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GSMA: Why African telcos may slow down 5G moves

Globally, the race to deploy the latest 5G technology for ultra-high-speed internet service is gaining momentum, but telecom operators in sub-Saharan Africa still have the preceding 4G technology to conquer for now. According to the GSMA Mobile Economy report, mass deployment and adoption of 5G is not imminent in the region, as operators will likely focus on increasing 4G uptake in the near term.

GSMA notes that adoption of 4G in sub-Saharan Africa is currently at 12 per cent and more than half of available capacity remains unused, meaning much of the LTE investment return is still to be had. It adds that 4G is sufficient to meet current levels of demand and most internet use cases in the region, while the cost of 5G devices will remain prohibitive for most consumers for the foreseeable future.

South Africa has been the only country in the region to have started a commercial 5G rollout. Rain has been offering 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) in the country since 2019, while Vodacom and MTN launched the first major 5G networks in the region in 2020, offering 5G mobile and FWA services in South Africa and formally kicking off the 5G era in the region. Aside from that, 5G trials have been conducted in Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda.

“Mass adoption of the technology is not imminent in the region. With significant unused 4G capacity and 4G adoption still relatively low on average, the focus for operators in the near term will be on increasing 4G uptake. This will involve strategies to make 4G devices more affordable and the provision of relevant digital content to drive demand for enhanced connectivity.

“That said, 5G FWA will be crucial in providing high-speed broadband connectivity to households and businesses, given the lack of fixed-line infrastructure. This will be vital in a post-Covid-19 world as the digital economy expands across the region and more social and economic activities move online,” GSMA states in its Mobile Economy 2020 report.

As of June 2020, 5G was commercially available from 87 operators in 39 markets worldwide, while another 84 operators had announced plans to launch commercial 5G services.


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