CSIR develops test bed to prepare Africa for 5G

The CSIR test bed for 5G is expected to be launched later this year.
The CSIR test bed for 5G is expected to be launched later this year.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is developing a 5G test bed to prepare for the advent of 5G technologies and ensure Africa is able to adapt to the demands of the fourth industrial revolution.

This as South African mobile operators jostle to trial 5G technology, which is earmarked to go mainstream in 2019.

5G networks, now in the final testing stage, will rely on denser arrays of small antennas and the cloud to offer data speeds up to 50 or 100 times faster than current 4G networks and serve as critical infrastructure for a range of industries.

A recent report by Netscribes noted the African telecommunication industry faces numerous challenges in regards to 5G deployments in terms of an uncertain regulatory environment, low coverage of 2G, 3G and 4G technologies, and lack of spectrum.

It adds that the global 5G market will grow at an overall compound annual growth rate of 97% and will be worth $251 billion by 2025.

Building blocks

The CSIR test bed is expected to be launched later this year at the CSIR. It can be adopted by various stakeholders such as higher education entities, development agencies, funding agencies, state-owned enterprises and government departments.

According to the research institute, the test bed aims to support research on key technology building blocks for 5G, and support development and experimentation on use cases relevant to the African continent, in partnership with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, the private sector and higher education institutions.

This was revealed last week at the 40th Forum meeting in Durban, organised by the Wireless World Research Forum, in partnership with the CSIR, to discuss the role of 5G technologies to enable digital inclusion and industrialisation in Africa.

At the top of the agenda was 5G connectivity in Africa and how it's expected to transform the ICT sector globally, while simultaneously contributing to industry 4.0.

Speaking at the forum, CSIR researcher Sabelo Dlamini said the test bed would provide leadership and direction to the development of next-generation networks.

"Knowledge and skills development is at the core of the CSIR's investment in the 5G test bed. This test bed will assist South Africa and the rest of the continent to develop the necessary skills and adopt the new 5G technologies. We want to provide practical and tested use cases for the next industrial revolution in the country," he said.

The forum also aimed to prepare and enable policy-makers and business to recognise the importance of upcoming 5G technologies and their impact on society. Also highlighted was the roll-out of 5G technologies and what needs to be done to establish an all-inclusive digitalisation of underserved areas for 5G infrastructure for both rural and urban citizens.

Competitive edge

Telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele urged government and industry to find creative ways to assist developing countries to remain competitive.

"The principle of inclusivity is fundamental in ensuring global humanity embraces the benefits of the power of evolving technologies, keeping an eye on bridging the emerging digital divide. In most developing countries, the majority of the workforce is low skilled. It is therefore very important to consider the potential impact of these new technologies that will provide platforms to build smart factories with plant automation, artificial intelligence and use of augmented reality to control stationary equipment such as welding, painting and assembly using robotic," said Cwele.

He added that 5G technologies are expected to provide significantly enhanced mobile broadband, including in areas where it has traditionally struggled, such as the boundary between cells, in high traffic areas such as shopping centres, and on trains.

"All these will require high speed, low latency, secure connectivity that is ubiquitous and highly reliable. This will offer a greatly improved mobile experience to citizens, and provide the platform for new services and applications in markets such as virtual reality and augmented reality," he said.

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