As nations across Africa embrace the digital age, the development of mobile networks holds immense potential to bridge socioeconomic gaps, foster economic growth, and improve the quality of life for millions. In this article, we explore the development of mobile networks in Africa, the challenges faced, and the opportunities new technologies bring.

The Mobile Revolution: From 2G to 5G

The evolution of mobile networks started with basic voice calls on 2G, progressing through to 3G and 4G, which both brought faster data connections and internet access. Now, we're at the beginnings of the 5G era, promising even more capabilities and faster connectivity. 

In 2020, South Africa made a substantial impact on the telecommunications landscape by launching Africa’s first 5G network with Liquid Telecom South Africa. Since then, 5G coverage has increased to around 20% of the population. 

As of today, approximately twelve nations within the region have initiated the deployment of operational 5G services. These countries include Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Malawi, Nigeria, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Notably, Egypt and Ghana will launch their own commercial 5G network later this year.

5G development in Africa © Omnitele 2023

  • Botswana: Botswana’s Mascom and Orange have launched 5G services to residents of the capital Gaborone and Francistown, covering about 30% of the country’s population.
  • Gabon: Since Gabon started testing 5G technology in November 2019, its Gabon Telecom is yet to go commercial. Gabon Telecom’s CEO has stated that they are targeting 2023. 
  • Kenya: Safaricom and Airtel rolled out 5G in 2022. Airtel 5G connection is based on a sub-6 GHz frequency band. Sub-6 GHz signals can travel longer distances and penetrate obstacles like buildings and walls more effectively. 
  • Mauritius: Emtel covers 60% of the Mauritian population and plans to have full coverage all over the country by 2024.
  • Nigeria: Airtel launched 5G services in September last year. It currently uses the 3.5 GHz band, while the spectrum in the 2.6 GHz band will be utilized to boost the telco’s network capacity. The initial plan is to cover the cities of Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
  • Zimbabwe: In 2022, Zimbabwe’s Econet announced that it had launched the country’s first 5G network and would continue to expand. Econet partnered with Ericsson to deploy 5G in the capital Harare.  The partnership will provide faster connections of up to ten times the speed of 4G technology.
5G Status in Africa © Omnitele 2023

Network challenges in the region

Despite the 5G rollouts, about 70% of Africans only have access to 2G/3G networks. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 3G technology occupies 55% of the market for mobile telecommunication, whereas 2G and 4G occupy 22 percent each, and 5G only about one percent. It is predicted that by 2025, 5G will account for 4% of total connections in the region.

One of the key challenges is establishing the necessary infrastructure to ensure equitable access for all, particularly in remote areas where over fifty percent of the population resides. This is difficult because of the intricacies of navigating regulatory frameworks, spectrum allocation, cybersecurity and the socioeconomic challenge. Approximately 431 million people live below the 1.90 USD per-day poverty line and the majority of people remain unable to afford 4G-capable devices. 

Driving Economic Growth and Innovation

In Africa, mobile has a greater reach than any other network technology, making it an important enabler of social and economic progress in the region. Mobile connections are cheaper and do not require the infrastructure that is needed for traditional desktop PCs with fixed-line internet connections. By the end of 2022, there were more than 1.2 billion connections and over 650 million unique mobile users.  

Mobile networks are driving transformation across sectors. They are catalysts for economic growth and innovation: from fintech solutions that enable digital payments and financial inclusion to telemedicine platforms that bring healthcare to remote areas. Entrepreneurs and developers are leveraging these networks to create products and solutions tailored to African needs, harnessing the power of mobile technology to solve local challenges.

With 4G adoption still growing and significant unused 4G capacity, the focus for operators in Africa in the near term will be on increasing 4G uptake. This involves strategies to make 4G devices more affordable and the provision of relevant digital content to drive demand for enhanced connectivity. 

How can Omnitele help?

Omnitele offers quick and precise insights to support strategic decision making. We have supported our customers from 2G to 5G in defining the Radio Access Network strategies all over the world. Key areas we can support are Network design, planning, optimisation and Benchmarking with details analysis. We can help maximise CAPEX/Investment plan to ensure best results for money spend with best Quality.

We work closely with our clients to understand their unique needs and design custom solutions that meet their requirements. Whether you need to build a new private network from scratch or upgrade your existing infrastructure, we can help you take advantage of the benefits of 5G. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you build a better network.

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