The fifth generation of mobile network technology (5G) is about to blast through some technological glass ceilings. It is up to producers to grab hold of what 5G has to offer if they are serious about increasing their profits through unrivalled access to fast data transfer. This is according to Pieter Geldenhuys, well-known futurist, strategist and tech enthusiast. He was the keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of the northern branch of the Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) held 19 August 2020.

The online meeting focused on various topics that have affected the dairy industry this year. With Pieter in the line-up, the meeting also clarified new technology that will be able to increase producers’ production capacity. This will allow them to potentially put a stop to production hiccups before they even occur.

Fanie Ferreira, chairperson of MPO North, kicked off the virtual meeting by thanking producers and the media for their continued support. Dr Chris van Dijk talked about COVID-19 and elaborated on the various risks, uncertainties and opportunities that the 2020 pandemic could bring for dairy producers and other role-players in the dairy value chain.

What is 5G?

According to Pieter, 5G is the fifth generation of wireless network technology that will allow for the transfer of large volumes of data in a short period. “One of the main differences when comparing 5G to prior generations is the extra frequencies data consumers will now be able to access.

“5G also uses shorter wavelengths, which means that responding antennas can be much smaller than existing ones. However, these smaller antennas will still provide precise directional control when sending and receiving 5G frequencies.

“What all of this means is that 5G networks can beam ultrafast data to a lot more users, with high precision and next to no latency. In fact, the speed of data transfer for 5G will be approximately 100 times faster than 4G or long-term evolution (LTE) and send up to ten gigabits per second,” Pieter explained.

“With the outbreak of COVID-19 we have already started using 5G networks for data transmission. However, this is not yet permanent and will likely be rolled out next year for good. It is projected that we will eventually do away with all 2G, 3G and 4G networks and that South Africa, as well as the rest of the world, will only use 5G.”

5G can use spectrum bands within three key frequency ranges:

  • Below 1GHz: To support widespread coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas.
  • Between 1 to 10GHz: For a mixture of coverage and capacity. 
  • Above 10GHz: For ultra-high-speed 5G services.

Safety concerns laid to rest

Although there have been negative reports circulating regarding the safety of 5G, Pieter says this new wave of network technology is completely safe. In March 2020, the independent non-profit organisation, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), updated their international safety guidelines regarding the protection from exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields from mobile devices and data networks.

5G frequencies are covered by these existing and now updated international and national exposure and safety guidelines. The ICNIRP’s review confirmed that there are no adverse effects on human health from radio frequencies used by mobile technology (including 5G). Of course, this is if exposure is in line with these guidelines.

According to Pieter, the availability of certain products has been interrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19. This has caused an unsteady supply of and demand for many products in various sectors. The entire world order has been shifted, and this will affect the technology we use and how we use it.

Agriculture’s need for 5G technology

“Africa will see monumental growth in terms of its population, which means the demand for food security will be greater than ever before. This, more than anything, shows that we have a great need for innovative technology that can help producers to increase their production,” Pieter explained.

Agriculture contributed more than 2,5% of South Africa’s GDP in 2017 and brought in R127,69 billion through agricultural exports. 5G has the potential to increase the country’s agricultural output by speeding up producers’ connectivity, which allows various machinery to be controlled centrally.

It also enables data to be sent back in real time, which will play a pivotal role in precision agriculture. Drone spraying, weed and crop monitoring and even insect tracking can be done much more efficiently and quickly. Even soil probes, which are responsible for measuring soil moisture, salinity and water patterns, can send their readings in rapid time so that producers can analyse the data and carefully manage irrigation cycles. – Claudi Nortjé, AgriOrbit