We are tremendously excited about 5G and the potential it has to shape the future of connectivity.

However, our excitement is often subdued by the nonchalant approach to implementation of 5G in Africa by regulators and governments.

While we are aware that there are procedures that need to be followed we are also aware that Africans want better lives because, well, who doesn’t?

In a report (PDF) published by Ericsson and the Council for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) the pair look at 5G and how it will impact African economies among other aspects of the technology.

At time of writing Ericsson is confident that by 2023, Africans will be ready for or be making use of 5G connectivity.

Mobile has proven vital for connectivity in Africa

Africa has embraced mobile connectivity greatly in recent years and that trend is set to continue.

Ericsson estimates that mobile subscriptions in Africa have been growing at a compound annual growth rate of 5 percent between 2017 and 2023. By the end of that period it is estimated that mobile subscriptions will amount to over 900 million.

Technology such as 5G then is perfect for Africa where faster speed, greater capacity and improved latency are in demand but solutions such as fiber connectivity are not viable given the cost.

Regarding economic benefits, broadband penetration has been linked to economic growth for some time now. Ericsson and CSIR say that over a ten year period “broadband investment” can lead to 400 000 jobs being created and $8 billion contribution to the gross domestic product of a country.

The GSMA estimates that an increase in penetration of mobile data results in a minimum annual GDP increase of at least 0.5 percent.

But this economic growth hinges on four key requirements:

  • access to broadband must reach a critical mass of a country’s population
  • access must be affordable
  • skills must be developed to optimise broadband services for personal and business use
  • skills that exploit the potential of broadband must be developed

Assuming all of these requirements are met and we have regulators on board, will 5G fast track this or give us similar economic growth compared to tech like 4G?

The train of thought says that 5G allows for the creation of new markets, that the tech can transform industries. As a result of that mobile network operators can improve their product offering. Folks are making more money, spending said money at network operators which in turn leads to them paying more tax and ultimately growing the GDP.

Ericsson reports that 5G-enabled industry digitalisation market opportunities could contribute an additional 36 percent in revenue by 2026.

That doesn’t mean we should sit and wait for 5G to arrive.

Foundation phase

African countries should start laying the foundation to make use of all the benefits 5G brings with it when it becomes available. 5G is network technology, it doesn’t magically put smart meters in every home or teach digital literacy.

Governments in Africa should work with industry players, businesses and non-government organisations to increase digital literacy. After all, what good is having a 5G network if nobody can make use of it?

This is an opportunity for organisations to get involved and help out with education and training which in turn helps grow the economy and the people contributing to it so that when 5G arrives it can be used to its full potential.

The keyword there is potential. 5G has the potential to improve economies but potential is nothing without action.

Governments must start exploring how ICT and emerging tech like 5G can be used to improve services.

We love the prospect of 5G and what it enables but what we really need to see is governments around Africa looking to the future and planning how it will use this emerging technology to its advantage.

A paragraph in a State of the Nation address or a flashy conference means nothing without action and that’s what we’d like to see more of.

5G is coming and if countries and by extension companies aren’t ready to maximise the potential it offers all we’re really going to have is faster internet.

 

[Image – CC BY 2.0 tableatny]
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.