As the telecom world gradually embraces advanced technology, BizWatch Nigeria provides an insight into the state Fifth Generation (5G) deployment plan in selected countries in Africa
A tracking of major 5G deployment plans in Africa showed that less than 10 countries are making moves to deploy the technology that offers fast Internet access.
However, the GSM Association has estimated that there will be over 1 million mobile 5G connections in Sub Saharan Africa by the end of 2022 and 30 million connections by 2025.
Let us explore what’s happening in Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Mauritius and Kenya with regards to 5G testing, regulations, spectrum and commercialization.
- Regulator: Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)
- Spectrum Status: Spectrum to be auctioned in December 2021
- Key Spectrum: 3.5GHz
- Commercial Launch Prospects: MTN, Airtel plans commercial launch in 2022
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) plans to auction the 3.5 Gigahertz spectrum for the deployment of 5G technology on December 13.
This was after the spectrum trading guidelines had been reviewed and 5G trials had been conducted by MTN in the country.
The NCC also fixed a reserved price of $197.4 million or N75 billion for the spectrum.
The telecoms regulator also gave information, conditions, obligations, financial implication, timelines and other necessary details on the planned 3.5Ghz spectrum auction.
- Regulator: ICT Authority (ICTA)
- Spectrum Status: 5G spectrum licenses issued to three mobile operators – MyT Mobile, Emtel and Mahanagar Telecom – in June 2021
- Key Spectrum: 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz
- Commercial Launch Prospects: MyT Mobile launched 5G in July; Others have not launch
Mauritius telecoms regulator, ICT Authority (ICTA) in June this year issued 5G licences to three mobile operators.
However, Mauritius did not auction the licences but invited three mobile operators MyT Mobile, Emtel and Mahanagar Telecom to apply for radio spectrum that will be used to deploy 5G networks
A total of 300MHz of radio spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands was made available by the regulator.
Each operator was asked to specify its preferred frequency blocks and to state their commitments to network coverage.
The operators were also asked to disclose their timeframes for achieving specific percentages of network coverage for mainland Mauritius as well as the outer islands.
One month after issuing the licences, MyT Mobile launched its 5G services in Ebene, Trianon, Bagatelle, and Reduit regions of the country.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mauritius Telecom, Sherry Singh, stated that the operator is among the first to launch 5G in Africa.
“With the launch of the four MyT 5G Experience Zones, Mauritius Telecom is the first operator to deploy the 5th generation of mobile network in Mauritius,” he said in a press release.
- Regulator: Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)
- Spectrum Status: Temporary 5G licenses issued to operators till November 30, 2021
- Key Spectrum: 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz
- Commercial Launch Prospects: MTN, Vodacom and Rain have deployed non-standalone and commercial-standalone 5G networks
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in April 2021 released the emergency spectrum to meet the spike in broadband services demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The regulator said the high-demand spectrum was released in order to ease network congestion, maintain a good quality of broadband services, and enable licensees to lower the cost of access to consumers.
The ICASA had in the past four months engaged some operators in a legal battle over its spectrum auction process.
The parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement but so far, a comprehensive settlement has not been achieved.
Analysts believe this ongoing legal battle will delay spectrum licensing for 5G till 2022.
However, Vodacom and MTN used the temporary spectrums to deploy 5G services but as from December, the two operators will not have temporary spectrum to use.
Rain South Africa, a mobile broadband provider of data services, was allocated 30 MHz in the 2.6 GHz band. The operator deployed 5G data services to its customers in major centers in Cape Town and Johannesburg. It also signed a roaming agreement with Vodacom.
- Regulator: Communications Authority of Kenya (UCC)
- Spectrum Status: 5G spectrum will be auctioned by August 2022
- Key Spectrum: 3.5GHz
- Commercial Launch Prospects: Commercial launch of 5G planned for December 2022
The Communications Authority of Kenya is planning to issue 5G licenses to mobile network operators by December 2022.
According to a new draft policy outlining the 5G implementation road map, the regulator is planning to commence the 5G trial networks in 3.5 giga-Hertz (GHz) by December.
The regulator is also planning a 5G summit in January 2022 and the implementation of 5G pilot projects is expected to commence in May.
Safaricom already started 5G trial after unveiling 15 sites, with plans to increase the number to 200 by the end of 2021 in preparation for a commercial rollout.
Airtel also announced an upgrade of more than 600 sites with an aim of making them 5G ready.
- Regulator: Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC)
- Spectrum Status: Review of spectrum band in readiness for 5G
- Key Spectrum: None yet
- Commercial Launch Prospects: MTN Uganda conducted 5G trial
The UCC in consultation with the industry is reviewing spectrum band plans in preparation for 5G. The Ugandan government is working in collaboration with other stakeholders in the industry to establish the first technology test bed in the country.
The former Executive Director of the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), Godfrey Mutabazi, had said the commission was working to ensure that there is an appropriate infrastructure that supports 5G.
MTN Uganda in partnership with Chinese firm, ZTE last year January showcased a 5G standalone (SA) network under the 60 MHz spectrum bandwidth with an actual rate of more than 1.494 Gbps.
Why Is 5G Important?
Experts note that 5G technology is important to the fourth Industrial revolution and it will not portend well for Nigeria and the whole of Africa to be left behind.
Already, advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, Internet of Things, drone technology and augmented reality are being used to business processes and increase efficiency in different sectors of the economy.
However, experts note that the seamless application of these technologies could only be achieved with the support of the connectivity provided by 5G technology.
As businesses look to optimise their processes and increase efficiency, they said the technology could drive e-government, e-health, e-logistics and e-agriculture initiatives.
The GSMA had advised Nigeria and other countries in sub- Saharan Africa to utilise 5G to improve the critical areas of the economy.
Specifically, the report entitled, ‘Regional Spotlights: Impact of 5G mmWave,’ indicated that 5G technology, when applied to logistics, would reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of port operations.
Analysts at the GSMA said the technology would greatly impact transport logistics infrastructure such as in-land transport hubs and seaports as well as manufacturing, mining and agriculture sectors.