The 3G mobile network specifications were done in early 2000 but the commercial implementations hit Kenya around 2007. The 4G specifications were completed in 2010 and the commercial deployment introduced in Kenya around 2014.
The 5G technical specification was completed last year and its commercial deployment around the world is expected this year in 2020.
Kenya is likely to be one of the early adopters of the 5G technologies – but is Kenya ready for this new technology?
And when we talk about readiness, we don’t mean in terms of deployment since mobile operators can deploy 5G overnight and switch it on the next day.
5G readiness goes beyond availing the 5G signal and looks deeper into the issue of whether the economy is harnessing the 5G capabilities.
Having 5G signals without re-positioning our economy to maximise returns out of it is like buying a high-speed car – maybe a Ferrari – and driving it over some pot-holed, murram road.
It becomes a total waste of investments.
The 5G technology goes beyond enhancing the broadband speeds experienced in our 3G and 4G networks. Enhanced broadband speeds are of course welcome and will introduce new experiences for users such as Virtual Reality (VR), Ultra High Density, 3D video etc.
However exciting these may sound, they are not likely to transform our economy in ways envisioned under the widely known, 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR).
5G supports two other elements that advanced nations are leveraging on in order to unleash their next cycle of innovations. These includes the Machine-2-Machine communication (M2M) as well as the Ultra Low-Latency Communications (ULLC).
Machine-2-Machine communication is commonly branded as Internet-of-Things (IoT) where any device can connect to any other devices – through wireless technologies.
Whereas the earlier editions of mobile communication 3G/4G can support IoT, they do so under very inefficient energy and spectrum circumstances. But 5G technologies allows IoT operators to efficiently connect millions of devices within a given unit radius.
Use cases will include smart meters and sensors that change the way we measure and bill for utilities like water or power, track vehicle speeds and their fuel consumption amongst others.
This requires huge investments in terms of replacing the old utility meters as well as improving the road furniture in order to harness this 5G technology.
Are our water providers, power providers and highway engineers thinking 5G or they think it is something restricted to mobile operators to worry about?
The second transformative 5G element that is likely to be ignored is ULLC. The key word is reliability and low latency which means that 5G infrastructure will allow for very time-sensitive operations to take place with minimal transmission errors.
Applications that come to mind include remote surgery and the so-called smart factory.
Using 5G ULLC, you can have medical specialists stationed in Europe or India perform a heart operation in real-time. This saves the patient the costs they would have otherwise incurred flying and being accommodated in foreign hospitals.
Under the smart factory concept, the manufacturing sector would be transformed and managed wirelessly. Essentially, one factory employee would be able to manage several tasks that would have required more human being to complete since they would instead be controlling machines wirelessly.
In short – mobile robots would become more common in factory workshops thus improving productivity in the manufacturing sector.
How many of our factories are thinking 5G? Probably not many.
Finally, is our regulator ready for 5G?
That is a question for next week.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu