The impact of 5G on Africa

How will this technology benefit the continent?

The fifth generation of wireless communication is already in full swing on the African continent and it is estimated that by the end of 2021, it would have reached 2% of total mobile connections (172 million).

With more than 100 live 5G networks across 45 countries and territories across the globe a year ago, Vodacom and MTN had already taken advantage of it. Last year, commercial 5G mobile and fixed wireless access (FWA) services were launched by these two biggest providers in South Africa (SA).

5G trials had already been conducted across Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda and Madagascar with Seychelles and Réunion following in their wake. It is expected that commercial services would become live in Africa’s biggest markets by 2025. Considering the global average of 21% of all mobile connections migrating to 5G, an Africa’s mass-market adoption of 5G is not seen as imminent.

In markets where voice traffic still runs via 2G networks and devices on 2G mode, tech experts say it would be difficult to skip 4G and directly migrate to 5G without first taking steps to migrate 2G/3G voice to *VoLTE over 4G networks. *VoLTE refers to “Voice over LTE,” the ability to make voice calls via the LTE/4G mobile network.

With this in mind, African governments and the mobile industry in the region will focus on efforts to increase 4G adoptions among mobile users. This will involve strategies to make 4G devices more affordable and the provision of relevant digital content to drive demand for enhanced connectivity services. However, as a natural progression, 5G is inevitable and will ultimately thrive in Africa and especially benefit the entertainment industry.

Key expectations

As an evolutionary technology, 5G will perform all the functions of 4G with the potential for super-fast download speeds, high levels of reliability, capacity, device density, flexibility and spectral efficiency. 5G will deliver a platform to enhance existing services and enable new business models.

5G will enable more homes and enterprises to do business, render online services and play. The immediate benefit of 5G would be to use FWA to bridge the gap in broadband connectivity for homes and businesses of all sizes.

Before the pandemic, governments in Africa were already keen to implement the concept of the 4IR. COVID-19 proved that 4IR solutions are crucial to improving productivity and efficiency in the economy, as well as strengthening economic resilience going forward. 5G will enable intelligent connectivity, referring to the fusion of high-speed networks, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). This will support new and existing solutions in transforming industrial processes and generate significant social and economic benefits.

Africa boasts a vibrant tech ecosystem and 5G will create new opportunities for tech start-ups to develop innovative and locally relevant African solutions. It will address network congestion in city centres to support high traffic density. Urbanisation in Africa will grow from 38% in 2015 to 55% in 2050, with 100 cities on the continent predicted to having more than 1million inhabitants per city by 2025. This prediction by the United Nations would see higher than ever volumes of cellular traffic density and overall growth of lighting-speed connectivity across streaming devices and downloading of music and games.

It is estimated that 5G will generate measurable social, cultural and economic benefits for the region. Mobile technologies and services already generated 9% of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa (more than $155bn of economic value added.) This figure is expected to increase markedly in the 5G era as the technology will have greater application compared to previous generations. Socially and culturally, 5G will be the catalyst for significant long-term changes in the way people live, work and play in the future.

Governments, service providers and other stakeholders would now need to put in place the necessary building blocks to maximise opportunities technology brings. These should include the 5G spectrum at affordable prices, supporting cost-effective network deployment, increasing digital inclusion among underserved population groups and working together to develop relevant 5G use cases and applications for the local market.

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