Non-telco firms to play greater role in 5G environment

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The impending introduction of 5G technology will usher in a new ecosystem in communications that will open the space for non-telcos to play a greater role in the sector, analysts say.

The new technology will enable non-telcos, including Internet service providers (ISPs), to offer telecoms and broader communications services. While it is largely the telcos that will build the 5G infrastructure, non-telcos will be able to leverage it to innovate for their benefit.

“In the 5G environment, as is to an extent the case with 4G, we expect that ISPs and other non-telcos will play a greater role, offering across 5G infrastructure built by telcos,” says Derrick Chikanga, telecoms analyst at Africa Analysis.

“To this extent, there will be more competition at the service layer, presenting greater competition to service providers that are part of a telco group such as MTN SP or ISP. We are also likely to see more infrastructure operators playing either exclusively or heavily in the wholesale market; for example, you might have Comsol playing in the wholesale space or your Rain in both wholesale and retail.”

Chikanga, speaking to ITWeb on Monday, hailed the transformation the next-generation technology will engender in the communications sector. 5G is expected to deliver network speeds of between 5Gbps and 8Gbps, and up to 20Gbps in theory – compared with 4G LTE, which has a maximum throughput of 1Gbps.

5G technology, therefore, will dramatically change what is possible over a cellular connection and attract non-telco entities into the sector. The transformed ecosystem will bring about increased innovation and broaden the scope of cellular technology use.

The commercial rollout of the technology is taking a little longer than initially expected, analysts say. They expect it to be available to the South African public early next year.

Data-only network Rain plans to start its 5G network rollout sometime this year, while mobile operators MTN and Vodacom have reported progress in building the cutting-edge network infrastructure.

Security considerations

However, analysts warn the new technology comes with elevated risks, particularly in the areas of privacy and security.

Telco companies hold large volumes of personal data, which is a natural target for cyber criminals.

Chikanga urges local telcos to pay heed to privacy and security risks that will inevitably increase with the new technology. They should endeavour to adhere to the Protection of Personal Information Act and ensure personal information is safely stored.

“As such, they need to invest in the relevant security software and firewalls to ensure private information is safely stored,” Chikanga says.

“ICASA [Independent Communications Authority of South Africa] can encourage service providers to invest in security solutions and firewalls, as it has limited jurisdiction over data protection. However, the onus is on the service providers to ensure everything possible is done to ensure the safety of personal data and sensitive information.”

Wendy Tembedza, a senior associate at Webber Wentzel, adds that South African companies in general must try to fail-proof their networks. “The responsibility lies with companies to ensure they constantly monitor their infrastructure to identify areas of possible exposure to cyber attacks and to take steps as soon as possible to limit such exposure.

“Importantly, companies should understand this responsibility is an ongoing one. The focus on the aspects of technology and nature of monitoring may change from time to time.

“However, in an age where business functions, services and information increasingly reside on digital platforms, the obligation to monitor potential risks will remain for as long as a company operates.”

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