Opinion: Is 5G genuine value-add for the African Continent?
The arrival of 5G in Africa has been headlining for a while, promising improved connectivity and communication, driverless cars and so much more. But on a continent where infrastructure is limited and many areas have no connectivity at all, it does make sense to ask whether 5G is of value here, right now. According to Oluwole Babatope, Senior Research Analyst, IDC West Africa, 5G in Africa is far more than 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-position to ameliorate concerns around the inefficiencies of previous mobile broadband generations.”
Many connectivity issues are technology agnostic – the challenges not introduced by the technology, but by network coverage, network capacity, and local nuances in technology deployment. These issues can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by isolating the root cause, whether in fixed or mobile connectivity deployments. For organisations, eyeing up 5G is not an exercise in expensive futility but rather an intelligent investment into enterprise solutions that allow for the creation of device ecosystems and smart platforms.
“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 Babatope. “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 first benefits is the obvious improvement in higher broadband speeds, but 5G service providers need to avoid positioning 5G as simply an ultra-fast broadband technology. This is because, depending on several technicalities, 4G networks and WiFi can be configured to deliver ultra-high speeds as well. The value proposition nestled within 5G is the services that can be delivered, the experiences that can be curated, and how the networks can create improvements that extend beyond connectivity.
“For the organisation, 5G has the potential to advance their digital initiatives because the technology can drive agility and innovation,” says Babatope. “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.”
As an innovation accelerator, 5G enables disruption and drives competitive value. Companies that ignore its potential can risk gaining an advantage in saturated markets and lose opportunities in delivering or creating exceptional experiences for customers. The result is the dreaded customer churn and loss, as well as increased spend as the company fights to gain a foothold where others have built mansions.
“Currently, 5G is nascent in Africa and most service providers are neck-deep in maximising returns in 4G investments,” concludes Babatope. “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.”