Supa Mandiwanzira Is Right; We Are Not Yet Ready For 5G And We Won’t Be Anytime Soon

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona ended a week ago and one of the major focuses this year was 5G. The fifth generation of broadband cellular network technology, succeeding 4G is expected to launch in the US by the end of this year. Europe, Japan, South Korea will adopt the technology in 2019 and China in 2020. MTN also recently tested the new standards in SA and you may be thinking ‘our neighbours are already testing 5G why aren’t we?’

These developments got me thinking about our ICT & Cyber Security Minister’s thoughts concerning the newest network standard. Back in August last year, Supa Mandiwanzira informed Cajnews that the country’s operators are not yet ready to implement 5G. He said:

It’s a noble call to have 5G, but the country is not yet ready for that. We are not yet done with rolling out 4G due to a number of reasons, so, rushing to 5G will be overzealous.


Mandiwanzira is very right and I think we will not be ready for this technology anytime soon. With 5G’s theoretical speeds of +1Gb/s, you’re probably thinking I am crazy for saying adoption of this technology might not be the best case for Zimbabwe, but just hold on and let me try to explain myself.

Theoretical Speeds are never achieved in daily use

First of all, the theoretical speeds that are thrown about during the testing periods are rarely achievable in actual use on a day-to-day basis. So, yes 5G is being advertised as capable of delivering 1GB/s but the chances that it will reach these heights once it’s actually out are close to impossible.

When 4G was being advertised and launched the word on the street was that it’s supposed to reach 100MB/s but personally, I’ve never reached these blazing speeds on my 4G-capable phone. I also don’t know anyone who has actually reached these blazing speeds. I used to check the speeds I was getting and at the time of writing I’m getting 3.10MB/s. Sure, this is nothing to scoff at but it’s far from the promised 100MB/s. In fact, it’s only 3.1% of what 4G should be theoretically capable of. You may argue “these are speeds in Zim and Zim isn’t the best place to measure 4G quality!!!”, but here’s some evidence that may help me in my case to rubbish theoretical speeds. The fastest network provider in the UK can only provide 18MB/s on LTE(a more advanced revision of 4G).

So if a nation like the UK can only achieve 18% of the promised speeds is it clear now that theoretical speeds are just theory?

The dream being sold

What network providers don’t tell subscribers is that network speeds are affected by many factors which include distance from a network tower, number of users relying on the same tower, and the weather. This is why users end up getting far lower than the advertised speeds. Econet’s 4G LTE page promises 300 MB/s which may not be a lie but because of the above factors, I end up getting 3.1MB/s as I said before.

5G capable devices won’t be widely available anytime soon

Right now there are no mobile phones that are 5G ready. Yes, not even a single one. Not your iPhone X, not your Galaxy S8 or the phone you’re reading this on.

This means the phones that are going to initially have 5G will be the flagship(more expensive) phones. The Samsung Galaxy S10 or 11(if they are even called that) and maybe iPhone 12. The point is the phones that will come with 5G in its first two years are the most expensive phones. The ones that are out of most Zimbos reach because of pricing. My question becomes, what’s the point of investing in technology that is far from mass adoption?

Looking back at how the 4G launch went, iPhone only adopted 4G in the iPhone 5 in 2012, a full 2 years after 4G was introduced. Rumour has it 2019’s iPhone will not have 5G and this got me thinking. If the most popular mobile phone maker will take 2 years before adopting this technology then how necessary is it that a developing country adopt this technology in its infancy?

4G coverage in Zimbabwe isn’t available nationally

Apart from the major cities, 4G is still a rarity in most areas in the country. Econet has the widest coverage in the country but it’s still not the entire country. NetOne is a distant second and Telecel are still on 3G but they did announce that 4G is on the way last year.

Anyway, the fact that 4G is not available nationwide is an indicator of the costs necessary to adopt these technologies. What’s the benefit of Zim adopting 5G early on whilst some parts of the nation are not yet able to access the internet? This leads to the next negative effect of adopting 5G before rolling out internet throughout the country.

Telecel Internet Coverage(Edge-3G-4G)
NetOne Internet Coverage(Edge-3G-4G)
Econet Internet Coverage (3G only)(unfortunately their coverage map was unclear)

Cost of 5G installation will slow down the spread of Internet coverage in the country going forward

Once the MNO’s start developing 5G infrastructure they’ll target the major cities first. Basically, Harare and Bulawayo followed by Mutare and then other cities. This means the cities that already had 4G coverage are getting 5G but the neglected communities most likely stay neglected cause there is not much of an incentive to get coverage there.

Once MNO’s have started developing 5G infrastructure, best believe it will be in every marketing campaign for a very long time and focus on other features. MNO’s love being first to market with products so once 5G becomes the in-thing developing older technologies will become of secondary concern.

I rest my case!

For the reasons stated above I think Zimbabwe should look into 5G investment once they have ensured that 3G basic coverage is at least nationwide. I do not think it’s necessary to rush and adopt 5G when it’s still expensive for both the network providers and their subscribers. For now, I think it’s better we rely on our 4G and look to expand that before looking at the bright lights of 5G…

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21 thoughts on “Supa Mandiwanzira Is Right; We Are Not Yet Ready For 5G And We Won’t Be Anytime Soon

  1. Econet”s coverage map has been a disaster for years. Have never been able to get it to work correctly for years. One area they hopeless in!

    1. what is diffucult to understand there. Red means there is 3G coverage, No red = no 3G coverage

      1. If you look close you’ll see there’s outside the map there are areas still in Zimbabwe, covered by the same map

  2. Odds are your speed issues have nothing to do with the 4G platform, but upstream contention.

      1. if you do not understand this basic factor of networking, and yet you write an article about it, who will ever take you seriously? really its time to separate the clowns from people who know what they are talking about. and you do not know what you are talking about clown!!

  3. 1. Do not limit 5G applications to handsets only. Think connected devices and IoT
    2. For rural areas 3G is more than enough, and they don’t need LTE, so there is no business case for deploying 4G in Uzumbamarambapfungwe.
    3. Your 3.1DL speed is very poor and not reflective of my Network experience on LTE on econet. I getaround 7M on 3G with LTE constantly clocking speeds above 25M. Maybe there is something wrong with your serving eNodeB or your device, or possibly you are on the fringes of coverage?

    Please don’t rest your case as yet, there are still a lot to consider. Esp the issue of IoT. Do a bit a research on how it will shape our future,and how we will need robust comms infrastructure to support this.
    Afterthought: As we move towards software defined radios, the cost of migrating say from 4G to 5G will become increasingly cheaper

    1. Thanks for the feedback will look at the argument for 5G and how we could use it to move forward

  4. I totally disagree, we are ready but just that the responsible ministry is not doing enough & has not the capacity. Forex issues I can understand.. but technically we can plan ahead. Our mobile networks are a total mess they just set up infrastructure without a clear idea & plan to advance into the future. WHEN ARE WE EVER GOING TO BE READY, TONGOITA WEMISHWE (last ALWAYS). The ministry should consult Telecoms firms & their experts who have pioneered the study and have been trialing 5G & have them do the right technical feasbility assesment. I disagree that 5G devices will be that expensive why just focus on apple devices as 5G pacesetters, huawei, ericson, zte amongst others are also pionering into this 5G arena and have sights into 5G compatible devices that are backward compatible to 4G and below, research this & their papers on their sites, partnerships can be made to have 5G ready devices available supplied to us, problem is we dont think outside the box. ITS TRUE WE ARE NOT READY BECAUSE WE TELL OURSELVES WE ARE NOT READY…!!! AND WE WILL NEVER BE READY. IF OTHERS DID WHY CANT WE DID IT TOO. SIMPLY PUT their is no vision or drive or desire for 5G or any other technological advancements, think of the headline “Zimbabwe Pioneers 5G Ahead of Major Developed Countries” . Its not just to say take up 5G, but it is the technological benefits that we as a whole will get out of it, it by far outperfoms better than all these fake LTE’s of yours, I know a company testing 5G Antenas in the frozen regions and it works well. In your article its more of the CONS rather than the PROS, I would challenge you do further research online on how 5G has been configured to overcome those CONs, ie MIMO (Maasive Input Massive Output) Antenna Technology that takes up more and travels further, the frequency range spectrum for it will do wonders. They are testing 5G with expected Scenarios of large crowds at olympic games & stadia where you have huge crowds uploading images, videos selfies etc.. Anyway ndini hangu ndanyarara… lets not stagnate our minds and be settling for less kwaakugutsikana ne 3G nhai, hanzi finish 3g then toita 4g then tozoita 5g…. Hazvinetsi kuita dish out 5G all it needs is a plan, desire, openness to get every MNO on board and be strategic about it… kwete kuti pedzera data on a fake 4G/LTE network…

    1. True story, we need to have a plan. Asi apo paMIMO For 5G it’s Massive MIMO(multiple input, multiple output) it’s used in WiFi since 802.11n with MIMO…

    2. Challenge Accepted! I will educate myself and come back with the side of why we should adopt 5G as early as possible. Thanks for your feedback 😉

  5. Of all the reasons given in your article the one that holds water is the one about 5G devices not being widely available and even when they do become available they will cost a bit. All the other reasons are really issues of vision. If we waited till we needed something to develop it we would never move forward.

  6. YES devices are not yet ready but chip maker Qualcomm has also announced partnerships with Asus, Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Connected Technologies Limited, HMD Global so this time next year there will be devices. The main question should be, what will the minister and Potraz do I the mean time to regulate 5G? Or will it be playing catch up again with regulation and policy like we did with 4G! What Zimbabwe’s plan and road map for it?
    We can’t just sit and speculate that we’re not ready when in fact we could still skip a phase and catch up with the rest of the world!

  7. Someone Define 4G & 5G lots of debating but it seems no 1 knows the difference even experts because it is not defined by the actul regulator have a read

  8. I wanted to say something about this article but I will reserve that for another day.
    First of all, Supa is not the right person to tell us that we are ready for 5G or not. He lacks vision, including POTRAZ. The author points out 3Mbps and says its not LTE. Let me make my case:

    1. The theoretical speeds of 100Mbps as announced in the standard are for mobile i.e moving UEs and 1Gbps for stationary UEs. The key thing to achieve these speeds is the amount of frequency that is allocated to the sector that the UE is connecting to. This is where lack of vision on the part of the Ministry and POTRAZ comes in. A sector with a frequency allocation of 20MHz can achieve the downlink speeds of 100Mbps to the radio access network. Please author, note that the promised speed of 100Mbps is to the base station, not the internet. The obtaining situation in Zimbabwe is LTE players have been given 10MHz of spectrum to use. That means that for a site with frequency re-use, each sector has 5MHz of spectrum. That answers the reason why in Zimbabwe you will hardly get more than 50Mbps. So POTRAZ, through its allocation of frequency, is directly responsible for not achieving those speeds. As a sidenote, LTE tests on Econet came close to 50Mbps to the base station.

    2.The actual speeds you will get doing a speed test depends on a lot of factors,i.e location of the server, uplink of the base station to the core network, load on the speedtest server, quality of signal at the UE, etc.

    The problem of spectrum can be dealt with simply. Develop a wholesale LTE network ,i.e aggregate all the LTE spectrum to one company ( a new company, not incumbents) and white-label for all the network operators.
    Secondly, better spectrum management by POTRAZ is required. Some networks that were allocated spectrum for a particular purpose are being asked to switch off their base stations to make room for LTE. That is investment down the drain.

    I will leave it here for now.

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