To accelerate 5G in Africa, regulatory frameworks governing critical wireless backhaul spectrum, E-band (70-80 GHz), needs to be put on the agenda swiftly.

This was the call made by ICT experts at the 6th Annual Sub Sahara Spectrum Management Conference which took place virtually.

For data to move from one point to another on the internet, there needs to be a medium that allows these points to interface with each other. Wireless backhaul is the use of wireless communication, such as microwave, to transport data between the wireless site and core. It’s a key component to connect a device to the internet.

A combination of high capacity and low latency makes E-band (70-80 GHz) ideal for high capacity backhaul.

“Africa currently experiences a coverage gap of 25% and achieving terrestrial universal access is dependent on the development of two hundred and fifty thousand new 4G base stations,” says Stephen Spengler, CEO of Intelsat and board chairman for ESOA. “Microwave backhaul represents a fundamental tool to be able to extend the advantages of 5G networks to all areas of the world.”

Having demonstrated clear technical advantages in 5G backhaul construction globally, E-band spectrum has been allocated in 86 countries, including eight in Africa.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), for example, started E-Band regulatory planning in 2015 with amendments for use of these bands coming into force in 2016. Nigeria is also amongst the first countries in Africa to open up 70/80GHz spectrum to support terrestrial service providers for short backhauling.

“E-band enables Nigeria’s backhaul network to evolve to the 4G & 5G era. The release of E-band is a very important step to accelerate Nigeria’s ICT development and enable more people to enjoy digital service,” says engineer Joseph Emeshili, head of spectrum planning at the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Industry insights show more than 85% of base stations in Africa use microwave for backhaul while eight carriers provisioned 5G services. Alongside the rollout of 5G in Africa, microwave backhaul is playing an increasingly important role as an essential component to 5G network infrastructure in the continent.

“The E-band and 5G RAN spectrum planning prior to 5G is essential for the development of ICT in Africa especially as network densification and planning for (dense) urban network development advances,” says Shu Peijizxcvan, director of wireless and core network for Huawei Southern Africa Region.