Africa, EU headed for clash over 5G mmWave spectrum

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Akinwale Goodluck, head of Sub-Saharan Africa at GSMA.
Akinwale Goodluck, head of Sub-Saharan Africa at GSMA.

Africa and Europe are headed for a clash later this month when the parties converge in Egypt for the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC).

The conference will review, and, if necessary, revise the radio regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio frequency spectrum and the geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits. Revisions are made on the basis of an agenda determined by the ITU Council.

At the centre of the dispute is the use of 5G mmWave spectrum.

Africa argues that its success in the digital economy depends on the availability of necessary radio frequencies, including the “millimetre wave” frequencies that it says will deliver ultra-high capacity and ultra-high-speed services.

However, the European space industry is said to be unreasonably constraining the use of these critical frequencies, with claims of potential interference with its space services.

In a statement, Akinwale Goodluck, head of Sub-Saharan Africa at the GSM Association (GSMA), says: “Africa must stand strong to protect its interests and secure its digital future” in Egypt.

“As mobile operators continue to expand 4G connections across the region, now is the time for African governments to lay the foundation for their 5G future by identifying the needed spectrum at WRC-19,” he says.

For Africa, 5G is expected to contribute an estimated $5.2 billion (R67 billion) to the gross domestic product (GDP) in Sub-Saharan Africa, and $970 million (R14 billion) in tax revenue by 2034.

This is according to an economic study conducted by the GSMA, which reveals that releasing 5G millimetre wave (mmWave) capacity will create global economic expansion valued at $565 billion. This figure will represent 2.9% of global GDP growth by 2034.

About 3 000 delegates from over 190 nations are meeting in Egypt at the end of this month to agree on how spectrum may be used.

“WRC-19 is the only opportunity for years to come for countries across Africa to secure mmWave spectrum for future use, enabling the delivery of 5G services over the next decade,” says Goodluck.

“Africa understands the need to strike the right balance between different users of spectrum.

“That is why African governments have actively supported technical studies that demonstrate how 5G can operate in these frequencies without causing harm to other existing spectrum services, including weather-sensing services, in neighbouring spectrum bands.”

It has been suggested Africa will receive backing from the Americas and the Middle East at the conference, as the two regions have demonstrated 5G can co-exist safely and efficiently alongside weather-sensing services, commercial satellite services and others.

The GSMA says building on earlier generations, 5G brings new capabilities for mobile networks to enable economic growth.

5G, coupled with mmWave spectrum, opens up the potential for low-latency, data-intensive applications that are expected to transform a wide variety of industries and use cases.

The licensing of the higher 5G frequencies (24.25 to 86GHz) will only be considered by the South African government after WRC-19.

Locally, the adoption of 5G technology is going to spark an unprecedented wave of innovation in South Africa, according to industry experts.

In a recent interview with ITWeb, Bob de Haven, general manager of Microsoft's worldwide media and communications, said SA is in good shape when it comes to 5G adoption preparations.

He said the country is the gateway to the continent, and mobile carriers and media companies like MTN and MultiChoice are the biggest consumers and purveyors of that technology in Africa.

“We have met with MTN, MultiChoice and some of the big players in this space and we are talking everything from 5G, 4G, LTE sort of privatisation to Internet of things as major drivers of growth models in the future in both of those industries.”

De Haven believes SA’s preparedness for 5G is strong.

“It [preparedness] varies obviously by countries and region; South Africa itself is in good shape. I think it’s a driver of growth around the globe. People are getting ready for this connectivity expansion and all the use cases that could potentially stem from it in a pretty significant way.”

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