The roll out of 5G as critical infrastructure in South Africa, while offering lucrative opportunities for businesses and a catalyst for economic growth, also threatened to leave the poor behind, experts said yesterday. (AP Photo/John Locher)
The roll out of 5G as critical infrastructure in South Africa, while offering lucrative opportunities for businesses and a catalyst for economic growth, also threatened to leave the poor behind, experts said yesterday. (AP Photo/John Locher)

5G rollout threatens to leave poor behind

By Given Majola Time of article published Mar 26, 2021

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DURBAN - THE roll out of 5G as critical infrastructure in South Africa, while offering lucrative opportunities for businesses and a catalyst for economic growth, also threatened to leave the poor behind, experts said yesterday.

The Moja Research Institute, in partnership with Progressive Blacks in Information, Communication and Technology, hosted a webinar yesterday on 5G, convening a panel of experts to dispel the untruths and elucidating what 5G meant within the context of South Africa’s developmental state.

5G is much faster than 4G and 3G, but it also offers greater capacity – more devices can be connected in a small area. It also has reduced latency, which is the time between instructing a wireless device to perform an action and that action being completed.

The report, The Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2020, predicts that from a 2020 starting point, 5G connections will reach 3 percent of the total across Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. It also predicted that between 2019 and 2025, mobile operators’ 5G capex would be $15 billion (R226bn) out of a total capex of $52bn.

Progressive Blacks in ICT founder and current president Dr Leon Rolls said 5G posed both challenges and opportunities as poor people would be able afford 5G smartphones. He said the fact that 1 percent of whites, 6 percent of Indians, 41 percent of coloureds and 64 percent of blacks were poor also presented a challenge.

Rolls said action needed to be taken to ensure these opportunities were opened up for black business to also participate in this R300 billion opportunity.

Tsa-rona Insight and Analytics executive partner Suraya Hamdulay said 5G would bring opportunities for smaller businesses since allocation for 5G spectrum required corporates to have a Level 1 B-BBEE rating. Corporates would have to up their Education for Sustainable Development initiatives to diversify their supply chains and empower more small, medium and micro enterprises.

Jak Koseff, a senior advisor to the Gauteng MEC for Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development, said according to the Digital Masterplan, being drafted by Genesis Analytics, South Africa’s digital economy could boost total gross domestic product (GDP) by 3 percent overall and contribute as much as 19 percent to the GDP.

Koseff said it was necessary to map the province’s broadband infrastructure, which was done through the Gauteng Rapid Deployment of Broadband Project.

“To have broadband access is an important starting point. Which areas in Gauteng have inadequate broadband infrastructure and which among these have a high and urgent need? Detailed data is not available; therefore, this project has already triggered the necessary action to map the province’s broadband infrastructure,” said Koseff.

He said project data showed South Africa had a high penetration rate with 56.3 percent of the population using the internet in 2020, which was projected to increase to 62.3 percent in 2025, according to Statistics SA. The data also showed that mobile access dominated with smartphone penetration at more than 90 percent in 2019, according to Icasa in 2020.

However, access through high-speed fibre was concentrated at upper income levels, while 10.4 percent of South African households had access to the internet at home (StatsSA 2019).

The data also showed that fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants was 2.14 in 2019, up from 0.95 in 2009 (StatsSA), while fixed broadband subscriptions dropped by 20 percent in 2019 as users shifted to mobile data. Fibre internet subscriptions were up 28.8 percent and 168 percent over the past five years.

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