Exponential technology advances to fuel African prosperity in the next decade
The technology industry seldom stands still, and it always seems as if the next big thing is just around the corner. Indeed, technology is advancing at an astonishing rate because of a principle known as ‘accelerating change’, whereby the rate of change in technologies tends to increase at an exponential rate.
This is a product of how each technological advance lays the groundwork for the next generation of innovations and new, better technologies to be developed and deployed faster. It’s also a result of how Africa’s adoption of new technologies is accelerating as well as due to the multiplier effect of numerous technologies interacting to create powerful new applications.
Technology step changes
Consider, for example, how rapidly chip speeds and cost-effectiveness are improving. In the 1960s, computers were so big, heavy and expensive that only a handful of the biggest companies could afford them. Today, each of us carries a smartphone that can not only fit in our pocket, but which is exponentially more powerful than the guidance computer used for the Apollo moon landing.
But it’s not just the processing power and memory that makes your smartphone such a powerful device. It’s the way that it interacts with GSM networks, the internet, and services and applications in the cloud to enable you to communicate with people everywhere in the world, access nearly all human knowledge, and carry out a range of work and personal tasks–wherever you are.
Technologies also become more powerful as more people use them because of the network effect. Again, we’re seeing change at an exponential rate. The telephone took 75 years to reach 100 million users, the mobile phone reached it in 16 years, WhatsApp in three and a half years, and ChatGPT in just two months.
But the technology industry is only just getting started, and African countries and organisations need to start preparing for the next game-changing set of technologies such as generative artificial intelligence (AI), advanced robots, and the Internet of Things. These technologies are combining to cataylse a fourth industrial revolution.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a transformative technological leap characterised by the fusion of digital, physical, and biological systems. It encompasses technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, 3D printing, the cloud and advanced materials, among others, and it is reshaping various aspects of society, industry, and governance.
Wireless technology—foundational to 4IR
Wireless and mobile technologies are key to ushering in this new age of growth and innovation. Rapid advances in the GSM and Wi-Fi standards have transformed our lives over the past 20 years. The 5G GSM standard is only just going mainstream—creating a wealth of exciting new applications—and the industry is already talking about 6G.
As for Wi-Fi, the standard received major updates in 2019 with the release of Wi-Fi 6 and in 2020 with the release of Wi-Fi 6E. Wi-Fi 6 and 6E (11ax) pushed wireless data speeds to 9.6Gbps, a significant boost over the 6.8 Gbps offered by Wi-Fi 5. Now, even though Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E are only just gathering traction, the Wi-Fi Alliance and vendors are preparing for Wi-Fi 7 (11be) in 2024.
Chipset manufacturers, networking equipment manufacturers and device makers are already getting set for the new standard. At MediaTek, for example, our MediaTek Filogic series of high performance, power-efficient and reliable Wi-Fi systems-on-chip (SOCs) support great user experiences for heavily trafficked network environments and real-time applications. They are ready for Wi-Fi 7 integration into notebooks, routers and other equipment as soon as the standard is certified.
What are the benefits going to be?
The most basic benefit of Wi-Fi 7 is that it will provide much faster wireless networking speeds compared to previous versions. This brings the wireless standard much closer to the performance of Ethernet cables and will let users enjoy the full benefit of high-speed broadband with quicker file downloads.
Another benefit is that Wi-Fi 7 networks will be able to handle more connected devices simultaneously without slowing down. This is crucial for large businesses, airports, hotels and other environments where numerous people connect to the wireless network at once. Wi-Fi 7 should also reduce delay or lag in internet connections for real-time applications like video conferencing and online gaming.
For some users, the question will be whether Wi-Fi 7 is truly necessary since many companies and homes have only recently upgraded to Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi6E. The reality is that the technology won’t be on the radar for most enterprises or consumers until late 2024 or 2025. But it’s also important for chipset manufacturers and OEMs to be preparing for next generation applications.
While Wi-Fi will deliver some benefit for everyday applications, the standard is vital in preparing for the future. We are in early phases of adopting applications like 8K video, augmented and virtual reality, and cloud gaming—but once adoption ramps up, these experiences will put today’s networks under major strain. Wi-Fi is a crucial enabler for these applications.
As the world’s larger supplier of Wi-Fi solutions, MediaTek has worked closely with the Wi-Fi Alliance to get ready for this change. Our latest Filogic 880 platforms are among one of the first to market with Wi-Fi 6 Release 2 readiness. These enhancements will allow Wi-Fi to retain the scalability required for the future, increasing adoption of use cases, even when there are strict latency and reliability requirements.
Wireless innovation never stands still
Wi-Fi 7 isn’t just about meeting current demands but also laying a foundation for tomorrow’s innovative applications and experiences. As with any new technology adoption, Wi-Fi 7 will be a step-by-step process. Wi-Fi 7-enabled equipment will be backwards compatible with previous versions, allowing users to climb on board when they believe that they will benefit from the tech.
Wi-Fi 7 access points and routers will be adopted first by the biggest operators. In the enterprise segments, adoption will start with flagship/high-end devices servicing those most in need of extreme performance, coverage and capacity, before shifting to mainstream devices towards the second half of 2024. By the end of 2025, it's expected Wi-Fi 7 devices will be everywhere.
Wi-Fi 7 will be a key technology for 4IR, providing an opportunity for African countries to integrate into the digital economy. There will be challenges to resolve, such as the impact of automation on existing jobs and the need for regulators and the legal system to keep up with the pace of change. But companies and countries can look ahead to a new age of growth and progress.
As 4IR unfolds, we will see rapid development in areas such as mobile banking, telemedicine, renewable energy distribution, and entrepreneurship. It will also help create a wealth of new jobs, facilitate interconnection with the global economy through digital trade and e-commerce, and enable Africa to leapfrog old tech and drive innovation.