Yes! We finally have it. 5G was launched. Ribbons were cut and some phones got to flex that 5G icon next to the network bars for the 1st time in this teapot shaped country of ours. All thanks to Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. So let’s have a little QnA of our own right here. Starting with the usual.
What is 5G and what are it’s benefits?
5G is a system upgrade of the mobile network that uses sim cards. This system upgrade brings you, the user 3 major benefits. More bandwidth, more speed and lower latency. Big words there but here is what they mean.
With more bandwith you can get a more stable internet connection because it allows more processes to be handled at the same time. Think of it as you sending photos on WhatsApp. More bandwidth means you can send more photos at the same time because the nework can allow you to do so.
So in terms of more stable internet connections it means that a 5G base station can connect more phones to it and all these phones can get all the data they need without a drop in connection quality and speed. Speaking of speed.
This one is your download speed. How fast that WhatsApp video will download onto your phone or how smoothly you can stream than video with no buffering. Whilst the best of 4G can allow you to download a whole movie in about 4 minutes, the best of 5G can allow you to download that same movie in about 4 seconds.
And with Econet they managed to reach a max speed of just over 3Gbps (Gigabits Per Second) which to put it to scale is enough speed for 30 Zol customers on the fastest Zol fibroniks package (100Mbps) to enjoy comfortably.
Latency is just a fancy word describing reaction time. The time difference between issuing a command and an action being taken. With 4G this latency was around 100 milliseconds and 5G can get it as low as 1 millisecond on average.
This is great for tasks that need you to perform actions in real time. Think of lets say football. Someone watching a match on DStv may be celebrating a little bit earlier than someone watching the same match on a football streaming platform.
With 5G you get a much smaller delay than someone on 4G meaning you will the person celebrating that goal first before anyone else that’s not on 5G.
Not all 5G is the same
There are also different types of 5G. Lower band which is the slowest form of 5G but with the best signal coverage. Middle band 5G with average speeds and signal coverage (Econet is using this one) and millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G which has the fastest speeds but the smallest signal coverage. I made a video explaining these different types of 5G and you can watch it below.
Where is 5G best used?
5G currently exists to improve on aspects of 4G that were not ideal and most of it is futuristic first world stuff. So because of lower latency, it will make automated services in industry more reliable, safer and more efficient.
Think of a self driving car. The faster it can send data to a server and recieve a response, the faster it can react to the environment and avoid getting into accidents.
In heavy mining, some excavation equipment is remote controlled so again, the quicker it can respond to the input of the controller, the more efficiently it can be used and the safer it is to use around people.
In business it means more heavier softwares can now be run on the cloud and not on device so an example is you can now edit a video in your chrome browser with a standard laptop rather than getting a PC worth several thousand dollars than can handle editing videos on the device.
It can even mean a surgeon can perform an operation in another continent without needing to be physically present and in an environment where everything is getting smarter, it enables your smart devices to communicate faster and more efficiently.
As of right now the hope is that in business districts and co-working spaces it will offer a more reliable form of internet connectivity with enough speed for individuals and companies working in these spaces to be more productive.
Where can I get 5G in Zimbabwe?
At the time of writing this article, 5G is only available in Avondale and the coverage is around the Avondale main shopping centre, Avondale flea market and parts of Riverside walk. It’s a relatively small coverage because of technicalities associated with 5G which I’ll elabrate on later in the article.
Econet says they are midway through commissioning another 5G base station in Newlands and the total number of Econet 5G base stations in Zimbabwe will be 22 by June 2022. And on the 5G project Econet went with Ericsson as equipment supplier and backup if anyone was curious.
Update: 23 August 2022
Econet now has 22 operational 5G base stations scattered all over Zimbabwe and the sites are:
- Sam Levy’s
- Econet Park
- RGM Airport
- Holiday Inn (Harare)
- Club chambers
- ZESA HQ
- Makoni shops (Chitungwiza)
- Zengeza Main
- NSSA House Bulawayo
- Anchor house Bulawayo
- Econet house Bulawayo
- NRZ Bulawayo
- Rainbow Hotel
- Mimosa House
- NRZ Victoria Falls
- Spar (OK) Victoria Falls
- CABS Gweru
- Rothbat Building
As Econet is adding more 5G sites they are updating the list which you can check out by clicking here.
Does 5G make sense in Zimbabwe right now?
A couple of cases against 5G in Zim
It’s no secret that internet connectivity is bad in Zimbabwe right now. The speeds are inconsistent and sometimes so is the network availability. And this is on 4G. I mean surely whatever capacity we have to spend on 5G could be put towards improving the existing 4G network. Moreover, will this 5G perform as advertised? All we have right now is the speed tests Econet showed us that they did on the 23rd of February 2022.
When we tried, we could not get a reliable speed test to prove this claim and in all fairness the Econet engineers did inform us that the base station at Avondale is not yet performing at full capacity because they are waiting for the bandwidth allocation from Potraz. So for now we can only take their word and figures for it.
5G has it’s fair share of complications. Coverage area of a 5G base station is smaller than a 4G base station and the faster the 5G technology, the smaller the signal’s range. Econet’s 5G is middle band 5G as stated earlier which somewhat offers the most efficient mix of speed and coverage. But even then, it’s going to be a treasure hunt finding areas where 5G base stations are unless they are put up in densely populated areas.
Smartphones that support 5G are a very small proportion right now because it’s a technology predominantly available on flagships which are inherently quite expensive. I mean there are exceptions like the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G, Huawei Nova 8 5G or the more affordable Tecno Pova 5G that I reviewed recently.
But still even the cheapest 5G smartphone is retailing for around US$300 in Zimbabwe making it a barrier of entry for those wanting to experience the technology. Also..side note. Econet we are still waiting for you to bring us eSims.
A couple of cases for 5G in Zim
But then we look at the numbers. Econet sits on a 58.6% market share on the base stations that exist in Zimbabwe and in October last year they announced they are adding 130 more between October and December 2021. We shall confirm the figures when the Potraz Q4 2021 report becomes available but this just further extends their coverage.
They may be the best positioned MNO to bring in new technology because really it costs quite a bit of money to bring in new technology like 5G. 5G is not a software update that you download and install so if someone in town starts a hustle saying “tinoisa 5G pama phone” I am telling you right now it can’t and it’s a lie.
Them bringing 5G means they are adding new equipment, new hardware to their base stations which will be emmiting this 5G signal and that is some expensive piece of kit. And with the numbers other MNOs have, they might not have the capacity to venture into 5G. If anyone could. It’s Econet.
Looking at the progressive nature of the startup ecosystem in Zimbabwe, 5G will be opening new doors for fields like commercial autonomous drone technology to provide economical agritech solutions and in mining. Industries that seem to managing to keep Zimbabwe’s economy afloat.
And for the online gamers reading this. Ping. #GoodPingWinsGames.
What I have come to see with new technologies is that when they launch the use cases are not as obvious. However there is always a tinkerer, an innovator or a dreamer in a room somewhere excited to figure out how a new technology can solve a problem they have…Or how a capitalist can capitalize on benefits from new tech.
Right now the most practical applications of 5G are in the commercial and industrial fields and even in these fields, the applications are still futuristic ones that few have managed to adopt. But that is progress and any progress is good progress. If it works as advertized it’s a nice option to have available in several value chains. But from the performance of 4G as of the past 4 years, Econet’s 5G has a lot of work to do in bringing back lost confidence in the reliability of the network.
Do I need a new SIM or special settings to use 5G?
No you don’t. If you have a 5G enabled smartphone with an Econet line that is working then your phone will automatically switch to 5G whenever you enter a location where there is 5G service. However 5G consumes a lot of power so it is usually switched off on most phones that come with it.
So if your phone supports 5G and you are at Foodlovers Avondale with no 5G icon on your phone, go to your mobile network settings and check if, on your prefered network mode, you have the combination with 5G selected. In some phones the button is conveniently placed in the drop down menu.
That’s pretty much it. All you need to use 5G on Econet is a phone that supports 5G. A 5G capable smarphone retails for as low as US$300 in Zimbabwe and that is the Tecno Pova 5G. So if you want to buy a 5G capable smartphone that’s the least you can expect to pay for one.
Now we wait for the base station to operate at full capacity so we can burn some data on speed tests.