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The telecoms future for Africa

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The telecoms future for Africa

Kathy Gibson reports from AfricaCom in Cape Town – Africa probably doesn’t need to make huge investments in 5G, as 4G and LTE will more than likely suit its needs for the foreseeable future.
That’s the word from Mohamed Madkour, vice-president: wireless generation at Huawei, who says 4G is more than capable of running most of the services the African telcos are delivering to their customers.
There are a few use cases where 5G is necessary, he adds. “But initially, I don’t think that we need these services in Africa. For the next four or five years, LTE and the evolution of LTE will fit the continent’s requirements.”
The Internet of Things (IoT), for instance, can operate efficiently and cost-effectively on LTE.
A more relevant issue, he says, is the overall issue of broadband, and how mobile and fixed broadband can be employed to deliver services to citizens.
“There are many places in Africa where it’s not feasible to bring fibre. In these instances, WiFi can provide connectivity and extend services.”
But overall broadband takeoff is still being stymied, and governments in Africa need to take some steps to ensure people receive the benefits of connectivity.
The first step is to release spectrum. It needs to be technology- and application-agnostic, Madkour says. It needs to be released quickly, and plenty of it must be made available.
The second step is to determine where base stations should be located, and help operators to build them. Currently, says Madkour, Africa has just half the number of base stations as other emerging markets, so their numbers need to at least double just to keep up with emerging market peers.
Governments also need to facilitate and mobilise the delivery of services so people can see and feel the value of connectivity.
And they need to get involved in education, showing citizens how to use the Internet to see true value.
The African telecommunications market tends to have high operating costs (opex) and lower average revenue per user (ARPU), so operators are under more pressure to squeeze the most out of their network resources, he adds.
“This means they have to get more from the key services they deliver to their customers to ensure healthy profits,” says Madkour.
He adds that telcos shouldn’t lead with technology, but should first determine the services that will be most useful to customers, and then pick the technology that will help them to deliver them.