Power outages, poor digital infrastructure could scupper 5G gains

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By Ernest Bako WUBONTO

As the country advances in embracing cutting-edge technology, addressing power supply issues and developing digital public infrastructure (DPI) is crucial, the Africa Centre for Digital Transformation (ACDT) has said.

5G network, it explains, promises to deliver ultra-fast speeds, massive connectivity and ultra-low latency, enabling innovative new applications and services. However, ACDT stressed that robust DPI is essential to fully leverage these benefits.

It noted that its success relies heavily on the capacity and resilience of underlying DPI, such as broadband networks, data centres and cutting-edge computing resources.

Against this  backdrop, it asserted that the intention to introduce 5G telephony services presents both opportunities and challenges in the context of Ghana’s current power crisis – and that the capacity of NextGen InfraCo, the company tasked with rolling out 5G, to navigate these challenges should be a concern for all.

ACDT’s concerns arise amid ongoing periodic power outages across the country due to various factors, including infrastructural limitations and supply-demand imbalances. These interruptions have implications for the 5G network’s seamless operation, which relies heavily on a consistent and reliable electricity supply.

For instance, ACDT’s Executive Director Kwesi Atuahene highlighted that to cover a defined geographical area, a 5G network will require more base stations than a 2G/3G/4G network; hence, the country’s  current power crisis means the 5G network will also need additional back-up power.

“While the deployment of 5G technology holds immense potential for enhancing connectivity, driving innovation and fostering economic growth, it also necessitates a robust and resilient power infrastructure to effectively support its operation.

“A constant supply of electricity will be necessary for the operation of 5G base stations and data centres. Power outages can cause network downtime and service interruptions, which have an impact on user connectivity,” he said.

Furthermore, he mentioned that 5G is designed to support fast networking speeds for internet of things (IoT) devices, but some of these IoT devices power equipment such as medical devices – and considering the dangers of these devices being offline due to a 5G power outage, it can be disastrous.

“The current power outages will degrade the quality of service for 5G users, resulting in slower data speeds, dropped calls and communication disruptions. This can have an impact on a range of sectors dependent on 5G connectivity, such as healthcare, manufacturing and transportation,” he highlighted.

The ACDT emphasised that for 5G to truly transform industries and communities, gaps and vulnerabilities in digital public infrastructure (DPI) must be addressed. It is, therefore calling on policymakers and industry leaders to make strategic investments that will fortify this critical foundation and unleash the full potential of 5G.

Key priority areas highlighted for attention include: government focusing on immediate efforts to upgrade and expand electricity infrastructure to improve reliability and reduce the frequency of power outages; exploring renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind power to supplement traditional hydro-power sources; and enhancing the power grid’s resilience .

Other measures include strengthening the capacity and efficiency of back-up power systems for 5G network infrastructure; deploying advanced battery technologies and efficient generator systems; and expanding high-speed broadband access to unserved and underserved areas.

“We recognise the importance of addressing the power crisis to ensure a successful implementation of 5G telephony services by Next Gen InfraCo, therefore we seek to draw the attention of Ghana’s government to immediately prioritise the following – or else it will be another avenue for ‘create, loot and share,” ACDT cautioned.

It called on all stakeholders – including government agencies, private sector entities, civil society organisations and the general public – to join hands in addressing the power crisis first before opening a conversation about unlocking the transformative power of 5G telephony services for Ghana’s sustainable development.

This call is in response to government’s announcement of the decision to roll out 5G network services within the next six months.

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