Telecommunications companies the world over are beginning a push to bring 5G connectivity to end users by the year 2020.

The new wireless communication standard promises to bring with it faster internet connectivity speeds, improved coverage and lower latencies over wireless connections.

The main selling point of 5G though, is that it is essential for the ever growing Internet of Things and to make things like smart cities and driverless cars work. While it is an upgrade on 4G, its a substantial upgrade that some companies believe can deliver a 10Gbps data rate using a wireless connection.

The trouble is that in many parts of Africa many telecommunications companies and network operators are still trying to simply connect people to the internet.

So the question then is: Does Africa need to start implementing 5G when most of the continent is still using 2G and 3G connectivity with plans to rollout 4G (LTE) in the near future?

Paul Black is an analyst at IDC and he shared his thoughts regarding 5G’s role in Africa with us during a discussion at Huawei’s MEA Joint-Service Summit in Cape Town.

“The question with 5G is a worldwide issue, operators do need to transform in order to go through digital transformation and use services which are going to be required for 5G,” Black tells us.

“In respect to the African operators where in certain countries where there is still prevalence of 2G and 3G networks and not even 4G in a lot of areas, now is maybe not the time to jump on 5G.”

But Black says that this doesn’t mean African network operators can be complacent and let the world pass them by with nary a second glance.

“When you’re looking at solutions such as the world of the internet of things, enterprise mobility and delivery of these solutions, 5G is ultimately going to be needed.”

So while fiscally rolling out a 5G network might be a silly thing to do when only a small portion of users might actually need the benefits 5G offers, Black does suggest that operators start looking into the technologies and fitting the service into their plans for the future.

But this isn’t a catch-all solution, Black is quick to point out that the rollout of 5G needs to be done on a case by case basis. “It’s a matter of looking at the specific requirements dynamics, socio-economic conditions of an area and moving forward from there,” Black explains.

Africa’s phones need to get smarter

A big delaying factor in the implementation of 5G in Africa is the sparse availability of smartphones. This is largely due to the cost of smartphones that can access 3G and 4G services. At the moment feature phones are still prominent throughout Africa, but Black sees this changing in the near future.

“The device market is getting better and better. The quality of some devices coming from leading Chinese manufacturers are coming out at a very low and attractive price with a good battery, good camera and good screen,” Black tells us. “Device prices are coming down and the quality is just getting better and better.”

So the answer then is no, perhaps Africa doesn’t need 5G and all the highspeed bandwidth it brings with it. Yet.

What’s more is that Black and many others don’t think the continent will meet the rest of the world in 2020 on 10Gbps connections.

Make no mistake though it will inevitably happen because as more people hop on to 3G connections their connectivity needs will change and the experiences they may require will need the benefits 5G brings with it.

When 5G does begin to rollout it will more than likely be done to address very specific African needs and use cases.

Being the eternal optimists we are, we can live with this “delay” because it has the potential to usher in the development of innovations that might be overlooked by the rest of the world, but would be crucial to the progression of the African continent and its people.

[Image – CC BY/2.0 Richard Allaway]


Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.