What is 5G? Why are the US and China fighting over it?
What Is 5G?
5G stands for the 5th Generation of Mobile technology. The G simply means a generation of wireless technology.
1G introduced analog phone calls, 2G brought the first digital cellular technologies, 3G ushered to mobile data with speeds from 200Kbps to a few megabits per second, 4G was the next leap forward, scaling up to 126Mbps speeds.
5G brings three new aspects to the table:
Super-fast speeds up to 10Gbps
Lower network latency time: 1 millisecond
The ability to connect a lot more devices at once: At a minimum 5G connects 1 million devices for every square kilometer.
5G is the most sophisticated, super-fast wireless technology human beings have ever developed so far.
What will it enable us to do?
Whatever we do now with our smartphones, PCs, robots, sensors and other smart devices we'll be able to do it much faster and better with 5G.
But what's really intriguing is that we don't even know what apps, what new services that will emerge out of 5G, similar to how we couldn't have predicted the advent of services like skype, movie streaming or live video broadcasting on our phones.
Imagine riding in a self-driving car, being able to check our grandmother’s sugar level with our smartphone, expectant mothers being able to monitor the health of their pregnancy in real-time and know the exact time of childbirth. Amazing. Right?
The socioeconomic impact of 5G has yet to be analyzed. However, it will make a significant impact on every area of life.
Why are the US and China fighting over 5G domination?
Let’s just say that 5G is a lot more important than allowing you to download the latest high-definition episode of Game of Thrones on your smartphone in seconds. According to some experts, 5G could change the way we live forever.
Ericsson's report "The 5G business potential" shows operators can benefit from up to USD 619 billion market opportunity globally in 2026.
China's Shenzhen-based Huawei is currently the front runner in the race to supply 5G gear to telecom companies around the world.
According to estimates, Huawei has a 28% share of the world’s telecoms market, and data from German firm IPlytics shows that Huawei is the company with the most 5G standard essential patents, at 1,529, followed by Finland’s Nokia at 1,397.
So, the US is not happy for lagging behind China in 5G race. If China is able to set foundational infrastructure and standards for the world, then future products will also be based off those specifications.
Having the benefit of patents in 5G technology and being a leader in standards would translate into the ability to build an ecosystem of network providers, device makers and application developers and create thousands of jobs in the process.
Also, the 5G networks will be vital to future military operations, raising the stakes between those countries developing the technology.
Is the 5G revolution coming to Africa any time soon?
In Africa, 5G deployment will be unevenly balanced, with many areas still in the exploration stage.
There are still key challenges network operators have to tackle head on. Ericsson’s Kibbi says telecom operators are still struggling to figure out how to translate 5G use cases into viable business models: “They understand that it is very important but they haven’t figured out how to monetize and generate revenues from 5G”, she says.
Vodacom, the African unit of UK telecommunications company Vodafone, was the first to deploy 5G technology in Africa, providing a network to two business clients in Lesotho in August 2018 after it was granted a temporary 5G testing licence.
In November 2018, Ericsson and MTN South Africa announced South Africa’s first 5G customer trial using a fixed wireless access site at Ericsson’s Netstar’s headquarters in Midrand. MTN has however been cautious not to fuel the hype, with CEO Rob Shuter telling investors in 2018 “not to get too carried away” with the arrival of 5G.
Meanwhile, South Africa-based company Rain, is making the leap. In February 2019, the data-only mobile network operator announced the launch of the continent’s first commercial 5G network, in partnership with Huawei. The company plans to leverage its existing licensed 4G spectrum to offer full commercial 5G rollout in South Africa by mid-2019, expanding from Johannesburg where it is already live.