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South Africa’s first 5G lab opens in Johannesburg

L-R Hauwei Southern Africa VP, Yang Chen; rain non executive chair, Phumlani Moholi, Wits VC, Prf Adam Habib, Tshimologon CEO, Lesley Williams, incoming WITS VC, Prof Zeblon Vilakazi and DDG of International Cooperation and Resources, Dept of Science and Innovation, Daan du Toit.
L-R Hauwei Southern Africa VP, Yang Chen; rain non executive chair, Phumlani Moholi, Wits VC, Prf Adam Habib, Tshimologon CEO, Lesley Williams, incoming WITS VC, Prof Zeblon Vilakazi and DDG of International Cooperation and Resources, Dept of Science and Innovation, Daan du Toit.

Huawei, rain and Wits University have jointly launched what they claim to be South Africa’s and Africa’s first 5G laboratory to give students access to a live 5G environment and build knowledge of the technology’s applications for the local market.

The 5G Innovation Lab, situated at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, is part of a longer-term joint innovation programme between business and the academic institution.

In a statement released to the media, the collaborators say the lab is aimed at driving innovations to promote social progress for South Africa in the digital era or fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

In terms of the collaboration, Huawei provides its end-to-end 5G solution, supported by rain’s 5G network. The lab will initially showcase two 5G applications, namely smart/safe campus and virtual reality (VR) remote education.

However, further research areas that 5G can enable include video analytics, facial recognition, big data processing and machine-learning capabilities.

“The purpose of this exciting partnership is to give students early access to 5G technology,” said Huawei Southern Africa Region VP, Yang Chen. “This will allow them to experiment and interact with the 5G platforms that will enable the 4IR.”

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, says the facility will give students an opportunity to innovate solutions for local problems. He added that 5G could support a number of applications that would help South Africans.

“We are very encouraged by the efforts of Huawei, rain and Wits to establish academic R&D capabilities, this is very important as we move into the digital economy. As a leading ICT company Huawei, also runs various cutting edge ICT programmes at several South African universities and colleges, and this gives our youth a foothold into the fast changing technology space.”

Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib says he has high expectations for the partnership with Huawei and rain. “We are working with the pioneers in digital innovation to train a generation of smart, savvy scholars who will transform the world, using the latest technology available to effect beneficial change in our world. We are not reimagining the future, we are creating a better future for all today.”

Supporting African local innovation is also a key consideration for 5G service provider, rain.

“We are proud to partner with Huawei and Wits University to build the first 5G Innovation Lab in Africa, we believe that young innovators will use the 5G Innovation Lab to push the boundaries for the next technological leaps right here on the African continent. The Instagram, TikTok or self-driving car innovation of the next generation could be born here by a young mind at Wits,” says rain’s Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder Brandon Leigh.

It is predicted that during the 4IR era, most applications will run in a 5G network environment.

Among other 5G applications, the Lab will investigate live, virtual-reality (VR) e-learning broadcasts of lectures and classes. The Lab will also feature a hub relaying feeds from cross-campus safety and security camera networks. The lab is supported by 5G base station installed by rain.

Prof Habib adds, “Wits is proud to partner with Huawei and rain on the establishment of this 5G Lab – it is a first for Africa and the South African higher education sector.”

Skills development

Earlier this year Huawei partnered with South Africa’s Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to train up to 5 000 students online, and 1 000 on-site at partner universities across South Africa in various 4IR technologies like 5G, Cloud and AI.

The Chinese multinational tech firm also has ICT academies at approximately fifty South African tertiary education institutions, including universities, colleges, including recently announced TVET colleges.

In October 2020 Students from Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa have come out tops in the Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa ICT Competition.

Teams from these four countries, along with counterparts from Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius and Zambia have qualified to compete with students from around the world in the Global Final, which will be held online this year, from 6-9 November.

The Tanzanian, Ugandan, Nigerian and South African teams stood out from more than 40 African teams during the fierce regional competition. This year, more than 50,000 students from 14 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa participated Huawei ICT Competition, the biggest attendance so far. The move to online also allowed more students to be part of this event.

Hou Tao, Global Vice President of Huawei, highlighted the impressive enthusiasm of the students, which is much needed to for Africa’s digital inclusion in the era when the gravity of workplace skills is already shifting online. “As a private company serving the African market for over 20 years, Huawei has dedicated itself to and will always remain a trusted partner of governments and academia in building ICT talent pool, strengthening capacity building and increasing people’s digital competence.”

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