What can Africa do to speed up rollout of 5G technology?

2023-07-11 20:37:19
What can Africa do to speed up rollout of 5G technology?

The rollout of 5G mobile internet promises to be one of the most important technological advances of the 2020s.

5G networks are able to transfer very large volumes of data much more quickly than previous generations of mobile internet. This is good news for people who want to watch videos or play games on mobile devices. More importantly, 5G will be an enabler for autonomous vehicles and other futuristic technologies that depend on connected networks.

Globally, the 5G rollout is already well underway. Mobile network operators began to offer 5G connections in the United States and South Korea in 2019. According to telecom equipment maker Ericsson, global 5G subscriptions are set to reach 1.5bn by the end of 2023. Africa, however, is falling behind.

So far, 5G is available in only around a dozen countries on the continent. Many more telecom operators are planning to offer 5G coverage, typically in urban areas, but this does not automatically mean that users can access 5G – indeed, only a tiny fraction of mobile devices in Africa are currently 5G-enabled. Mobile industry association GSMA predicts that even in 2025, 5G will account for just 4% of mobile connections in Africa.

The continent appears to be in danger of missing out on 5G’s expected economic benefits. Can Africa find a way to speed-up its 5G rollout before it is too late?

Benefits and challenges

Mark Walker, associate vice president for sub-Saharan Africa at telecoms consultancy IDC, says the rapid connections made possible by 5G will be essential to unlock the benefits of rapidly developing technologies. “We’re starting to move into the area of big data, machine learning and AI, the Internet of Things,” says Walker. “There’s a strong argument for the use of 5G. I think that’s where the benefit would be expected.”

Another potential benefit, particularly relevant for Africa, is that 5G can deliver fixed wireless internet access. This would mean that homes and businesses could receive a broadband connection delivered by a 5G signal transmitted from a cell tower. The technology is widely viewed as a cost-effective alternative to using fibre-optic cables to deliver broadband.

Despite the expected benefits, rolling out 5G networks will be far from straightforward, particularly outside Africa’s major cities. Walker says that installing 5G infrastructure is not particularly complex from a technological perspective. The challenge, he explains, is that “the range of 5G is shorter than 4G”, meaning that “you’re going to need more antennas to cover the space because of the nature of the microwaves”.

“It’s an affordability issue, rather than a technical capability issue,” he adds. As such, Walker believes that the main drivers of 5G adoption, at least initially, are likely to be large enterprises, especially those that can benefit from the data processing benefits of 5G.

“If I was a telco, the focus for me on 5G would be to identify the enterprise space, the large conglomerates, and then move down that stack to the medium-sized companies, small companies and so on.”

Read full article at African Business


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