IDC’s Oluwole Babatope takes a realistic look at the value 5G can bring to Africa


Will Africa benefit fully from 5G despite its lack of connectivity and limited infrastructure?

For the past few years, 5G has been a buzzword promising to revolutionalise the lives of businesses and consumers, delivering better connectivity and communication, self-driving cars, virtual reality and more. With the many challenges Africa has, there are still ways the technology can still usher in benefit.

Oluwole Babatope, a Senior Research Analyst at IDC West Africa, says that 5G in Africa goes far beyond hype.

“It’s genuinely a value-add as it can solve several consumer and business challenges,” he adds. “All pre-5G mobile broadband technologies have limitations regarding network capacity, spectral efficiency, latency, and more. On the other hand, 5G is well-positioned to ameliorate concerns around the inefficiencies of previous mobile broadband generations.”

Upon closer look, many technical issues are in fact not linked to the technology itself but rather to network coverage, network capacity as well as technology deployment. Each issue can be resolved individually by removing the fundamental occurrence, regardless of where it lies, be it in fixed or mobile connectivity deployments.

“Service providers can also leverage 5G to enable business support services like the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), and software-defined wide area networking (SDWAN),” adds Oluwole. “This is the time for service providers to look for gaps in experiences created by 4G limitations thanks to network capacity or latency, for example, and to propose 5G solutions. There are immense benefits interlocked with 5G innovations.”

One of the key benefits of 5G is higher broadband speeds although providers should caution against positioning the technology as ultra-fast broadband. This is because when compared to 4G networks and WiFi, there may not be a sizeable difference, depending on a few technicalities. What makes 5G stand head-and-shoulders above the others is the services it can deliver, curated experiences, and the network’s ability to create improvements that can stretch beyond connectivity.

“For the organisation, 5G has the potential to advance their digital initiatives because the technology can drive agility and innovation,” says Oluwole. “They can leverage its tools and capabilities to improve customer experiences, transform business processes and redefine business models. It hands enterprises a competitive advantage when it comes to digital transformation, and to embed the foundations of mobility, cloud computing, analytics, and social media.”

Companies cannot afford to ignore 5G’s potential as an innovation accelerator that enables and drives disruption with competitive value at its forefront. Otherwise, this may lead to them losing an advantage in saturated markets and being unable to deliver cutting-edge customer experiences. This may lead to an increased customer churn rate, a loss in market share and a higher investment in differentiation with competitors.

“Currently, 5G is nascent in Africa and most service providers are neck-deep in maximising returns in 4G investments,” says Oluwole.

“However, in the short to medium term, 5G will be targeted as the next frontier for mobile broadband growth. This means that service providers need to proactively create the blueprint for seamless 5G migration. They need to consider other legacy technologies and partner with vendors that show an excellent understanding of their proposed network strategic direction. And the business? Well, this is a good time to pay attention to ensure longevity and innovation.”

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