Vilakazi Street in Soweto may soon be the first location in South Africa with a live 5G network – and will also benefit from a partnership between the Gauteng government and global tech giant Amazon.com.
On Friday, wireless infrastructure provider Comsol Networks, in partnership with Samsung South Africa, switched on a 5G pilot network at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre down the road from the iconic street.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura said at the launch that the provincial government has invested heavily in changing the face of the townships, and there was “no better place to launch the future”.
He revealed that he had been in discussions with Amazon.com, which had agreed to create a platform geared to the specific needs of businesses in South Africa’s townships.
“Amazon Townships is a unique program to work with townships and get township businesses to work with Amazon, to launch their own businesses. through the Amazon platform,” said Makhura. “We don’t want Soweto to go to Sandton. We want to bring Sandton to Soweto.
“The nature of work is going to be changed as much as the way we live. The countries and cities that don’t prepare for it are going to be left behind. If we are not ready, we are going to produce young people who look for the type of work that no longer exists.”
Turning to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and the Internet of things, he said: “If it can’t happen in Gauteng, Africa will be left behind. And if it can’t happen in the townships, millions of people will be left behind.”
Comsol CEO Iain Stevenson said the choice of site for the 5G launch was obvious: “Vilakazi Street is the family home to two Nobel Prize laureates, and one of our nation’s boldest symbols of transformation and progress,” said . “In our own way, we want to play a role in South Africa’s future as we embrace the digital economy, showcasing just what’s possible with advanced 5G networks.”
Comsol has access to the largest tranche of contiguous 28GHz in South Africa, making it the local front-runner for 5G services. The pilot network draws on the combined strengths of Samsung’s 5G solutions, Dark Fibre Africa providing fibre backhaul, and MWeb as the ISP.
Stevenson said Comsol planned to launch commercial 5G services to businesses and consumers before the end of 2019.
While 5G broadly defines the forthcoming evolution of mobile networks over a wide range of frequencies, he said, this specific pilot network is 5G Fixed Wireless Access (5G-FWA). 5G-FWA utilises the kind of network technology that we’ll come to associate with the 5G era – terms like beamforming and high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum such as 28GHz – to provide an exponential performance boost to wireless broadband services. The companies will demonstrate the potential of 5G-FWA, which will deliver high-quality, high-speed bandwidth services and low latency to complement existing fibre deployments.
“For the 5G pilot network service, Samsung provides 5G End-to-End FWA solutions, consists of 5G outdoor routers (CPEs) and 5G Radio comprised of a compact mmWave RFICs technologies and ASIC-based 5G modems developed by leveraging Samsung’s in-house expertise and assets. With these technical advancements, Samsung has been able to bring one of the smallest 5G Radio (radio base stations) and 5G routers (CPEs) to market, which are the world’s first 5G-FWA end-to-end solutions certified by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the first half of 2018.”
Peak downlink speeds of 1.75gigabit per second (Gbps) were reported. Gadget noted speeds of up to 1.73Gbps.
“This opens the doors to a new world, one where ubiquitous, high-speed networks deliver digital services to millions of citizens at low-cost. 5G will support everything from self-driving cars, to remote medical surgery, new immersive virtual realities, drone deliveries, AI robots, intelligent agriculture, connected cities, smart logistics and more.”
Comsol Chairman Andile Ngcaba said that the ultimate promise of 5G is the way it could extend to areas that, until now, have remained underserved due to the high costs of deploying today’s generation of fixed or wireless networks.
“Research indicates a clear correlation between the quality and breadth of a nation’s digital infrastructure, and its overall economic output,” he said. “5G represents our biggest opportunity yet: to re-energise our economy and to become a winner in the fourth industrial revolution.”
Sung Yoon, President and CEO of Samsung South Africa, said: “We believe that this is another game changing initiative for the network industry in South Africa and we will continue to collaborate with Comsol to ensure successful deployment”.