As 5G networks have started rolling out across the world and the first 5G smartphones get announced, Mister Mobility takes a look at the state of 5G networks in Africa. 5G refers to the next generation of mobile technology after 4G. It offers much faster speeds and a more robust service than older mobile technologies.
5G has the potential to deliver 20 Gbps in theory, which is about 20 times faster than 4G. 4G LTE has a theoretical maximum speed of 1 Gbps. Simply put, 5G provides faster browsing, downloads, and uploads.
Note though that the same way you have never clocked 1 Gbps in download on a 4G network, you will not clock 20 Gbps on a 5G network. That is because theoretical maximum speeds are never matched in real life. That is because there are a number of factors affecting real speeds.
There are not yet many commercial 5G networks in the world yet. The world’s first commercial 5G network was launched in Qatar in May 2018, followed by 5G networks in Finland and Estonia a month after.
Where are the 5G devices?
The same way there are not a lot of 5g networks active yet, there are not a lot of compatible devices available in the market yet. The first 5G smartphones have been announced this year. They include: Samsung Galaxy S10 X and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G. We are also expecting a 5G variant of the Nokia 9 PureView, alongside other phones from different manufacturers.
As you can imagine, not only are 5G smartphones still as rare as the black leopard, the available devices are top of the range and so are also very expensive. Not a lot of people will be getting their hands on those soon.
MTN’s CEO is reported to have said that Africa is not ready yet for 5G. And he is largely correct. While 5G deployment can be made more affordable by sharing existing facilities, capacity is costly, and 5G smartphones are as expensive as they are rare.
Most of the early 5G deployment will happen via mifis and routers, which tend to cost much less than smartphones. Looking at patterns from previous years, we expect to see 5G mifis from Huawei and ZTE.
List of 5G networks in Africa (updated 2022)
The following are the available commercial 5G networks in Africa as at September 2022:
- Vodacom Lesotho: Launched in August 2018.
- Rain South Africa: Launched in February 2019. Rain has about twenty 5G bases stations operational in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Further expansion work is in progress.
- Vodacom South Africa
- MTN South Africa
- ECONET Zimbabwe
- Mascon Botswana
- MTN Nigeria
- Ethio Telecom Ethiopia
MTN South Africa was an early tester of 5G and clocked about 20 Gbps maximum speed. However, MTN South Africa has only a temporary 5G license solely for the purpose of conducting trials. It will need to acquire a proper license to provide commercial 5G services.
In Nigeria, while MTN 5G is now available in several cities, the telecom regulator granted an extension to 5G licencee, Mafab, to roll out commercial 5G services in the country. This means, that Mafab 5G is expected to go live in January 2023. For now, there are only eight (8) commercial 5G networks in Africa. It isn’t likely that we will see a widespread deployment of 5G networks across the continent really soon.
Do you need a 5G smartphone yet?
Considering that 5G networks are still oases, if you are the average mobile subscriber, you really do not need a 5G smartphone yet. However, if you live and work within the few available areas having 5G networks in Africa or elsewhere and can afford to spend $1,000 and above on a smartphone, feel free to splurge on one.
You will be one of the exclusive few humans in the world to own a 5G phone and experience insane browsing and download speeds.
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Way back from the days of EPOC, Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems, founder of MobilityArena, Mister Mobility, has owned a few hundred smartphones and tablets, and counting.