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JOHANNESBURG - Well timed deployment of the appropriate technology will deliver reach and affordable communication for South Africa

As the world prepares to meet at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona next week where new technologies and mobile offerings will be unveiled, developing countries will again be assessing these technologies on their potential to enable greater access in reach and affordability.

The World Mobile Congress 2017 elevated discussions on 5G technologies. These technologies had been unveiled in 2015 and based on the programme on the 2018 congress, the discussions on 5G is ongoing. The arguments on the benefits of the technology are clear – we are all looking for better quality delivery and 5G will deliver that. However, as we examine 5G and other new technologies and developments, our context must inform our choices on which technologies to adopt and at what time.

. We are ready to leverage our growing fibre footprint to deliver 5G services over our mobile network.

Recently, MTN partnered with equipment supplier Ericsson to announce the first 5G trial in South Africa, while Vodacom in partnership with Nokia has also stated that it will be holding a 5G trial. It is clear that the industry, including Telkom, is looking to upgrade infrastructure and invest in the latest technology.

The next question South Africans should be asking, is whether the adoption of this or any other technology, enables more South Africans better quality service at an affordable rate?

Given the national perspective, we would argue not. We believe the demand, availability and affordability of compelling 5G applications and services in South Africa are still a few years away.

According to Statistics SA we are seeing a widening ICT trade deficit, driven by a reliance on other countries to provide ICT equipment. Although this is the case overall, various interventions have contributed to the reduction in prices of telecommunication equipment and therefore, the current levels of mobile connectivity. In the first eight months of 2017 the price index for telecommunication equipment fell by 8,6%. The average price for a cellular phone, for example, decreased by R82 from R2 622 in January 2017 to R2 540 in August 2017.

Even as they continue to drop, these levels remain a significant investment for the majority of South African consumers. Subscriptions and contracts dominate South African household ICT budgets. Telkom has gone some way to reduce these costs for South African households. As we do so, we are looking to adopt technologies that will enable household’s affordable services.

This is why Telkom’s current strategy is to focus on expanding 4G speeds, because we believe this enables better delivery with the current available technology at an affordable price

point for the South African consumer. By contrast, it is harder to make a consumer case for 5G, particularly as end user devices and support services are not readily available and their affordability in South Africa is not yet clear. Additionally, the price at which 5G will have to be pitched at this stage of development is not affordable to South Africans and does not address the need to lower the cost to communicate.

For now, we remain focused on delivering better speeds, with lower latency, for consumers, so that they enjoy seamless connectivity wherever they are, at a price they can afford. This is why we are introducing Massive MIMO (Advanced Multiple Antenna System) technology, which represents the next step in our continuing network evolution. We recently concluded a trial of Massive MIMO – the first of its kind in Africa – which marks the first step towards advanced 4G networks.

Massive MIMO will help Telkom deliver data at a rate up to five times faster than current 4G technology. This results in better throughput speeds and improved coverage, leading to a better overall experience for consumers.

Massive MIMO technology will enable Telkom to reuse existing sites to meet high demand at a lower cost, rather than having to acquire new sites in dense areas. In turn, we will be able to offer larger data packages and more services, including WTTx (wireless home broadband), mobile virtual reality, mobile augmented reality, and 4K videos.

While 5G is definitely a part of our technology roadmap we are focused on offering a connectivity solution that is immediately available and offers customers an experience better than any of our competitors can offer.

Telecommunications infrastructure is constantly evolving as technology improves and more users, with additional requirements, come on board. Telecoms companies have to continually invest in new infrastructure so that they’re able to offer the speed and service that consumers have come to expect and ones that they can afford. We believe that 5G enables the speed and affordability for some but not for the majority of South Africans with mobile connectivity.

Attila Vitai is CEO of Telkom Consumer

* The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of independent.