MWC23 demonstrated 5G’s growing maturity, especially in pioneer markets, such as China, South Korea and the US, where the technology has now attained mass market adoption. In these markets, the conversation has shifted from consumer adoption to accelerating 5G standalone deployment and unlocking new features of 5G, including those to come with 5G-Advanced. Meanwhile, a second wave of 5G momentum has now begun, led by Brazil, India and Indonesia. These markets will help take the total number of 5G connections globally to 1.5 billion by the end of this year (GSMA Intelligence).
It is fair to say that Africa was largely missing from much of the discussions around 5G at this year’s event – and for good reason: as of today, only 13 of the 50+ countries in the region have launched commercial 5G services. Additionally, 4G – at less than 25% adoption – still has significant headroom to grow, while only seven countries (Angola, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia) have assigned 5G spectrum to date. In contrast 4G was the dominant technology in other regions at the advent of 5G. Added to these are valid concerns around the cost of 5G deployment and the affordability of devices and services for most users.
Last year, GSMA Intelligence conducted a survey (the 5G Africa Survey) of key stakeholders, including policymakers, operators and vendors, and enterprises to understand the outlook for 5G in Africa. Insights from the survey, published in the report 5G in Africa: Realising the potential, point to high expectations for 5G to enable digital transformation, boost tech innovation, and help meet the connectivity needs of people and businesses in Africa. Several government (e.g Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya and Morocco) have outlined digital transformation plans that could benefit from key 5G.
This sentiment was echoed by various stakeholders at MWC23, including government ministers and regulators and industry players, such as Arm, Huawei, Orange and Qualcomm, at various forums (Watch my chat with Benjamin Hou, President, Huawei Northern Africa Carrier Business here ). However, the general consensus, as was highlighted in our report, was that Africa’s approach to 5G rollout will be unique and reflect the various industry and macro realities on the ground. 5G rollout, for example, will likely take a phased approach in Africa, with initial focus on urban areas and industrial locations , as opposed to mass population rollout as we’ve seen in advanced markets.
These views begin to paint a picture of what the 5G era in Africa could look like as well as the enabling factors, as we highlight below:
voluntary network sharing deals as well as simplify planning procedures and regulations for
site acquisition, colocation and upgrades of base stations.
In an article I wrote for the African Business magazine in 2020, I argued that when the time is right, Africa would learn from the experiences of the 5G early movers and benefit from proven technologies and the economies of scale in devices and network equipment. That time is now, with various new solutions from vendors (e.g Huawei and Qualcomm) reflecting many years of experience and learnings from advanced markets. The maturity of the 5G ecosystem, as evidenced by cheaper and more widely available devices, and innovative network deployment solutions, bode well for Africa’s 5G outlook.
Kenechi Okeleke, Director, Regional, Social and Policy Research, GSMA Intelligence
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