Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


AfricaCom Survey: 5G investment should be operators' top priority

Article Image
Given the size of the contribution the mobile industry makes to the sub-Saharan African economy, it could be argued that the region's businesses and enterprises have more at stake in the future evolution of network technology than anywhere else in the world. It was therefore not surprising that when AfricaCom's annual Insights Survey asked which technologies telcos should be investing their money into over the next year, 5G came out on top with almost 29% of the vote.

This, however, was tempered by a touch of realism about how soon African businesses and consumers would gain access to the benefits of 5G. While just under a third (30%) were confident that the first commercial rollouts of 5G would be seen on the continent in 2020, almost a quarter (23%) believed there would be no launches at all before 2023. A majority (54%) certainly feel 5G will not be widespread across the majority of the continent before that date.

In actual fact, Africa has already seen its first commercial 5G service launch -- a feat claimed by South African data-only mobile network operator Rain in February 2019. It was by most measures a fairly limited launch, comprising a handful of service areas in Johannesburg. But working with Chinese infrastructure giant Huawei, Rain has expressed its ambition to adapt its current 4G/LTE network to allow for rapid rollout in other major cities later this year and into 2020.

Rain's focus is on using 5G to provide fixed wireless access (FWA) Internet services to homes and businesses. Given the fact that fixed broadband penetration is below 2% across large swathes of Africa, FWA is forecast to be a major driver of early 5G adoption.

However, there are not many parts of Africa that can follow the Rain model and build out 5G capabilities on existing 4G/LTE infrastructure, because 4G penetration itself remains low -- accounting for just 7% of mobile connections -- compared to a global average of 44%. While that leaves room for 4G to continue to grow rapidly -- and the 4G subscriber base has been roughly doubling every year -- it is perhaps a surprise that ongoing investment in 4G networks is not viewed as more of a priority within the industry. Just shy of 14% of the survey respondents felt that is where operators should be focusing their investment efforts.

Instead, the participants felt that analytics and big data (27%) and mobile finance platforms (19%) presented better options for telco investment. With traditional banking and financial services beyond the reach of millions of African residents, mobile money services have boomed, offering everything from deposit accounts to insurance to lending.

There were just under 400 million registered mobile money account users in Africa at the end of 2018, a global high and a figure that grew 14% from the previous year. What is interesting about the African mobile money market is that it is still largely text-based and therefore distinct from the smartphone app-based FinTech markets enjoying rapid growth in Asia and elsewhere across the globe.

This is partly to do with low smartphone penetration amongst African consumers, and partly because, up until recently, pre-data 2G networks have continued to dominate mobile service availability -- 3G is only predicted to overtake 2G this year.

With such a large and expanding user base already tuned in to mobile money services, operators would no doubt love to cash in with a broader range of data-based FinTech services.

Read the full results of AfricaCom's 2019 Insights Survey here, including African tech and telecoms investment priorities, opinion on the impact of AI in Africa, the most in-demand tech and telecoms skills for 2020 and much more.

AfricaCom 2019 takes place in Cape Town, South Africa from November 12-14.
AfricaCom 2019 takes place in Cape Town, South Africa from November 12-14.

Gabriella Jeakins, Content & Communities Lead, Informa Tech.

Innovation hub


InDrive enters Zimbabwe's Bulawayo

Ride-sharing platform InDrive is expanding its services to Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo after successfully introducing its services in the capital of Harare in May this year.


Five African healthtech startups to watch

Connecting Africa has compiled a list of five African healthtech startups that have been making an impact in the lives of the communities they serve and are worth keeping an eye on in 2023.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Sponsored video

More videos

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Africa Tech Perspectives


The 100 most influential African leaders in 2023

A new report from Africa Tech Festival and Connecting Africa puts a spotlight on the top 100 African leaders in the telecoms and technology sector in 2023.


Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.


Challenges and opportunities for women's tech careers

A new survey reveals that COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, skills shortages and a lack of mentorship have negatively affected women's career development over the past two years.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Upcoming events

Nextv Series Africa
October 4-5, 2023
Hotel Sky Sandton, Johannesburg
Africa Tech Festival, Home of AfricaCom and AfricaTech
November 13-16, 2023
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Flash poll

All polls

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: August 2023

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in August 2023 in the Middle East and Africa included a commercial 5G launch from Ethio Telecom and the signing of a virtual wheeling agreement between Vodacom South Africa and Eskom – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: February 2023

By Omdia Analysts

In February 2023 key events in the Middle East and Africa included a major Internet project for Africa's underserved by Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Microsoft as well as a 5G launch in Tanzania – that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up
Tag id I-0000192