Kathy Gibson is at AfricaCom 2019 in Cape Town – Today, telecommunications is the foundation for all industries – and 5G is set to make it even more pervasive.

Dr Mohamed Madkour, vice-president: global wireless networks marketing and solutions at Huawei, points out that Africa is focused on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and building new economic models.

“Telecommunications is a platform that enables this.”

The main technology innovations driving this model are cloud, 5G and artificial intelligence (AI), Dr Madkour adds.

Industry 4.0 is built on services that solve national problems, physical and digital infrastructure, skilled talent and open, integrated and inclusive ecosystems.

“The key to enable these pillars is to build collaboration between all stakeholders: government, operators, vendors, third-parties and industries.

“We have to set a very strong, inclusive and collaborative model.”

Government needs to put in place a supportive futuristic framework that encourages investment in infrastructure, while operators need to transform, vendors build agile ecosystems, third-parties enable innovative business models, and industries switch to digitalisation for growth.

Africa may not be far ahead on 4G implementations, but Dr Madkour does not think this is a reason that the continent should be left behind.

“No country in the world can be left behind. So every carrier should start at least thinking about 5G.

“The only consideration should be how, what the use cases will be, and how it can be scaled.

“In most African markets, we believe 5G can bring a lot of benefits to countries and carriers.”

Countries need to think about infrastructure, spectrum and their core networks, Dr Madkour says. “All the investments in 4G will reduce the amount of money needed to switch on 5G in the future.

“So every rand spent on 4G is a rand invested in 5G.”

Today, there are 50 5G networks globally, two-thirds of them powered by Huawei.

“We have secured 60 contracts to roll out 5G networks, have shipped more than 400 000 base stations globally – and the last 40 000 of those have no US components at all,” Dr Madkour says.

Already, more than than 150 5G devices are available worldwide, including smartphones. In this area, Huawei has announced a R140 5G industry module that can be used in any 5G terminal, and is expected to accelerate the use of 5G in industry.

“These are exciting times,” Dr Madkour says. “We are starting to see the business case for 5G materialising now. It may take time to see return on investment (ROI), but in some markets operators are already seeing an increase in revenue and market share.

“Even from a consumer point of view, 5G will do great things for telcos – and industrial applications will take it further.”

Most carriers are rolling out 4G and 5G simultaneously, Dr Madkour adds. “We regularly see more innovation in 4G to make it more intelligent and efficient – so innovation is still happening in LTE.”