There has been talk that Kenyan leading communication operators are experimenting or testing next-generation mobile technologies like 5G. This is all very good but there are some issues worth discussing as we head into the 5G world.
Perhaps, so as to be on the same page, we should differentiate between the various generations that the mobile world has undergone over the last twenty or so years.
First-generation happened in the 1980s when the mobile communication was based on the cumbersome analogue technology and limited to voice, with no capacity for data.
The second generation happened in the 1990s with the introduction of digital communication, with the capacity for global roaming and basic data services like SMS.
By the turn of the new century, the third generation mobile standard was published by the International Telecom Union (ITU). Operators have been deploying it across the globe.
3G mobile communications is currently very popular because it introduced data services that are capable of providing high speed and reliable mobile Internet. It means that beyond traditional voice communications, subscribers can view, share or even stream video-based content over 3G mobile networks.
The coverage of 3G services, the cost of data bundles or the content of what subscribers are watching are all subjects of debate on another day. For now, let us appreciate the developments in technology particularly over the last two decades.
In 2010, ITU published the 4G standard, which obviously is an improved version of the 3G standard in terms of being able to be purely ''IP-based'' across the three critical components of radio access, core and transmission. ''IP-based'' stands for ''Internet Protocol'' based or, in layman terms, all mobile communications could now happen purely over the Internet, an open standard, as opposed to over different, and often proprietary, systems.
4G, also known as Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, radically improves the speed experienced by subscribers, making it possible to have virtual reality applications in education, health, media amongst others.
Additionally, it is also able to support reliable Internet links for subscribers moving in very high-speed environments like bullet trains or self-driving cars.
4G networks can also support more subscribers per given radio radius, making them a good fit for providing hot spot services in environments like stadiums, political rallies or concerts.
INTO THE FUTURE
Needless to say, 5G networks will take 4G capabilities to a whole level, making terms like internet of humans, self-driving cars, remote medical surgeries, tactile internet, amongst other, previously fictional ideas, into reality.
Behind all these generational developments, one thing however remains constants – spectrum or the airwaves required to deploy the technology. Each generation has had unique frequency requirements that must be well managed to give the anticipated dividends.
The communication regulator, the Communications Authority, has in recent times run into trouble in its distribution of 4G frequencies among the different operators. As we begin talking about 5G mobile networks, frequency or spectrum management will remain a critical component of the conversation.
Whereas we do have a national spectrum policy, it maybe better to support it further with a roadmap that will ensure predictability in spectrum use and avoid squabbles where some operators are perceived to be favoured.
Another item worth thinking about with respect to 5G technology is providing guidelines on how the country expects the next generation Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) - a critical numbering system - to be deployed across different categories of services such as internet of things.
If we can sort out these two items, Kenya can be very much ready for 5G technologies.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu