The coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief the huge advantage that societies with high Internet penetration and widespread mobile broadband access have in a disaster situation.
“Our industry — the telecommunications industry — has never played as important a role as it does in this moment,” said Jianpeng Zhang, ZTE SVP and the President of Global Marketing.
Social distancing and remote working have helped governments around the world manage the spread of the virus, and the world’s telecommunications networks have allowed people to stay connect with one another.
However, billions of people still do not have access to the Internet and found themselves at a major disadvantage as countries and economies locked down.
While people in developing economies like those in Africa are disproportionally impacted by this digital divide, there are millions of people in the world’s richest nations who also do not have access to broadband.
“No-one should be behind in the digital world,” Zhang said. “At ZTE we recognise that responsibility, continue to innovate, and invest in solutions to help address this critical issue.”
For this reason, he said, ZTE has worked hard to make the total cost of ownership of 5G as affordable as possible.
“Every ten years there is a new technology generation introduced in the mobile industry,” said Zhang. “This presents an excellent opportunity for Africa to reshape the technology race.”
Zhang said that they were very excited to hear that South Africa is busy licensing radio frequency spectrum that operators could use to build 5G networks.
“We hope that the issues holding up the process can be resolved. It is a key issue for the future development of the country, and spectrum is a pre-condition to introducing 5G technology,” he said.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa is currently in a legal dispute with Telkom, E.tv, and MTN over concerns raised with its proposed spectrum auction for this precious radio frequency spectrum.
While the matter is being resolved, Zhang advised that networks should prepare themselves to roll out 5G in the meantime.
He explained that 5G will require faster transmission networks to support the greater speeds it can offer compared to 3G and 4G.
Operators will also need to perform upgrades on their core networks if they are to support key features of 5G such as end-to-end network slicing.
Network slicing will allow operators to create customised ring-fenced segments within their network that can guarantee a certain service levels to subscribers who need it.
This will unlock new sources of revenue for network operators and create new business models for communication service providers.
“5G is not just the radio network,” said Zhang. “It is end-to-end, across all layers of a network and they should all be modernised to realise the full benefits of the new technology.”
This will require heavy investment, and Zhang advised that operators divide these investments into stages and execute them step by step.