ZTE expects SA’s 5G tech to flourish after 2025

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Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE is preparing to capitalise on the expected growth of next-generation 5G technologies in South Africa.

This was revealed by Fu Zhen, chief technology officer of ZTE South Africa, and Fahad Nisar, technical marketing director at ZTE South Africa, in an e-mail interview with ITWeb.

While South African mobile operators have gradually started rolling out 5G networks in the big cities, ZTE believes the technology will become mainstream after 2025.

In preparation for the widespread adoption of 5G in SA, ZTE is partnering with local telcos to upgrade 4G LTE networks, which it believes will be critical in advancing the next-gen technology.

The GSM Association expects 4G connections to continue to grow for the next few years, peaking at just under 60% of global connections by 2023.

For 5G, its forecast is that it will account for a fifth (20%) of global connections by 2025.

Vendors that are positioning themselves to take advantage of the 5G growth in SA include Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE.

This as South African telcos are taking a multi-vendor approach in their deployment of the next-generation connectivity technology.

So far, Vodacom, MTN and data-only network Rain have announced commercial 5G launches in SA.

However, 5G networks are expected to remain patchy in the big metros for some time, as the telcos are still waiting for spectrum to be allocated by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

ICASA has promised it will auction the much-needed high-demand spectrum by March next year, and it is only after this process is finalised that 5G networks will start expanding in SA.

Putting it to the test

On the 5G front, ZTE’s equipment is already being used by MTN, which switched on its 5G network in June.

MTN’s 5G network also has equipment from vendors such as Huawei and Ericsson. The operator’s network covers areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

On the partnership with MTN, Nisar and Zhen say: “We have achieved some great results in the Western Cape region where ZTE products and solutions were deployed. Positive outcomes such as this have resulted in conducting more trials and remote proof of concept for other operators in South Africa.”

In SA, ZTE expects a dramatic 5G spike after 2025. “But basically this is the time to keep our networks ready for embracing high and reliable data demand from the consumers confidently,” Nisar and Zhen say, adding that 5G is a use case-driven technology.

The ZTE executives, nonetheless, point out that the company will make gradual investments in SA’s 5G market.

This as the Chinese company is still interrogating the value proposition of 5G together with its existing and future partners in SA.

They note that modern-day telcos need to understand that 5G is not just a fancy new technology, but a completely new ecosystem which has various new benefits. “It is not a monolithic type of technology like we had in previous 3GPP generations,” Nisar and Zhen note.

“All these good vibes that we get about 5G from different sources can only be translated into a real deal through partnerships with players from different genres. For example, with the people who play with the content, the app developers, so on and so forth.

The Chinese telecoms company has already deployed its RAN-Radio access networks for different telecom operators in SA.

“Our prime focus related to 5G at this stage should be a cost-effective way of covering key areas like dense urban and urban regions, whereby 5G could be most beneficial.

“Also to add that, this current pandemic situation has increased the importance to deploy reliable indoor solutions for both residential communities and corporate hubs,” Nisar and Zhen note.

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