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South Africa's ICASA zeros in on 5G potential

South Africa's ICASA zeros in on 5G potential

South Africa's telecommunications and broadcasting sector regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) said there is no regulation in place to govern 5G and this will only happen once the technology is established and through engagement with operators and tech vendors.

During what organisers described as the continent's first field trial in Pretoria yesterday, Paris Mashile, Councillor and former chairperson of ICASA said, "I am chairing the committee which is tasked with understanding the precise implications. Everything is a work in progress and I am chairing meetings and we held a countrywide conference with other stakeholders. This is a new wave of technology and even though we haven't exhausted 4G to the extent that we want to move, we know that 4G and 5G are complementary - there is no doubt about that or through fall-back scenarios that may arise."

Mashile said ICASA is working with its counterparts across Africa and globally, adding that regulation cannot be implemented until 5G is fully launched.

"The state of readiness of regulators across the continent is similar to the one in other regions. The ITU says they would have fulfilled all the requirements in terms of standards, the spectrum and use case scenarios by 2020, and that is when we will come in with regulation. The only time when regulation comes in will be as a follower because you want to make sure that you enhance whatever technology is available with its attendant innovation. When the regulation comes in it will be in order to beef up what is happening. A regulator depends on the operators and technology vendors to supply the market needs first."

Regulators will focus on socio-economic development, healthcare and environmental issues regarding 5G application once the technology is in place, according to Mashile.

5G and 4G in tandem

Giovanni Chiarelli, ‎Chief Technology & Information Officer at MTN South Africa said as far as the mobile operator is concerned, the rollout of 5G will likely start in South Africa as the country is the most advanced overall in terms of demand.

He added that all 22 opcos within the MTN Group participated in the 5G trial.

A similar 5G trial has already been showcased by MTN with its partner IranCell in the Iranian market according to Chiarelli, while MTN also partnered with the Uganda Communications Commission, Intelsat, Gilat and ITSO last week Friday for the launch of a 3G network in Ntoroko and Rubanda.

Huawei, MTN's technology partner in the 5G field trial, also collaborated with Tunisie Telecom in a 4.5G demonstration in Tunis recently.

"We have multiple partners in terms of technologies and Huawei is one of the important partners we have. The indoor trial at the beginning of the year was done with Ericsson which is also a very important partner. We are working with the entire industry on this topic," said Chiarelli.

Babak Fouladi, Group Executive for Technology and Information Systems at MTN emphasised that the telco and its partners do not expect 5G to be available everywhere and accessible to everyone once it is available after 2020.

"The transport isn't there, the transmission isn't there and the cost of that will not be correct in order for this to be done in rural areas. We will make sure we put the right technology in the rural areas and make the right investment in technology choices, in efficiency and effectiveness to make sure that the increase of coverage will enable everybody to receive data connectivity. For urban environments 4G and high-speed 3G will be very important and of course 5G. In rural (areas) we will make sure that 3G coverage is ubiquitous going into 4G and 5G at a slower pace than in the urban areas."

Fouladi said this choice of connectivity based on the environment and other factors is part of MTN's 'dual data strategy' that envisages use of 5G in a complementary fashion with early generations of connectivity technology like 4G.

"5G is not for everybody," summed Fouladi who called for regulators to avail spectrum to ensure that all elements of a better connected world are working.

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