MTN taps Huawei for 5G trial

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Cape Town, 13 Nov 2019
From left: Jackson Zhu, Huawei-MTN SA key account director, and Giovanni Chiarelli, chief technology and information officer at MTN SA, signing a 5G MOU.
From left: Jackson Zhu, Huawei-MTN SA key account director, and Giovanni Chiarelli, chief technology and information officer at MTN SA, signing a 5G MOU.

MTN SA yesterday joined forces with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, to successfully showcase a 5G trial on the C-band, which is dubbed ‘golden band’ for 5G spectrum.

This particular slice of spectrum comprises a frequency range of around 3.3GHz to 3.8GHz, and many countries around the world are deploying this spectrum band to deliver their 5G services, according to Huawei.

The showcase, which took place on the side-lines on day one of AfricaCom 2019, demonstrated some 5G use-cases that included a live 5G speed test, with throughputs of up to 1.6Gbit/s, cloud virtual reality gaming, a robotic arm guessing platform, and augmented reality eyeglasses that demonstrated facial recognition.

Global carriers are racing to deploy 5G networks and Huawei has found itself at the forefront of this race, having shipped 400 000-plus base stations globally, despite US sanctions.

MTN chief technology and information officer Giovanni Chiarelli said various elements for 5G, like standards, equipment, devices and spectrum, were missing three years ago.

However, there has since been progress on that front. “We really hope the good news we have read in the last few months will bring us the required spectrum early next year.

“MTN SA is ready for 5G…it will just be a matter of having the spectrum in order to deploy the technology.”

Chiarelli noted Huawei has been important in the partnership, helping with the development of use-cases to understand how the new technology can be applied to the different segments in terms of customers.

“We’ve worked very closely with their R&D…it is really helping us to design the future of telecommunications in South Africa.”

Dean Yu, Huawei Carrier Business VP for Southern Africa, added: “5G is at the stage of large-scale deployment in 2019 globally. In the 5G era, more cloud-native services will appear. With the redefinition of the smart clients, broad pipes and cloud applications, devices can be significantly simplified and more capabilities can be mapped from clouds to devices.”

At the same event, the companies signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint 5G innovation programme to assess and work on new technologies, such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI).

Through these innovations, MTN SA will develop use-cases that have a social impact, including smart cities and education driven by 5G and AI technologies.

According to the companies, they look forward to the exciting future their 5G collaboration will bring to South African businesses and consumers.

Meanwhile, during a panel discussion yesterday, communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams reiterated that government won’t delay in licensing spectrum for rollout of the fifth-generation technology.

South Africa’s last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment. Vodacom and MTN were allocated such spectrum, respectively, in 2004 and 2005, while Cell C received such spectrum in 2011.

Last month, at the annual GovTech conference, Ndabeni-Abrahams conceded government delayed so much with the release of spectrum for 4G, adding the delay has benefitted no one.

She told delegates that 5G is one of the key enablers of the fourth industrial revolution. “It is in this context that we have said it is important for us as a country to come up with our own 5G policy.

“This is why the minister directed ICASA to make sure that in six months they come back to the ministry to show the study they have conducted on the entire ecosystem of 5G, so that by the time we license, we know exactly that which we are dealing with and how we stand to benefit.

“We therefore moved to say we are making a commitment to this country and the people that are investing here – we will not delay licensing of 5G just like we did with 4G,” she emphasised.