ICT experts say service innovation is key to reaping the upcoming 5G dividend; with a strong focus on accelerating the proliferation of 4G LTE networks during the SADC Ministerial ICT forum held in Dar es Salam last week.
Innovative Services will drive the 5G Dividend
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, which adopts Huawei’s 5G end-to-end network products and terminals, taking the lead in rapidly deploying 5G networks.
The fifth generation of mobile network (5G) is a key enabler of the digitalization of economies and societies, which is at the heart of African nations’ ambitions to accelerate sustainable economic growth and to embrace the 4th industrial revolution.
Dr. Mouhamadou Bello Moussa, Director for Strategic Partnership and New Technology at Huawei Southern Africa Region said the big leap in wireless technology features broadband-like speed, low latency and high capacity which will enable the development of new and innovative applications that will cut across all sectors.
“Service innovation is the right way to unleash 5G capabilities. 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,” said Dr. Moussa.
4G and 5G Coexist and Complement each other
In the coming few years, the 5G usage scenario will be more industrial communication specific. However, 4G LTE is still the primary choice for the world before 2025, as the basic layer of national networks, especially when it comes to mobile broadband (MBB) access.
Currently, the MBB penetration rate in Africa is only 47.2%, while 4G penetration rate is merely 10.4%. Insufficient coverage causes LTE users to fall back to the 2G or 3G networks, resulting in significant decline in user experience. It also leads to congestion on the 2G and 3G networks and makes it difficult to release spectrum occupied used by 2G and 3G.
Dr. Musa said the huge potential of 4G LTE in democratizing connectivity to empower people and businesses can be released only when it is affordable to the common people.
“Right policies, necessary legal framework, coordination between stakeholders, alignment of decision-making levels and streamlined approval process need to 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 Dr. Musa.
Rare Window of Opportunity for Africa’s Digital Future
By 2025, only 17.5% of mobile connections in the world will be on 5G, however, LTE usage will be about 65% by the same year, up from 44.3% in 2018, according to a 2019 report by GSMA Intelligence. The report concludes, that for operators in many parts of the world, LTE is and will be the foundation for the next 10 years at least, with improved speeds.
“LTE will have to evolve in line with 5G NR over a long period of time in terms of standards, industries, and ecosystems. For operators, every Dollar invested in 4G is certainly a dollar invested in 5G. This is in the sense that 5G will not supersede 4G, but build upon it.
“It is important for operators to modernize networks to fully tap 4G capabilities for the future smooth evolvement into to 5G by using the existing 4G networks,” said Dr. Musa.
Dr. Musa added that immediate actions need to be taken by both policymakers and business leaders in Sub Saharan Africa to seize the rare window of 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 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.” Dr. Musa concluded.