ZIMBABWE is currently facing teething problems in rolling out its 5G network by year-end amid high expectations that the new technology will spur economic growth, a telecoms expert has said.
5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology.
It is designed to increase speed, reduce latency, and improve flexibility of wireless services. Last year, Econet, the country’s largest mobile network operator (MNO) by subscriptions and revenue, partnered global electronics giant Ericsson in launching the country’s first 5G network but is currently conducting a pilot project.
Lawrence Nkala, acting TelOne managing director, told delegates at the launch of a technology forum organised by the United States embassy in Harare recently that the country’s telecoms regulator is yet to finalise paperwork on the assignment of spectrum for the new technology.
Nkala took over from Chipo Mtasa who retired after 10 years at the helm of the country’s state-owned fixed telephony operator which also has an MNO licence. “We (Zimbabwe) have not assigned spectrum to any player,” Nkala said.
“What is happening now, (is) we have one of our MNOs — Econet who has deployed a couple of base stations but is using a trial spectrum which the regulator assigned on a trial basis. I think they did give that as well to NetOne and Telecel the MNOs. The trial will also help smoothen the quantum of spectrum assigned. As Econet experiments and they can assist the regulator come up with the requisite spectrum that can satisfy any operator to have a meaningful operation.”
Nkala said the assignment of the spectrum will pave way for the deployment of the new technology. Zimbabwe, he added, currently has three bands that have been identified for use for 5G.
“The prime spectrum which is 3.4 to 3.6 is currently occupied by some incumbents. So the regulator was asked why he hasn’t assigned the spectrum; it is because these incumbents must vacate. They were given notices by June 2023. So once they vacate that main band, then it will avail spectrum for them to start assigning,” he said.
“Speaking to the regulator, the assignment method has not been found yet. They haven’t decided on how this will happen. In other markets this is auctioned, as you know. In Zimbabwe they are debating whether to auction or they will do administrative assignment where they will just put a price for the spectrum per megahertz that they will charge. That is work in progress and the expectation is that before the end of the year, we will have an assignment that is made and operators will either be going to auction where they bid or there will be administrative assignment for that spectrum.”
Nkala said while the new technology will drive economic growth, the high cost of 5G-compatible devices would widen the haves and have-nots in most countries of the Global South.
According to a study by international accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), as 5G rolls out in coming years, it will create value in many industries and for society as a whole.
The adoption of 5G, according to the PwC report titled: The Global Economic Impact of 5G, will add US$1.3 trillion to global GDP by 2030.