Kathy Gibson is at ITU Telecom World in Durban – 5G is vital to building new societies and achieving the fourth industrial revolution – and developing countries could benefit the most by leapfrogging straight to 5G.

This is the word from, Mario Maniewicz, deputy director of the Radiocommunication Bureau, chairing the first panel of the ITU Telecom World conference opening in Durban today.

Naysayers may believe that 5G is not necessary for emerging markets, but IT development in Africa is vital, says Abdoulkarim Soumaila, secretary-general of the African Telecommunications Union.

He points out that connectivity is still a problem across most of the continent, although some countries are exceptions to the rule.

“Some people believe that 5G will increase the gap, but I think we are ready for it,” Soumaila says.

“I only have one fear about 5G: we need to be careful that digitalisation becomes cheaper. So industry needs to make sure what is provided is cheaper so we are able to access it.”

Without affordability the applications that will benefit most from 5G – education, health and more – will be hampered, Soumalia says.

“There should be no limit. Now we need to think about the applications and the innovations that will use the technology.”

He says African countries should be able to sit together and decide on the best options for spectrum issues.

Marc Vancoppenolle, global head of Nokia government relations at Nokia Solutions & Networks Belgium, points out that the implementation of 5G is imminent.

“A lot is going on in defining the right use cases for 5G. it brings huge bandwidth and reduced latency as well as the ability to connect many devices, which brings together many use cases.”

He adds that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for 5G is much less than existing networks, which makes it attractive for emerging markets.

“But we need to have a 5G-ready regulatory framework, ” he adds. “Policies must also not hamper business models, and monetisation must be possible down the line.”

Despite these challenges, there are many opportunities, Vancoppenolle adds.

“If you burn all this into an action plan, then I think we are really ready to take the opportunities forward.”

Peter Zimri, councilor at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), explains that 5G has already been piloted in South Africa, with commercial launches imminent.

The 5G Forum informs Icasa’s policy-making, he adds. “We have participated extensively in the working groups and task groups, an there is almost consensus in terms of which bands are favourable to Africa.

“Our intention is to go to the World Radio Conference with certainty on those issues.”

In fact, Icasa is taking the lead in 5G, Zimri says. “We want to have evidence-bases policies and regulations in place.”

One of the bigger challenges is the core networks, he adds. “These are the challenges we have identified: sharing networks to maximise and optimise facilities.”

5G is not so much about a technology or frequency band, but about creating innovations that solve real-world problems

“When we look a the paradigm of connectivity we have to realise it is about collaborating on multiple platforms,” says Donna Bethea-Murphy, senior vice-president: global regulatory policy and development at Inmarsat.

“If we take old technologies and put them into new ideas, it will be hard to reach 5G.”

She adds that satellite will be involved in 5G in Africa because of its ubiquitous nature. “With the ubiquity of satellite, we can ensure that everything is connected at once.”

This is important or smart city and autonomous vehicle applications, she adds.

Ravi Suchak, vice-president: public affairs: EMEA at American Tower, points out that 5G is particularly relevant now, following the commercial rollout of 5G in Lesotho by Vodacom and MTN – among the first in the world.

“5G is more than just another G on the telecoms path – it is the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution,” he says. “It could fundamentally impact people’s lives.”

Many of the benefits of 5G are probably not even apparent yet, Suchak adds.

The right enabling policy environment is critical, he points out, and has some recommendations for policy-makers.

“Be open to investment,” Suchak says. “Also, experiment and invite innovation to foster a can-do flexible regulatory regime.”

He suggests that policy-makers select technologies that do more than just one thing.

“And demand more from infrastructure providers,” Suchak says. “Partner with those that are willing to make investments on solutions tailored for Africa.”

He points out that Africa doesn’t have to follow the rest of the world in terms of policy-making and regulation, but has the opportunity to leapfrog ahead.

Practically, 5G can respond to so many more applications than previous technologies, points out Vancoppenolle. “The use cases of what it can enable are just not possible with previous-generation technologies.

“You can enable many more things, so the sky is the limit.”