Imagining 5G network in Africa

August 21, 2017

Several telecom operators in Africa are scheduling their 5G network launch for the next five years. In South Africa, launch date for 5G varies depending on operators. More importantly at the moment, the regulator, needs to ensure that spectrum is available for South African operators to launch the improved 5G service. In other countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, regulators are now looking at what spectrum can be used for 5G and when it could be available. Only when it is available, will operators invest and launch the service.In South Africa, someone familiar with market told your blogger couple of days ago that one of his client has already rolled out a trial using a pre-commercial system, and would have a commercial system available very early for the market in 2022 at the very latest.Come 2023, South Africans will have access to an internet service 100 times faster than the current 4G network and also faster than existing broadband.Regardless of the specifics, the 5G network will offer faster speeds and lower latency, a shorter time interval between sending and receiving data than 4G.This speed will offer a whole new plethora of opportunities in regards to online streaming and the Internet of Things. While the current 4G offering of 15 megabits per second is fast enough to stream songs, stream video or browse the internet, the introduction of 5G will present the ability to download ultra-high definition movies or television seasons in mere seconds.5G has become the key technologies for the mobile industry. The number of mobile subscriptions, including smartphones, personal computers, and other human connections will be in billions in the next five years across Africa, composing the large majority of connections. However, one of the challenges that remain is that African countries haven’t yet figured out which spectrum is the most suitable for 5G. In East African region, one band that stakeholders are talking about a lot is around 3.4GHz to 3.6GHz. Countries with bigger market size like South Africa and Nigeria are looking at 4.4 GHz to 4.9GHz, and a very high frequency band such as 24GHz to 28GHz.

Some countries like Algeria, Egypt and Morocco are said to be thinking about 39GHz. One thing that is not without is that 5G will use high frequency, allowing an increase in bandwidth. More bandwidth has the advantage of allowing operators to move more information. Ethiopia is said to be considering both 28GHZ and 39GHz, with Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal advocating looking lower down the band at 700MHz. At this point, no standard has been developed globally and African countries will have to adopt the global standards when that time comes. The difference however is that low frequency, the advantage is the signal will go a greater distance and perform better indoors, whereas higher frequencies have a tougher time to go deep indoors. The higher band frequency can be used more widely and African countries regulators will have to choose and assign the bands that can be used for 5G.The advantages 5G brings to industry are enormous. It offers so much to the end users and businesses as well. African countries that will start 5G early have the advantage. But that depends on local regulators who will make sure spectrum is available, so operators can start their investment early and industry stakeholders can learn how to use it. The 5G is not just another change in the system, it is a revolution.According to a Finnish friend involved in the development of the technology, Security of 5G will be big issue and supporting standardization would increase security to the billions of devices that will be connected in Africa over the next decade.He pointed out that using block chain technology would be significantly important since it is very good technology, that will mean no one will be able to read our emails or access our files at their will.For the ordinary consumer in Africa, the move to 5G won’t result in a dramatic change in their mobile data packages but customers could likely expect an increase in the amount of data allowance. Improvements in the technological infrastructure such as a move to 5G are more to do with increasing the efficiency and capacity of the telco’s network to allow them to take advantage of greater opportunities in the internet of things.

Contador Harrison