Africa: 5G Beckons but 4G Remains Key for Africa

Johannesburg — THE fourth generation of mobile networks (4G) remains key for Africa's digital future as the 5G era approaches.

This is according to experts at the just-ended Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministerial Information and Communications Technology (ICT) forum held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Experts said service innovation was key to reaping the upcoming 5G dividend, with a strong focus on accelerating the proliferation of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks.

"Service innovation is the right way to unleash 5G capabilities," said Dr Mouhamadou Bello Moussa, Director for Strategic Partnership and New Technology at Huawei Southern Africa.

In Africa the service innovation must be solution focused, so that digital inclusivity could be turned into social-economic inclusivity to realize the ambition of digital inclusion and Tech for All."

Moussa said the big leap in wireless technology features broadband-like speed, low latency and high capacity which would enable the development of new and innovative applications that will cut across all sectors.

Moussa said the huge potential of 4G LTE in democratizing connectivity to empower people and businesses can be realised only when it was affordable to the common people.

He said the right policies, necessary legal framework, coordination between stakeholders, alignment of decision making levels and streamlined approval process must be put in place to ensure future-oriented spectrum planning and rapid deployment of ICT infrastructure.

"All of these will ultimately lower the cost of deployment and increase affordability of digital services," said Moussa said.

He advised policy makers and business leaders in Sub Saharan Africa to immediately seize the opportunity for promoting digital economy and socio-economic wellbeing by investing in 4G LTE.

The urgency comes from the soaring smartphone penetration and booming social media and over-the-top (OTTs), which gives people enough incentive to go online.

"Business decisions must always be made at least one step ahead of the market maturity stage," Moussa stated.

5G is now a reality in Africa as South Africa's mobile data network operator, Rain, and Huawei jointly announced the commissioning of Africa's first commercial 5G network.

Rain has built the 5G network using its 3.6GHz spectrum.

4G LTE is still the primary choice for the world before 2025, as the basic layer of national networks, especially when it comes to the mobile broadband (MBB) access.

Currently, MBB penetration rate in Africa is only 47,2 percent. 4G penetration rate is merely 10,4 percent.

Insufficient coverage causes LTE users to fall back to the 2G or 3G networks.

By 2025, only 17,5 percent of mobile connections in the world will be on 5G.

However, LTE usage will be about 65 percent by the same year, up from 44,3 percent in 2018, according to a 2019 report by Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) Intelligence.

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