whereas bandwidth refers to the maximum possible. The difference between bandwidth is caused by different factors like latency and protocol used. The latency of less than 5ms they achieved is impressive.
In Zimbabwe we are still rolling out 4G (LTE) and Econet currently leads in terms of both coverage and performance. A simple speed test of Econet’s 4G, which is the best in Zimbabwe reveals that we get real life speeds of 25Mbps to 40Mbps in most areas. In Marlborough I am getting a minimum of 27Mbps and a maximum of 36Mbps with a latency of around 30ms.
That’s the night and day difference between 5G and 4G. 20Gbps versus 30Mbps. 5G also promises lower latency, in their trial MTN achieved less that 5ms compared to the 30ms I’m getting on Econet’s 4G.
Although Econet leads by a mile in terms of 4G coverage, the fourth generation mobile network technology is still only available in certain parts of cities and towns in Zimbabwe. Netone has a few 4G base stations of its own and Telecel is working on rolling out its own. This means that most Zimbabweans do not even have access to 4G as 5G is being trialed in South Africa.
Is 5G necessary or is it overkill?
We have to understand that Zimbabwe is a bit behind in terms of connectivity and infrastructure so the benefits 5G brings might not be appreciated by many. For most it would just be a matter of getting faster speeds on their phones to upload videos to Facebook or similar activities.
If that’s all we would use 5G for then 20Gbps is overkill. The 30Mbps we are getting on 4G is sufficient for that. It admittedly would be a better experience with 20Gbps for those doing some heavy lifting but for sharing 2Mb photos on Instagram, the difference would not be noticeable.
5G however opens many more doors. Those kinds of speeds and low latency means things like remote learning, where a student in any part of world can attend a class anywhere in the world can be possible. Remote medical treatment, where a doctor could treat a patient in a remote place in real time would also be possible.
Governments can benefit as monitoring will be easier as investigating offers can monitor any part of the world in real time. Faster detection of possible natural disasters like heatwaves would also be possible.
So no, 5G is not overkill. We maybe a long way from getting 5G in Zimbabwe but it has benefits which cannot be belittled. We just need to lay the groundwork in the meantime.
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