The evolution of wireless connectivity is probably the biggest success story of our times across the world, and South Africa is not insulated from this.
The steady progress of wireless connectivity has truly transformed our lives, so much so that most of us would find it difficult to think of a day without our mobile devices.
However, the next phase of growth is going to be equally, if not more, exciting and transformational.
While 2G, 3G and now 4G opened a whole new personal digital world for us, the upcoming 5G promises to bring together communication and computing to provide intelligence to the machines.
It will not be wrong to say that 5G will be the first network designed primarily for the world of internet of things.
With speeds up to 10 Gbps and extremely low latency of just a few milliseconds, compared with 100 ms in 4G, the next generation standard 5G is deemed to be perfectly suited to allow connected devices to communicate in real time and allow them to handle mission-critical functions.
5G will not just improve standard wireless communication, but also enable a range of machine-type communications in various segments like augmented reality, healthcare and industry automation.
For instance, going beyond driverless cars, 5G era will ensure direct car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication ensuring enhanced security and safety of road traffic.
Similarly in health sector, 5G-empowered wireless communication will enable remote monitoring and sensors for parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Developed for machine-type communication, 5G will inspire diverse and innovative use cases of the internet of things.
5G for South Africa
Beyond the technological use cases of 5G, it has a huge relevance for the South African market.
While the expanding middle class and corporate sector demand an “always-connected” lifestyle, the region’s low rate of fibre deployment and perennial spectrum shortage presents a huge challenge for the service providers.
The service providers can leverage 5G, if it is made available, to combat the growing hunger for data in the region.
The company has recently unveiled a complete 5G framework for a 5G ecosystem, with the imminent implementation of 5G-ready massive broadband and 5G-ready network elements that respond to today’s requirements with software that will be easy to upgrade to full 5G once standards are fully defined and established.
Prepping for the 5G frontier
While 5G is still evolving and is a few years away from commercial deployment, the regional service providers are warming to LTE for Unlicensed band (LTE-U).
Running on unlicensed spectrum, especially the 5 GHz frequency band, LTE-U makes much-needed capacity available to the telcos.
It is especially relevant in providing improved capacity in hotspots and high-usage environment. Enhanced bandwidth, in turn empowers the service provider to launch innovative products to cater to the requirement of their subscribers.
Nokia Networks is already conducting a number of LTE-U trials in this part of the world. It is likely to be deployed in 2016.
The technology will not only assist the service providers to deal with capacity crunch but also ensure end user quality of service, regardless of the interference situation in the unlicensed band.
Enhanced capacity will also inspire service providers to explore LTE for machine-to-machine (LTE-M), a fully compatible variant of LTE standards.
LTE-M incorporates several features like enhanced battery life, reduced cost of LTE chipset and boosted coverage to meet the specific requirements of the IoT.
GSMA estimates that there will be nearly 1 billion M2M connections needed for IoT by 2020.
Though LTE is designed for wireless broadband, it is not optimised to meet the unique requirements of IoT. Thus, the relevance of LTE-M, which is easier to deploy and is almost 80% less complex than standard LTE module.
South African service providers are slowly realising the huge potential of the IoT and M2M communication.
Though the deployments in the region are still two-to-three years away, the telcos recognise that it has huge relevance and potential in transforming our day-to-day lives, besides adding a new revenue stream for them.
LTE-M ensures enhanced efficacy and services for machine-type communication, more than other technologies. It also facilitates cloud and assists service providers to efficiently blend M2M and consumer solutions.
Dynamic LTE networks will form the basis of 5G systems. Mobile industry had touched the lives of more than 3,6-billion unique subscribers by the end of 2014 (as per GSMA report).
The next phase of growth will involve expanding this revolution to machine-type communication. The next few years promise an exciting evolution of the networks to deliver on the promises of 5G.