Will we see 5.5G commercial testing in SA this year?

A couple of years ago, every telecommunications service provider was talking up 5G, its potential as an IoT enabler, and how it could help propel the African continent ahead of its regional counterparts when it comes to digital transformation.

Sadly, what was pitched has not really come to fruition, as reliable 5G connectivity remains limited to handful of suburbs within major metros in counties like South Africa.

What then does this mean for 5.5G or 5G Advance as Huawei sometimes calls it?

A snapshot of the development of 5.5G from Huawei’s perspective.

The new broadband standard, which promises speeds of up to 10Gbps, was a significant focus for the company at MWC 24 last week, where it showcased new hardware, detailed use cases, and highlighted industries that could be greatly disrupted by the connectivity and speeds that 5.5G boasts.

In fact, Huawei says commercial testing of 5.5G is possible in some parts of the year, before it becomes a more tangible reality. The company has already run a few test projects on the African continent, with Nigeria in particular being used for testing the multi-channel RFU.

Taking a slightly cynical approach, especially as South Africa has slipped down the pecking order when it comes to rolling out new broadband standards having previously been a pioneer in this regard, we spoke with Huawei Technologies’ Marius Engelbrecht, senior strategy consultant, on the subject to find out if commercial 5.5G testing is indeed a possibility this year for SA.

Unfortunately, he takes a more pragmatic approach when it comes to 5.5G in South Africa, especially as a solid network of 5G is crucial should the new broadband standard be effectively rolled out.

“At this point I’m not aware of any 5.5G testing happening, but we do have some use cases. We have incorporated one of our flagship antennas in one of Nigeria’s networks to assist in extremely high-density areas,” he explained.

“5.5G strategies from the operators in South Africa? I’m not aware of any at this moment,” he continued.

That’s not to say that talks aren’t happening or trying to happen.

“But remember we always do push them (operators) and tell them, ‘let’s do the trials’, ‘let’s start building use cases’, ‘let’s get you familiar with the technology’, and that’s one of the great things about working at Huawei,” Engelbrecht pointed out.

Stressing the importance of 5G stability first before any 5.5G testing can get underway, the senior strategy consultant highlighted that, “with the 5G core, a lot of them cannot just be ripped and replaced, so there’s an evolutionary process that’s taking place.”

“We see certain business cases and verticals. We’ve launched a couple of 5G smart mines in South Africa, and we are pushing as hard as we can. We look to look at the numbers, and ensure as well that the market conditions are ready, especially when it comes to investing from an operator perspective. I obviously want them to just buy it and start like in China, but there’s a time factor involved with projects like this,” he outlined.

As for whether we’ll be having more productive or advanced discussions around 5.5G at Africa Tech Festival in Cape Town towards the end of the year, which Huawei is usually a fixture at, Engelbrecht is quite positive.

“A lot of those conversations are taking place here (MWC). We have our meeting rooms were we present the solutions and ask ‘what do you guys think?’. I just had a very interesting conversation from one of the government delegates around an application of 5.5G that we have not tested before. I took them to our specialists who explained how it could be made possible with this new technology,” he shared.

Shifting to how 5.5G is expected to make an impact, much of the talk during several summits at MWC focused on entertainment and content consumption, however, Engelbrecht thinks that core industries stand to benefit the most from this broadband standard within the African and South African content in particular.

“My view has always been that the real value of 5.5G is not in how fast I can download movie. The real value for me is in the verticals and business environment. Most of the people out there don’t understand 5G, never mind the businesses, so we have a very big role again in educating. Many businesses don’t realise the benefits that 5G can bring to them,” he posited.

“But I cannot get mad at them, because no one has told them. That’s why at Huawei will place a high emphasis on telling them and showcasing these solutions,” he added.

While 5.5G is seemingly not on the cards for South Africa this year, it’s clear that Huawei will be punting the technology later in the year, and aiming to showcase as many projects and examples as possible to drum up interest in the capabilities up to 10Gbps will mean for consumers and businesses alike.

[Image – Photo by Julian on Unsplash]


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