Next-gen connectivity wants attention in Africa’s broadband discourse

Operators are increasingly investing in expensive internet infrastructure to unlock economic growth, but adoption generally remains slow.

Next-gen connectivity wants attention in Africa’s broadband discourse

At a summit that took place in Cape Town earlier this month on the sidelines of AfricaCom, the biggest event in Africa’s mobile broadband industry, conversations around the potential impact of emerging internet infrastructure on the continent's digitization drive took front and center. 

Hosted by China’s Huawei in the sixth commemoration of the Southern Africa MBB VIP salon, the summit kept the limelight on the role fifth-generation internet connectivity has to play in Africa’s digital transformation and general success in business. 

Regional government regulators, industry leaders, and industry organization representatives convened to emphasize the importance of the network and share experiences in the landscape as well as their strategies forthwith.

Some of the more interesting points explored were how operators can continue building value-added networks for 5G connections, accelerating fixed wireless access development, and creating wins for the industry. 

Mobile broadband networks are arguably the cornerstone of digital infrastructure and, as such, need to evolve to further pave the way for tech-driven transformation. This is particularly agreeable for a place like Africa, the youngest continent and home to one of the world’s fastest-growing internet ecosystems. 

In recent years, the region’s mobile industry has gained substantial traction, making mobile internet a practicality for millions of users. The number of mobile broadband users has increased by 20% in the last decade, yet usage and coverage gaps remain.

On the flip side, figures from the GSMA Intelligence suggest that at the end of 2022, just 28% of the over 1.2 billion populace in Africa was connected to the internet. To increase penetration, regulators and policymakers are expected to increase the supply of spectrum across various bands. 

3G and 4G remain the dominant forms of internet connectivity in the region, but the mobile industry is looking to not just rapidly expand but also stride towards leveraging the next generation. With some 5G launches in the bag, players are looking to expand service access beyond urban areas.

Overall, AfricaCom’s 5G-themed event in South Africa was held to highlight the transformative potential of the technology in Africa’s digital journey, on which stakeholders must collaborate and collaborate to ensure success. 

At the opening, Richard Liu, Huawei's global carrier marketing and solution sales president, called for continuous localized improvement and for players across the sector to work together.

“The remarkable intergenerational capabilities of 5G networks are accelerating the development of the ICT industry, and also stimulating huge innovation momentum, changing our lives and society,” Liu said.

“Global operators with a firm 5G strategy have achieved business success. To dream [of] Africa’s 5G prosperity, it is recommended to build Digital Africa via 3 inclusive innovations, inclusive ecosystem, inclusive service, and inclusive network, by maturing the 5G terminal ecosystem, developing FWA killer services, and building a 5G synergy network, and building a solid digital foundation of Africa,” he added. 

Industry players that have launched next-gen network connections in different markets, including Kenya’s Safaricom, MTN South Africa, MTN Nigeria, and Zain Saudi Arabia, were represented. ICASA, South Africa’s telecoms regulator, and industry think tank GSMA Intelligence also attended. 

Per predictions from GSMA, by the end of 2030, 4G and 5G will account for only two-thirds of mobile connections in Africa. Bridging the gap, the mobile industry can generate up to $280 billion in economic growth, create at least 3.6 million jobs, and form a new locomotive for socioeconomic development. 

There have been other efforts to stir conversations around next-gen connectivity adoption in Africa. In October, at the Mobile World Congress 2023 (MWC2023) held in Kigali, Rwanda, ICT experts pointed out the need to strengthen and speed up efforts in deployment to revolutionize industries and ultimately drive economic growth. 

On their part, top-ranking mobile network operators like MTN, Vodacom, Orange, and Airtel have been speeding up 5G deployment. At least a dozen markets in the continent have received the network for the first time, courtesy of these players, even in unlikely parts like Togo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana. 

South Africa leads the pack, with the highest number of commercial roll-outs of the service and a reputation as the first market in the continent to grace the block. Meanwhile, a number of other countries, including Egypt, Gabon, Lesotho, Ghana, and Mauritania are still conducting trials. In spite of these investments, adoption is expensive and sluggish, becoming concerning for stakeholders. 

It’s no surprise that Huawei, the most patronized next-gen internet infrastructure partner in these parts, is taking the lead in catalysing these dialogues and advocating synergy in the industry. The company has been gradually establishing a stronghold in Africa despite its controversial existence in other parts of the world.

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