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Africa's Holy Grail in sight.

In November, three major telecoms providers in China launched the country's first 5G network in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and said they would bring 5G to more than 50 cities by the end of the year. Reportedly, there are already 10m pre--registrations for 5G and it is estimated that China will have 460m 5G connections by 2025.

5G is the fifth generation of cellular network and improves on the current global standard, 4G. 5G is expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G and have vastly greater capacity. But this is just the beginning. 5G has the capacity to completely revolutionise virtually everything--from our workplaces to our daily lives.

5G will enable myriad devices to talk to each other; it will usher in the 'internet of things'--a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

It will enable smart cities where self-drive vehicles will talk to each other and traffic management systems, where robots in hospitals will interact with doctors, nurses, patients and ambulances, where our fridges will order the items that are running out directly with supermarkets and where devices will know when to wake us up, to fire up the coffee--making machines, make our appointments and so on.

The digital economy, we are told, which will accelerate with the application of 5G, will be bigger in size, scope and impact than the industrial revolution. It will change everything as it processes vast amounts of data at extraordinary speed and sophistication to change the very nature of work, production, transport, distribution, healthcare and so on.

A few years ago, this vision would have belonged to science fiction. Today, a good deal is already happening and a great deal more is certainly on the way. 5G will the great enabler. It will be the basis on which industry, agriculture, services and all other production will be based. It will form the heart of defence systems.

Playing for huge stakes

But what does all this have to do with Africa? Plenty; in fact everything. Just consider the impact of the mobile phone on Africa. 5G will have, some say, 100 times more capacity and it will be most effective in places where there is no industrial legacy to clutter things up. In short, Africa. The lack of an industrial legacy, which has so far consigned Africa to poverty, can be its very salvation.

5G, many are convinced, is the Holy Grail the continent has been waiting for. It will allow it to leapfrog into the heart of the 21st century. Just give us the technology!

But now there is a catch. As part of its trade war with China, the US has come down like a ton of bricks on Huawei, the world's largest supplier of telecoms equipment as well as affordable smart phones. Huawei has taken a decisive lead over US innovators in 5G equipment which it is rolling out across the world--except in the US and a few other countries the US has leant on to ban it.

The US has put Huawei on its 'entity list' which bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval and arrested Meng Wanzhou, the company's chief financial officer and daughter of Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei.

Charges that Huawei technology will allow China a spy 'backdoor' and compromise security have fooled no one. The clash is political, not technical. The US, commentators say, believes China has become too big too quickly and must be slowed down.

Given what is at stake, is it any wonder that the US is doing all it can to trip up Huawei's--and in the process, China's-headlong dash for technological superiority? Whoever controls 5G will harvest untold billions--and economic power is the harbinger of military power.

Ren Zhengfei says the US cannot stop Huawei "because we are advanced and the world needs us". Africa most certainly needs 5G and the sooner, the better, but the US is determined to stop the Chinese giant in its tracks. Which way will our governments lean when it comes to making a choice? NA
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Title Annotation:From the Editor
Author:Versi, Anver
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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