5G for Africa: a game-changer or marketing hype?

Last month I witnessed Ericsson’s successful 5G trial with MTN in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was the first live trial of 5G on the continent. It included various IOT demos and futuristic use cases. It created a huge buzz and excitement for both our customer and at our offices, where we extended the demos for two days after the trial – for the benefit of our Ericsson colleagues. But, is 5G realistic for Africa? Many parts of the continent still don’t have running water or LTE.


Program Manager, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

Program Manager, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

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What is 5G?

5G is not just the next step in the technology evolution from 2G (voice) to 3G (data) to 4G (LTE or better data) but a potential game changer. And, it’s not just about faster data speeds – being able to download a hundred videos simultaneously (why ever would you need that anyway?). It’s about enabling the fourth industrial revolution, of IOT and AI. What does that mean for Africa, and is it a good thing? The jury is still out on AI, but the Internet of Things is looking very positive, not only for industrialized countries, but for small and medium sized businesses in Africa wanting to use data analytics for quality and scale, for NGOs and governments wanting to track and protect wildlife and the environment. Occupational Health and Safety, risk management and transparency are all areas where Africa might benefit hugely from the coming transformation.

5G enabled 20GB/second internet speed at the trial in Johannesburg. This translates to very short latency times, meaning vast amounts of information can travel almost real time. With cloud technology, and virtualization, connected devices can now operate cheaply and with low energy requirements. Imagine safety warnings of adverse weather being broadcast real time to entire communities to reduce fatalities. Imagine unmanned remote operations of mining, in dangerous areas, to protect the safety of humans. Imagine small scale farmers being able to optimally increase their yields and co-operatively access digital markets. Imagine water and air pollution being better controlled through early warning detection systems.

MTN 5G - 2

5G also enables mixed reality, where multiple data sources provide input and video feeds, which are combined with VR headsets, mobiles and TVs with access to search screens, advertising and online shopping. Imagine when sports arenas have sensors streaming live feeds from the goal line, the changeroom, the bench and various spectator areas. Imagine when sport players’ uniforms and shoes can stream data to coaches and fans alike.

One day soon sport teams such as PSG, Manchester United or Orlando Pirates will be able to sell Mixed reality VIP Fan packs  to anyone in the world without needing to travel. Soccer fans could buy a service to sit at home with their VR headsets in their Virtual VIP booth and watch the game but feel as though they are in the stadium. Fans could walk around, to see every angle of the goal and to buy personalized merchandise while running comparative statistical searches on their favorite players and being the ultimate couch coaches.

5G and sustainability

As a sustainability professional, I wanted to know more about the carbon and energy angles of 5G. So, I took advantage of the trial to talk to some experts and do some research. We don’t yet have commercially available products, but our master design engineers follow the circular economy approach, where they design for optimal resource efficiency of every component of the product, including sourcing of parts, the transportation and storage of products and recycling of parts until decommissioning at end of life. Part of the design criteria includes having a minimal size and weight of radio equipment, to ensure we use the minimal packaging, so that the components take up smaller space on a ship and the shipping has a smaller carbon footprint. Another design criteria is around energy efficiency, and the beam feature of 5G means data ca be sent in a more focused and efficient manner.  But at the end of the day it’s the industrialization of IOT that I believe will bring the safety and resource efficiency required of sustainability practices to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

One of my favorite parts of my job is supporting Marketing and customer engagements in talking about and demonstrating the positive impact of our products and services from a Triple Bottom Line (people, profits and planet) perspective. At Ericsson our purpose truly is to Innovate Technology For Good, and I am proud to say that 5G truly is an great example of how Technology can bring Good, while doing good.

For more information on the 5G trial in South Africa in January 2018, watch this video and explore these links:

MTN South Africa and Ericsson sign MoU for 5G collaboration

MTN Hits 20gbps in 5G Trial

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