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Mboweni: SA falling behind 5G race

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Finance minister Tito Mboweni.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni has said South Africa is falling behind in the 5G race.

Mboweni was delivering the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement in Parliament this afternoon.

The Medium Term Budget Policy Statement plays a critical role in the overall budget process because it sets out the policy framework for the upcoming budget.

The tabling of the policy statement, whose original date had been moved, also provides the country and its elected representatives with an update on National Treasury’s assessment of the current economic climate and outlook.

Outlining some government’s proposed measures to grow the South African economy, Mboweni said: “Cabinet has directed the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to accelerate the licensing of high-demand broadband spectrum.

“We are now falling behind the 5G race,” he said. “We can accelerate spectrum licensing and a move towards 5G. We can make it easier to do business.”

Speaking to the GovTech event this week, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said while the wait for 4G spectrum was characterised by years of waiting, that won’t be the case for licensing and assignment of 5G spectrum.

SA’s big mobile operators, such as Vodacom and MTN, are unable to launch 5G services until more spectrum is licensed to them by the communications regulator, ICASA.

The licensing of the higher 5G frequencies (24.25 to 86GHz) will only be considered by government after the World Radio Communication Conference in November.

In July, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies published its highly anticipated Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network, which purports to address SA's longstanding spectrum scarcity challenges.

The 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.

GSMA says 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 in Africa.

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