5G technology is the fifth generation of mobile networks, promising higher data transfer speeds and low latency. While the majority of developed countries have embraced and started to benefit from 5G, its rollout in sub-Saharan Africa remains a distant dream. Global System of Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) reports that Nigeria has three licensees for 5G but only MTN has made any significant progress so far. GSMA forecasts that the country’s number of 5G connections will double over the next two years with 15 new networks likely by 2023. Similarly, India is expected to be a key player in driving further adoption for 5G in the region; four networks are projected to be deployed here by 2025. According to GSMA‘s Global Mobile Economy Report, the implementation of 5G technology could potentially add almost $1 trillion to the global economy by 2030 while becoming the dominant mobile technology globally by 2029. The report also suggests some potential benefits such as increased capacity and better device-to-device communication through private wireless networks which could contribute up to 20% of total enterprise revenues.
In order to roll out quickly and easily, telecom companies have been leveraging existing 4G/LTE infrastructure which is currently being used by many countries around the world. Standalone 5G networks are anticipated for 2023 onwards with this initiative likely bringing sizable financial and economic benefits not just for India but for many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa too, providing much needed impetus towards digital transformation in these regions. However, in comparison to the rest of the world, Africa is lagging behind due to lack of investment. Despite being home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, countries like Nigeria and Kenya have been unable to capitalize on this technology due to a variety of reasons such as inadequate infrastructure investments and insufficient spectrum available for mobile operators. Furthermore, due to the expensive nature of 5G devices, most people in these countries are unlikely to be able to benefit from it at the moment. This means that digital services such as e-commerce and healthcare which can help them manage their daily lives may remain inaccessible for a while longer. Thus, much needs to be done in order to ensure that sub-Saharan Africa does not remain an outlier when it comes to 5G implementation and its related advantages. Governments in this region should take the necessary steps by providing funds for infrastructure development, easing regulatory barriers, and encouraging private investments into the sector.