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5G Internet adoption in Africa
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Published on
22 January 2021
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Over the last 30 years, The internet has been connecting people, transforming work processes, organising information, and sharing ideas around the world. It took the 19th century industrial revolution, 50 years to increase GDP in advanced economies, by an average $500, it has taken the internet, just 15! . Focusing on implementing a reliable internet infrastructure is beneficial to countries economies with the internet in still responsible for 21% of GDP growth for developed countries in the last 5 years  

The internet has become a day-to-day tool for over a quarter of the world's population with two billion people connected to the internet, and over $8 trillion is being spent on e-commerce each year. In Africa, just 6% have access to the internet, compared to 40% in other developing nations. Forbes believes Africa's next frontier is the internet with expanded connectivity enabling many digital services that western countries currently take for granted and unlock africa’s potential. According to a report by the IFC and Google, Africa’s internet economy is one of the largest overlooked investment opportunities available, with a potential to add US$180 billion to Africa’s GDP by 2025.

Maturity of the internet ecosystem has a direct relationship with the standard of living. A recent World Bank study had shown South Africa's increase in broadband penetration was closely linked with job creation, improved education, better service delivery and increased rural development. Accelerating 5G adoption, can close the gap in traditional internet infrastructure with analysts having projected that 5G networks could increase Africa's economy by $2.2 trillion by the year 2034.

5G networks are cellular networks that service areas divided into small geographical areas called cells, with the capacity to send and receive up to 10 Gigabits per second, The fifth-generation cellular network, Is not only faster than its predecessor, 4g, it has higher bandwidth, meaning more devices can be connected and thus improving the quality of internet services in populated areas.

With speeds of up to 700mbps, 5G is 10 times faster than 4G and speed akin to fixed at home broadband, enabling a faster download and superior streaming experience for consumers. It's expected to make Internet connectivity cheaper and more accessible with Data prices in South Africa projected to reduce by about 25% according to the country's National Treasury. enabling equal access to the internet. provided network providers get regulators in their countries to release more licences for spectrum to see through.

The implementation of 5G in Africa is facing challenges by the pioneering countries, including practicality for commercial use, high internet cost, a small population of citizens that can afford a 5G enabled smartphone, spectrum regulation clarity, and deadlines for deployment.

With this in mind, adoption has been slow, with many African countries facing delays in full implementation. Egypt, Gabon, Senegal and Uganda have started testing 5.g services for the last couple of years, while Lesotho & Madagascar have both halted rollouts, Nigeria has been auctioning off licences, with Mauritius, presenting plans for four areas to be covered by the technology. Botswana, Kenya, Seychelles & South Africa, are the only countries that have launched services, with Zimbabwe coming later this year across 24 locations

Current Position Of Adoption Of 5G Network 

Even though there is excitement and projected growth of 5G in Africa, there are concerns about market readiness for the technology, with the cost of a 5G phone making the network unaffordable to many. 

The cheapest 5G phone sells for $300 while study in Kenya suggests 94% of people own smartphones that cost under $200. and it will take some time for Africa to bridge this gap with 51% of mobile phones still operating on the 3G network.

The transition to the 5G network will have a positive transformation in the digital technology of the continent. 5G in Africa holds the following opportunities 

  • Increase the residences and businesses online: The Pandemic lockdown has made a connection between businesses and people online. More work and learning moved online during the lockdown 5G will enhance the connectivity of residences and businesses, both large and small businesses.
  • Promote Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR): Some African governments desire to implement Fourth Industrial Revolution before the Pandemic. The lockdown made it a necessary implementation. 4IR implementation will improve productivity and efficiency in the economy. 5G will facilitate artificial intelligence(AI) and the internet of things (IoT). This will support efforts to transform industrial processes. Major benefits of this are manufacturing, agriculture, financial services, and the extractive industries.
  • Facilitate technology innovation: Africa has a rich technology ecosystem that is supported by a large network of technology hubs of over 600. Some features of 5G such as low latency and high device density will open new opportunities for tech startups to develop new inventions that will be beneficial to society. Major sectors that will benefit from this are healthcare, financial services, and entertainment.
  • Facilitate new consumer services: 5G network allows broader services such as virtual reality and augmented reality. These services are not well functioning in Africa partly because there is no connectivity to support such services. Streaming of live events is well supported by the 5G network. 
  • Combat network congestion in city centres: There is network congestion in city centres and densely populated regions. 5G will help to solve network congestion and support high traffic density. The rate of urbanisation will keep on increasing in Africa and it is projected to increase from 38% in 2015 to 55% in 2050, 5G network will support the congestion due to urbanisation in Africa.

The World Bank study revealed that a 10% boost in broadband penetration will result in a 2.5% rise in GDP in developing countries. Whether it is through 4G or 5G or the SpaceX Starlink project, increasing penetration needs to be a priority as there is undoubted economic benefit to getting more people connected.

Mobile companies face huge costs of implementing 5G which they do not know how to recoup yet. But investing in the 5G infrastrastructure creates a future proof foundation that can solve Mobile and domestic internet issues for the next decade

A network of masts or antennas need to be built to transmit the signals. For carriers, rolling this out is a costly investment, especially if focusing on the access via handset, it is going to be hard to justify. We think the real opportunity is to provide high speed broadband to school, businesses, homes and shared workspaces to be distributed via home wifiCurrently, just 2% of African households have access to fixed broadband. Laying miles of fibre cables to enable high speed internet to your home & business is disruptive and expensive. The introduction of the 5G services can give African countries the ability to jump ahead of western countries and enable enhanced broadband connectivity without the traditional implementation hurdles.

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