5G - are we there yet?
5G, or Fifth Generation networks are being lauded as the vehicle which will launch technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain based applications into mainstream use - and with good reason. 5G promises significantly faster speeds than its predecessor, 4G. But with 4G only recently being put into proper real play, how ready is South Africa for the next generation network?
5G still a way off
As demonstrated by recent trials, 5G is still in the process of having its technical standards ratified and adopted by the industry. Hardware OEMs such as Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei are forging ahead with early stage trial releases, while operators are conducting their own trials and laboratory testing.
However, we are still a long way from 5G becoming commercially available in South Africa, with estimated timelines of two to three years before we start seeing real uptake.
A question of cost and spectrum availability
5G networks are expensive to deploy. With many operators only in the middle to final stages of their 4G rollout, investing in the infrastructure required to facilitate 5G is a costly task. However, there are many gaps in both mobile and fibre networks where 5G investments make financial sense, such as remote locations or areas with a high concentration of IoT interest and investment.
Frequency spectrum allocation is another potential impedance to 5G delivery. There is already a shortage of spectrum available for 4G network operators, and South Africa’s spectrum regulator, ICASA, will need to work closely with government and stakeholders to ensure that similar shortages and allocation delays do not occur. For the time being, there is little clarity on 5G spectrum allocation and it is likely that until a clear framework is in place, 5G rollouts will be hampered.
5G could answer many of Africa’s - current connectivity concerns. Particularly in areas where fibre is unable to reach or too costly to invest in, 5G uptake will be massive. Currently, the speeds and quality of service that 5G promises are limited to users and organisations that can afford fibre.
5G mobile connectivity will enable small business owners and people in rural communities to leverage applications and sites that they have previously been unable to. Of course, this means that the pricing of 5G will need to be carefully evaluated. Data prices in South Africa have a reputation for being too high - these will need to reduce in order for 5G to fully cater to the market. Government will play a large role in controlling data prices, especially as it will seek to use 5G for its own community connectivity projects. It will fall to ICASA to work closely with government and stakeholders to ensure that 5G data prices are affordable.
5G is also expected spur South Africa’s digital evolution through support of technologies such as IoT and advanced mobile applications. To date, the uptake of these technologies has been relatively slow when compared with the rest of the globe. A lack of affordable, quality mobile connectivity has been the main hurdle to realising their potential, especially in industries like critical service delivery and healthcare, who stand to benefit massively from IoT devices.
The demand for IoT and mobility will put pressure on operators and ICASA to formalise 5G plans, and stick to rollout schedules where possible.
Despite potential delays and hurdles to overcome, Africa should get ready for 5G. Operators and device manufacturers alike, are pushing for 5G to become a reality. Another driver is the score of technologies that stand to benefit businesses across all industries. Businesses investigating IoT, blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, and mobile applications should be preparing to run these off of 5G as soon as it becomes available.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”