In 2015, former President Jacob Zuma embarrassed himself and the country by claiming that Africa is the biggest continent on earth, and that it is larger than all the other continents put together.
The Presidency later apologized for Zuma’s comments, but it was too late to save him from ridicule for his poor knowledge of basic geography.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has now done the same when he opened the inaugural 4th Industrial Revolution SA Digital Economy Summit.
He said the United States (US) has been “unable to imagine a better future which goes beyond 4 plus 1G, where they have been unable to imagine what 5G can offer”.
He added that the United States was jealous that a Chinese company called Huawei has outstripped them.
“Because they have been outstripped, they must now punish that one company and use it as a pawn in the fight that they have with China.”
Great support for Huawei
Ramaphosa recently threw South Africa’s weight behind China in its ongoing trade war with the United States.
This was done partly because the CEOs of Cell C, MTN, Vodacom, and Telkom asked for the president’s help to deal with the potential repercussions of the Huawei ban.
Ramaphosa had high praise for Huawei in his 4th Industrial Revolution SA speech, saying the country wants to embrace 5G and that “only this company, Huawei, can lead us to 5G”.
“We have to say we support the company that is going to take our country and indeed the world to better technologies, and this is 5G”.
Why Ramaphosa’s comments on the US are embarrassing
For Ramaphosa to claim that the United States has been unable to imagine what 5G can offer is ill-informed.
The United States has been a driving force behind 5G, and many US based companies are leaders in developing 5G equipment and encouraging 5G adoption.
In July 2016, for example, the US announced a public-private partnership spearheaded by the White House to accelerate the development of next-generation 5G wireless networks in the country.
Later that year Samsung collaborated with T-Mobile US on new demonstrations and lab tests designed to bring the power of 5G mobile networks to the masses.
In February 2017, Samsung and Verizon completed the deployment of 5G systems in five U.S. cities in preparation to begin 5G customer trials.
Fast forward two years and 5G is now commercially available in the United States from providers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile – well ahead of China and South Africa.
US companies are 5G leaders
Many US companies are on the forefront of developing 5G technologies and promoting the adoption of these technologies.
On the data centre equipment manufacturer side, the key global 5G players are Cisco, DellEMC, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise – all US based companies.
When it comes to 5G modems that will power smartphones and other 5G devices, California-based Qualcomm is the global leader.
To therefore say the United States failed to imagine what 5G can offer is completely inaccurate.
Ramaphosa’s “only Huawei” comments misguided
While Huawei is indeed one of the leaders in 5G, Ramaphosa’s comment that “only Huawei can lead us to 5G” is misguided.
The first substantial 5G deployment in the world was in April 2019 in South Korea, and here nearly all the carriers used Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia base stations and equipment.
In February this year, Rain announced the launch of South Africa’s first 5G network, and both Nokia and Huawei equipment is used for this network.
So, while Huawei is an important 5G player, especially in South Africa, it is by no means the only company with the technological capability to make 5G happen.
President Ramaphosa may be well-advised to retract these comments, or at least look for a new adviser when it comes to 5G.
Listen to Ramaphosa’s US and 5G comments
This is an opinion piece.