Another day, another tech-buzzword – but is 5G really all it’s cracked up to be? And more importantly, what does it mean for South Africa’s digital future, asks Jarryd Chatz, CEO at BitCo telecoms

Mobile technology has come a long way in recent years. Today, we’re all connected and online in some way, anywhere we go but issues of Internet speed and reliability stubbornly remain. Despite the evolution of 3G and 4G networks, the pressure is on for carriers to achieve greater speeds to enable the data-intensive demands we already know are coming for the Age of IoT.

Enter 5G, the fifth generation of Wireless networks. It’s set to revolutionise the way the world connects wirelessly – that is, if commentators are to be believed.

So, just what makes 5G special?

* It’s faster. Much faster. 5G will be able to achieve 100 times the speed of existing 4G networks, with full HD video downloads in under 10 seconds.

* Latency will become imperceptible. Say goodbye to the lagging and delays we grudgingly tolerate today, because 5G will reduce latency from the typical 40-50 milliseconds experienced on 4G networks, to a single millisecond.

* It’s extremely reliable. No more dropped calls or patchy service, even when you’re on the high-speed move.

But what does all this mean locally? Can the average business reap the benefits of 5G? With its Fibre-like speeds, 5G has the potential to connect millions with digital products and services, stimulating employment and entrepreneurship.5G is expected to help close the digital divide between South African and global businesses, supporting IoT technologies and mobile applications that will help them run leaner and more efficiently than is currently possible.

According to an IHS study sponsored by Qualcomm, 5G will grow your business by as much as $3,5-trillion in revenue and 22-million jobs by 2035. It would surely be a mistake for South African businesses (SMEs and large corporates) to pass up on this opportunity. Augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things, remote working – all of these will require speedy and reliable connectivity to cement their role in the average workplace.

Knowing how the race for 5G in South Africa will play out is nearly impossible at this early stage – what is certain is that plenty of spectrum will be necessary if 5G is to be rolled out locally. Of course, providing high-speed Internet to millions of South Africans will also bring our exorbitant data prices into sharp focus, as the need to reduce data prices either through regulation or by stimulating increased competition in the sector comes to play. This is great news for all entrepreneurs and SME owners as this would contribute towards growth and productivity, stimulating employment as well.

Yet despite uncertainty over how and when, 5G certainly will come to South Africa, and businesses would do well not to ignore its impending arrival as they go about their digital transformations. 5G is being lauded as not only a game-changing speed and capacity improvement, but as a technology that will disrupt every industry in some way – and earn Wireless connectivity the title of indispensable “general purpose technology” that permeates and enables every aspect of our digital lives.