By Elvis Eromosele
The arrival of 5G networks is considered a significant leap forward in terms of technological advancement, and it is expected to transform the way we communicate, do business, and live our lives. With faster internet speeds and lower latency, businesses in Africa stand to benefit greatly from this new technology.
According to the GSMA, the global trade association for mobile network operators, the deployment of 5G networks will have a significant impact on businesses in Africa, particularly in the areas of healthcare, education, and agriculture. “5G has the potential to transform many aspects of African society, including agriculture, education, and healthcare, with transformative benefits for the economy and society as a whole,” said Akinwale Goodluck, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa at the GSMA.
One area that is expected to benefit greatly from the arrival of 5G networks in Africa is healthcare. With 5G, medical professionals can use remote monitoring tools to keep an eye on their patient’s health in real time. “The arrival of 5G networks will allow for greater access to remote healthcare services, enabling doctors to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs and health data in real-time,” said Kalebaila Kehinde, Research Manager at International Data Corporation (IDC).
The education sector is another area that is expected to benefit from the arrival of 5G in Africa. With faster internet speeds and lower latency, students will be able to access online resources and educational materials more quickly and easily. “5G will make it easier for students to access online resources and participate in online learning,” said Nnamdi Oranye, Founder and CEO of the Center for Economic and Leadership Development.
In addition, the deployment of 5G networks is expected to have a significant impact on the agriculture sector in Africa. With 5G, farmers can use precision agriculture tools to monitor crop health and soil moisture levels in real time. “5G will enable farmers to access real-time data on soil moisture levels, crop health, and weather conditions, allowing them to make more informed decisions about when to plant, harvest, and irrigate their crops,” said Kehinde.
However, the deployment of 5G networks in Africa faces several challenges, including limited infrastructure and high costs. According to Goodluck, “The cost of deploying 5G networks in Africa is high, and there are significant infrastructure challenges that need to be addressed.”
For starters, 5G networks require a huge amount of infrastructure, such as base stations, fibre-optic cables, and antennas. Significant investment will be needed to build the necessary infrastructure to support 5G networks.
Also to deploy 5G networks, sufficient spectrum needs to be available. Governments in Africa are already conducting auctions to allocate the appropriate spectrum for 5G, and then allow operators to access it. Pilots and commercial trials are also ongoing in many places.
In Nigeria, the three 5G licensees pay over $700 million to the government coffers.
Of course, it is equally important to consider the adoption rate of 5G which is expected to be low in the short term. This initial lack of demand could deter investment. So, there may need for education and awareness campaigns to promote the benefits of 5G.
GSMA in a report titled “5G Africa: Realising The Potential” indicates that 5G will contribute $26 billion to Africa’s economy by 2030. This is a humongous amount. It is equally expected to account for 20 per cent of mobile connections in the continent by 2030.
To drive adoption efforts are underway to develop locally relevant 5G use cases.
Despite these challenges, several African countries have already begun to deploy 5G networks. In South Africa, for example, Vodacom launched Africa’s first commercial 5G service in May 2020. “We are proud to be the first to bring 5G technology to Africa and are excited about the potential that it holds for our customers and the country as a whole,” said Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group.
In Nigeria, MTN pioneered 5G mobile services in 2022 and was followed by Mafab which launched in January 2023. Airtel has recently acquired the 5G licence and is expected to launch the service soon.
President Muhammadu Buhari said during the launch in Abuja, “The national policy includes a deployment plan to ensure that major cities across the country benefit from 5G technologies. It also seeks to make 5G a major driver of our economy, a catalyst for smart cities in the country and a platform for the creation of jobs that support our digital economy.” The hope is inspiring.
Undoubtedly, the arrival of 5G networks in Africa has the potential to transform many aspects of African society, particularly in the areas of healthcare, education, and agriculture. While there are challenges, the potential benefits
is driving investments.
With several African countries already deploying 5G networks, the potential benefits for businesses and society as a whole are significant. As Akinwale Goodluck noted, “With the right policies and investment, Africa can harness the power of 5G to drive economic growth and social development.”
This is the expectation.
Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.