How Africa can leverage 5G for next leapfrog
It is projected that by 2025, a third of the world will be covered by 5G networks. GSMA Roadmaps for 5G Spectrum report projects that these networks will benefit some 614 million unique mobile subscribers and 475 million mobile internet users.
Here in Africa, about 272 million of sub-Saharan Africa’s 477 million unique mobile telecom subscribers access the mobile Internet.
This growth is also coupled with an evolution in mobile telecoms from 2G networks, which provided voice and SMS services to 3G networks, which introduced mobile data. This evolved further into 4G networks, which led to the dawn of the smartphone and apps era, and now to the arrival of the 5G network, which is expected to enable unprecedented levels of connectivity.
The 5G network, which is an abbreviation for ‘fifth generation’ is upgrading 4G networks with five key functional drivers — superfast broadband, ultra-reliable low latency communication, massive machine-type communications, high reliability or availability, and efficient energy usage.
These features will transform many sectors, such as technology, manufacturing, healthcare and transportation.
A report on 5G in Africa by GSMA, a global trade organisation for mobile operators, estimates that only seven African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, will have 5G by 2025. And this will account for only three percent of mobile data compared to 16 percent globally.
South Africa became the first country in Africa to commercially deploy 5G in 2020 using a temporarily allocated network spectrum. In Mauritius, T-Mobile launched 5G mobile services and two other providers have been issued licences. Ethiopia is the latest to roll out commercial 5G, which is only available in Addis Ababa to Ethio Telecom subscribers.
Closer home, Safaricom and Airtel in Kenya and MTN in Uganda have all conducted 5G trials. The network regulator in Kenya has begun auctioning the 5G spectrum with Safaricom reportedly allocated a 60 megahertz in the 2600 MHz band while Uganda is reviewing spectrum bands ahead of rollout.
Nigeria has not had any commercial 5G deployments but the regulator has developed a document detailing its rollout plans.
5G will be instrumental in leapfrogging Africa to Industry 4.0. Automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using technologies.
The high speed and low latency 5G will lead to relevant use cases in Africa, such as healthcare advancements and telehealth using augmented reality and virtual reality, efficient agriculture production through agri-sensors and factory and warehouse automation.
Operators and network equipment vendors in the region need to make plans to prepare existing network infrastructure for 5G, adopt cost-effective infrastructure deployment solutions and develop a framework to manage the complexity of operating multiple networks simultaneously.
Policymakers should engage cross-industry players to co-create a value-generating ecosystem to realise the value potential of 5G.