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Industry, academia jointly launch SA’s ‘first’ 5G lab

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From left to right: Huawei Southern Africa VP Yang Chen; Rain non-executive chairman Phumlani Moholi; Wits University outgoing VC professor Adam Habib; Tshimologong CEO Lesley Williams; incoming VC of Wits University professor Zeblon Vilakazi; and DDG in the Department of Science and Innovation Daan du Toit.
From left to right: Huawei Southern Africa VP Yang Chen; Rain non-executive chairman Phumlani Moholi; Wits University outgoing VC professor Adam Habib; Tshimologong CEO Lesley Williams; incoming VC of Wits University professor Zeblon Vilakazi; and DDG in the Department of Science and Innovation Daan du Toit.

The newly-unveiled 5G Innovation Lab should be the first step in broader partnerships that aim to build South Africa’s human capacity and capability.

This was the sentiment expressed by industry, academia and public sector speakers at yesterday’s official launch of the lab.

The list of keynote speakers included Huawei Southern Africa region VP Yang Chen; Wits University outgoing and incoming VCs, professors Adam Habib and Zeblon Vilakazi; Tshimologong Precinct CEO Lesley Williams; Rain non-executive chairman Phumlani Moholi; as well as Daan du Toit, DDG in the Department of Science and Innovation.

Located at Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, the 5G Innovation Lab is the culmination of a partnership between Chinese technology giant Huawei, SA’s mobile data-only network operator Rain, and academic institution Wits University.

Described as SA and Africa’s “first” 5G laboratory, it aims to give students access to a live 5G environment to build knowledge of the revolutionary technology’s applications for the local market.

According to Huawei, the launch of the lab is part of a longer-term joint innovation programme between business and academic institution Wits University.

It is also aimed at driving innovations to promote social progress for the country in the digital era, or during the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

In terms of the collaboration, Huawei has committed to provide its end-to-end 5G solution, supported by Rain’s 5G network. The lab will initially showcase two 5G applications; namely, smart/safe campus and virtual reality remote education.

Chen said Huawei is proud to share its technology and help to grow experience in the 5G space.

5G will have enormous economic benefits and the main reason Huawei decided to establish a 5G lab with partners is to ensure this benefit can be realised, he commented.

“The purpose of this exciting partnership is to give students early access to 5G technologies. This will allow them to experiment and interact with the 5G platforms that will enable the digital transformation of various industries towards 4IR.”

Habib stated he has high expectations for the partnership with Huawei, Rain and Wits, noting it should be the first step in a broad range of partnerships to come.

“We are working with the pioneers in digital innovation to train a generation of smart, savvy scholars who will transform the world, using the latest technology available to effect beneficial change in our world. We are not reimagining the future; we are creating a better future for all today.

“Wits is proud to partner with Huawei and Rain on the establishment of this 5G Lab – it is a first for Africa and the South African higher education sector.”

Among other 5G applications, the lab will investigate live, virtual reality e-learning broadcasts of lectures and classes. It will also feature a hub relaying feeds from cross-campus safety and security camera networks. The lab is supported by a 5G base station installed by Rain.

Rain’s Moholi explained Tshimologong in Setswana means the “beginning”, adding it is very apt for such a lab to be launched.

“I hope this is the beginning of a new technology revolution. For me, the technology revolution didn’t start with 4IR. The technology revolution has been ongoing and I hope what Tshimologong is doing is going to give us a new beginning of understanding.

“It’s about new and old technologies. Let us not just focus on new technologies, but we’ve got to integrate new and old, so that we play our role among the rest of the nations.”

Speaking on behalf of higher education, science and technology minister Dr Blade Nzimande, DDG Du Toit said the facility will give students an opportunity to innovate solutions for local problems, adding that 5G could support a number of applications that would help South Africans.

“We are very encouraged by the efforts of Huawei, Rain and Wits to establish academic R&D capabilities. This is very important as we move into the digital economy.”

“We are immensely proud be part of rolling out this capacity in South Africa, to give students and academics a place to innovate and turn their ideas into reality. We look forward to ground-breaking 5G applications coming out of Wits,” concluded Chen.

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