5G: Implications for Africa

5G: Implications for Africa

Is 5G responsible for COVID-19 or its rapid spread? The World Health Organization (WHO) states that no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use, as evidenced by the numerous studies done over the past 2 decades. That directs us to a NO. The 5G-coronavirus claim is just a conspiracy, but one that has led to a recent interest in the 5G technology anyway. It’s spreading across the globe. I mean 5G, not the virus. In this regard, it’s a good initiative to learn not just about the technology, but also what implications it has at home (Africa).

Retrieved From: Getty Images

What is 5G?

5G refers to Fifth Generation. It is the fifth generation mobile network. CNN Business reports that 5G is the next generation wireless network technology that’s expected to change how people live and work. It’ll be faster and support more connected devices than the current 4G LTE network (greater bandwidth).

Indeed, 5G is more than just a faster way to stream Netflix on the go. It enables networks that can support the “Internet of Things” (IoT): a world of connected devices from toothbrushes to tooling machines. 5G would permit moving more number-crunching to places where it is needed. The extra processing oomph could allow base stations on networks’ “edge” to guide self-driving cars, or robots on factory floors.

Why 5G?

One of the advantages that 5G promises is more speed, which is what most people relate to when they hear the mention of the network. But there’s more. 5G will have greater bandwidth – meaning your network doesn’t get shady in populated areas. This in effect equals better stability for the network. 5G will also reduce latency – the time it takes for a connected device to send a request to a server and get a response – to virtually zero. Lastly, it will make communication with cloud platforms faster and easier, as well as yielding fully connected industries and cities. Even so, a majority of the pros are still years away from being experienced. The infant is yet to grow to its full potential.

Why not 5G?

A key concern lies in how long it is going to take for 5G to be adopted significantly. Industry trade group GSMA estimates that by 2025 only a half of the world’s mobile connections will be 5G; and with the unexpected global pandemic (COVID-19) who knows how much longer we have to wait. For regulators, the biggest worry is the security of 5G, particularly because we have technologies such as self-driving cars and healthcare systems to be built on top of the network.

Crunching the numbers

According to an infographic from Raconteur on the forecasted impact of 5G, the global sales activity will be a figure of $13.2 trillion by 2035. The biggest beneficiaries of that massive growth will be 5 key industries, namely:manufacturing, information and communication, wholesale and retail sales, public services, and construction (respectively).

Efficiency is the game that 5G seeks to bring, and for the manufacturing industry, we are set to evidence smart factories which will only need the little human touch to deal with intricate processes and troubleshooting the systems.

5G Cell Tower Retrieved from: Getty Images

The download speed is expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G LTE, according to wireless industry trade group GSMA, with some experts saying it could be up to 100 times faster eventually. Any idea what that actually means? You’ll be able to download a 2 hour movie in less than 10 seconds (where 4G would take around 7 minutes)! Despite the download speeds depending on factors like location and network traffic, the predicted convenience of 5G is already incredible as it stands.

Economic Impact of 5G Retrieved from: Visual Capitalist.

Is Africa ready for 5G?

As reported by BB News, a South African tech firm, Rain, is offering 5G technology, but network coverage is still patchy not to mention how hard it is getting everybody online. The country still needs to overcome challenges such as shortages of electricity, mobile phone masts and fibre optic cables, as well as data costs, in order for the firms idea to materialize. These challenges are the painful truths of the condition across the African continent, and probably why it might be a definite slow sip-in for 5G here. However, considering it is this continent that pioneered mobile money, working on a quick uptake of 5G would reap unimaginable benefits for Africa.

Earlier on in 4Q19, Nigeria had already started trial of the superfast 5G networking courtesy of MTN, with live demonstrations happening in Abuja. This was a first for West Africa, and likely the beginning of a 5G revolution in that region. Gabon, too, was reported to be holding trials; while Lesotho, just like South Africa, has small networks up and running. A report on 5G in Africa by GSMA, a global trade organization for mobile operators, estimates that only 7 African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya will have 5G by 2025, accounting for only 3% of mobile data  compared to 16% globally. Institutions, not consumers, are assumed to be the initial 5G customers.

What’s holding back our continent then? African governments haven’t yet rolled out 5G rollout regulations. As mentioned earlier, 5G security is a principal concern globally, which is why regulators would be keen to ensure stakeholders of a law in place as implementation is carried out. Besides that, mobile operators face huge infrastructure costs whose recouping they are uncertain about. As the editor-in-chief of Techpoint Africa puts it, the challenge in Africa is the consumer. The fact that the already existing 4G supply is not being fully met by average consumers due to affordability concerns evidences why firms would be sceptical about investing in 5G in Africa. Let’s not forget the fact that to use 5G, a consumer needs a 5G-enabled device, bringing the expenses of an average African to great heights.

One would argue then, that 5G in Africa is more  or less a lost case. Far from it. What will be reaped is way too good to overlook. Imagine access to faster and more stable internet without having to lay fibre optic cables. No more digging all those trenches. Furthermore, the introduction of telemedicine and remote education will bring to the forefront solutions to some of Africa’s greatest agendas – improved education and healthcare. Look at it as eventual eradication of poverty, reduced unemployment, as well as up-to-date healthcare facilities (like remote surgeries).

There is however no rush whatsoever. Africa can take its time and let 5G mature and be tested in other markets. This will help avoid mistakes made elsewhere. Even better, the costs of the devices and equipment might fall as more countries launch 5G. All in all, 5G is good for the world, and good for Africa too.

Retrieved from: The Financial

Written By Ida Mwangi

@Noemie(Twitter)     @Ida Mwangi (Linkedln)