When to expect the first 5G-enabled devices in South Africa


Before you get too excited, it’s safe to say that 5G is still quite a way off for South Africa. The problem is two fold. First, in order to roll out commercial 5G services mobile network operators need access to the radio frequency spectrum 5G requires. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is responsible for making that happen, but is bogged down in arguments about how to do it. Second, it’s going to take a while before we see 5G-capable devices in our market. Yip, even if you’ve got one of this year’s flagship phones you’re going to need a new one to take advantage of 5G. Soz.

Got all this 5G, but nothing to use it with

According to a report by Bloomberg, the first 5G iPhone won’t arrive before 2020. Which sucks for international users, because many countries are already 5G-ready — like South Korea. Service provider Verizon plans to roll out 5G in the United States early next year. But then, Apple often waits for new technologies to mature before they show up in their devices.

US operator Verizon is working with Samsung to release a 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019 to accompany its newly rolled out 5G service. Although no-one has confirmed which device it will be, we can make an informed guess that it’ll be a variation of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10. One that we may even see, even if it’s largely useless as a 5G device in South Africa at first. It’s almost certain that Samsung or one of its Android rivals (like LG or Huawei) will drop a 5G phone in SA well before Apple gets around to it. 

Can you even?

We’re betting SA’s first 5G-capable device will be Samsung’s Galaxy S10 because the release timelines match up — and we know that Samsung is working on their own Exynos 5G chip: the Exynos 5100. Although US Samsung users will get a Qualcomm-based 5G chip, we like to focus on what South Africans can look forward to.

In the case of Apple — The Verge reports that Intel will likely provide the 5G modem for Apple’s 5G-capable devices. You’d think Apple makes all thing Apple, but that’s not the case. Apple takes the design lead and outsources the manufacturing. That’s Intel in this case, at last in part because Apple’s got something of a strained relationship with Qualcomm — litigation over alleged intellectual property theft and patent infringement will do that.

Those with designs on a 5G iPhone have to remember that Apple took their sweet time to adopt 4G tech. It wasn’t a bad idea. According to The Verge, the push to get 4G out faster with some Android devices meant accepting compromises when it came to dimensions and battery power. Apple waited patiently to include 4G, which is why they were able to make a ‘seamless transition’ that didn’t require design compromises.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the first Android devices with 5G capabilities will be a bust. But it also doesn’t mean people won’t buy next year’s sans-5G iPhones. Never question the dedication of an Apple fan.

As for 5G connectivity in South Africa… we have to wait and see how quickly operators get the go ahead from the (wo)Man. We’re sure of one thing — Samsung, Huawei, LG, Apple, and friends will get on this particular ball a lot faster than they’re going to be able to kick it. In other words, we’re going to be bragging about 5G on our phones before we can actually use it for anything. Le sigh.


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Digital Editor at Stuff. Nevermind the fancy title, I like writing about things that are cool. Like games, gadgets and sometimes even software. Depending on how cool it is.

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