The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) says the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) should prioritise the telecoms sector in the allocation of foreign currency for operators, to enable operators to import key equipment to set up 5th Generation (5G) infrastructure.
The RBZ operates a weekly foreign currency auction system where it sells foreign exchange to businesses or importers who require the money to procure key products from other countries.
In its last update, the central bank indicated that more than US$2 billion had been allocated to various sectors of the economy, including equipment, machinery and raw materials. Potraz’s call comes as mid-band 5G mobile phone technology is expected to rake in US$13 billion for the Sub-Saharan Africa economy or around 0,4 percent of the region’s gross domestic product by 2030, according to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA).
GSMA 5G mid-band applications will mostly drive growth in retail, manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
“Mid-band 5G is expected to enable a large set of applications in smart agriculture/smart monitoring. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with high levels of exposure to the sector, are expected to benefit greatly from this,” GSMA said.
Currently, Zimbabwe’s central bank is failing to meet demand for foreign currency from the auction system for all sectors of the economy, which has at times led to payment delays of up to 10 weeks.
The 5G technology brings substantial improvements over 4G networks, including higher connection speeds, greater capacity and low latency. With this increased performance, 5G networks can enable new utilisation and applications that positively impact many industry sectors.
While 5G penetration may be lower, its overall impact by 2030 will be higher as a percentage of GDP than in, for example, Europe and North America, according to GSMA.
To realise the potential benefits of this technology, GSMA noted that countries should plan accordingly for the timely availability of spectrum for mobile services, as it is a key factor for 5G coverage and capacity.
“At the country level, South Africa is forecast to account for 43 percent of the region’s overall contribution to GDP from mid-band 5G, followed by Nigeria and Angola,” GSMA said regarding the socio-economic benefits of mid-band 5G services.
Zimbabwe is expected to account for less than a percent of overall contribution to GDP from mid-band 5G, which has led to POTRAZ to urge RBZ, the monetary authorities to priotise investing in 5G.
“Potraz is adding spectrum 3,4 to 3,6 Giga heads bands to clear it of legacy systems currently occupying some portions and making it available for 5G deployment,” said Potraz director-general, Gift Machengete.
Econet was the first to take up the available spectrum for trials after the regulator, POTRAZ, availed the resource as part of its national 5G Roadmap drafted in 2018.
POTRAZ said it will avail more spectrums to telecoms operators in the next 24 months for 5G deployment to speed up the transition. He said Zimbabwe has experienced network failure at momentous occasions when consumers will be connected simultaneously hence overwhelming the 4G network and this could be a thing of the past once 5G is fully embraced. Then there is the challenge of the high cost of 5G compatible smartphones and data which are also at the centre of the success of this latest technology in Zimbabwe.
Other service providers such as Netone have also indicated intentions to roll out 5G in future.