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Africa’s chance to leverage global mobile momentum

With an almost 300-fold increase in mobile data traffic globally since 2011 and uptake of 5G, Africa has an opportunity to tap into growth in mobile technology.

This is according to experts at Ericsson who unpacked the findings of the Ericsson Mobility Report 2021 this week.

The premise that 5G will become the fastest deployed mobile generation to date has been enhanced with an updated estimate of close to 660 million 5G subscriptions by the end of this year, the company stated.

It added that the increase is due to stronger than expected demand in China and North America, driven in part by decreasing prices of 5G devices. There was also a net addition of 98 million 5G subscriptions globally in Q3 2021, compared to 48 million new 4G subscriptions. At the end of 2021, it is estimated that 5G networks will cover more than two billion people.

According to the latest forecasts, 5G is on track to become the dominant mobile access technology, based on subscriptions globally, by 2027. 5G is also expected to account for around 50% of all mobile subscriptions worldwide – covering 75% of the world’s population and carrying 62% of the global smartphone traffic by 2027.

2022 – the year of 5G in Africa

5G technology offers a huge amount of potential to transform societies globally, but arguably this potential is greater in Africa than anywhere else.

This is according to Dan Craft, partner and MD at Forum Europe, who opened the organisation’s most recent Tech Policy Talk, hosted in conjunction with multinational telecommunications solutions firm Qualcomm.

This is the first Tech Policy Talk in the series of debates to focus on the Africa region. The session provided insight into how an enabling environment for deployment of 5G can be advanced by working cooperatively, and at the way forward to deliver a coordinated 5G strategy that is designed to meet the unique challenges and opportunities that 5G offers to the developing economies of Africa.

Craft said, “5G applications are not just valuable, they are essential and if harnessed in the right way, the capacity, the speed, the reliable connections that 5G can provide could be crucial in helping to realise the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 aspirations and also the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals.”

Elizabeth Migwalla, Senior Director, Government Affairs, Africa and the Middle East at Qualcomm, believes that 2022 will be the year of 5G in Africa. “Firstly, technical and global policy prerequisites have been fulfilled….at global level spectrum has been identified and harmonised to allow operators to access the full combination of low, mid and high band. Already, globally, there are sixty-eight 5G fixed wireless access providers in 32 countries, with projections to reach beyond 25% of global networks by 2026. For our scenarios in Africa, this wireless fibre clearly could be a game-changer.”

Nigeria has been identified by regulators and experts as pacesetter in Africa when it comes to preparation for 5G.

Executive vice chairman and CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, said, “I must admit there were misconceptions about the technology itself, especially during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Nigerians associated the technology with the pandemic. Some associated it with cancer and we had to really do a lot of sensitisation to convince Nigerians that the technology does not pose any health risk. The most important step that the Nigerian government took is unveiling the 5G deployment policy. This is the first time the government is approving a telecommunications policy for the telco sector in Nigeria… it shows how important the technology is, with approval of the policy, the NNC was mandated to implement the policy and do so immediately. We have identified spectrum that is going to be used for the deployment of 5G services.”

This week ITWeb Africa reported that the West African country has also set aside US$500,000 towards increased R&D for innovation and 5G technology focus.

Technology keeping up with change

Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks, Ericsson, said: “Mobile communication has had an incredible impact on society and business over the last ten years. When we look ahead to 2027, mobile networks will be more integral than ever to how we interact, live and work. Our latest Ericsson Mobility Report shows that the pace of change is accelerating, with technology playing a crucial role.”

Since 2011, the deployment of 4G LTE networks has been pivotal in generating 5.5 billion new smartphone connections worldwide, contributing to the market availability of more than 20,000 different 4G device models. This report indicates a much earlier technology lifecycle of 5G devices, with 5G handsets today accounting for 23 percent of global volumes, compared to 8 percent of 4G handsets at the corresponding point in its lifecycle.

This is helping to fuel an exponential growth of mobile data traffic.

Ericsson added that mobile network data traffic was up 42%, year-on-year, in Q3 2021 accounting for approximately 78 exabytes (EB), including traffic generated by Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services.

In Q3 alone, mobile data traffic was more than all mobile traffic ever generated up until the end of 2016. New forecasts reveal that total mobile network data traffic is likely to reach 370EB by the end of 2027.

The report also reveals that the nature of mobile connections is changing rapidly, contributing to the ongoing rise in mobile data traffic. Broadband IOT has now surpassed 2G/3G as the segment that connects the largest share of IOT applications. It is expected to account for 47% of all cellular IOT connections by the end of 2021, compared to 37% for 2G/3G and 16% for Massive IOT technologies (NB-IOT and Cat-M).

Ericsson predicts the rapid acceleration of massive IOT deployments in coming years, spanning use cases such as e-health wearables, logistical asset tracking, environmental monitoring and smart meters, and smart manufacturing tracking and monitoring devices.

Massive IOT deployments are forecast to account for 51% of all cellular IOT connections by 2027.

In the same forecast period, FWA connections are forecast to grow almost threefold - from 88 million by the end of 2021, to around 230 million in 2027. Almost half of these connections are expected to be carried over 5G networks.

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