African 5G networks roll out, but network deployment hurdles remain

5G was a hot topic at the recent AfricaCom, with industrial enterprises cited as early users. But wide geographical coverage is still at least several years away. Here's what industry insiders said about the promise of 5G and hurdles to network implementation.

5G light trails
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5G mobile technology will spur innovation and enable businesses in sub-Saharan Africa to optimise operations and offer new services, but widespread network deployment and application implementation are still at least a few years away.

That was the word at the recent AfricaCom conference, the biggest tech conference on the continent, which took place as a virtual event earlier this month. 5G was one of the main topics, and while a range of telecommunications executives forecast big things for the next generation mobile technology standard  — initially for manufacturing and industry applications — there was also a great deal of caution around timelines for implementation.

The discussions at the conference made it abundantly clear that a lot of work still needs to be done before the ground-breaking technology fulfils its vast potential. 5G comprises a set of standards and technologies designed to enable transmission speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G. Service providers throughout the continent are currently running a few 5G networks, from which they are drawing important data and research. But most are essentially pilot projects, or if they have been commercially deployed, are still in their infancy and have not had widespread uptake by users — either enterprises or consumers.

Widespread 5G use is 4-5 years away

Speakers at AfricaCom projected that it would be at least four or five years until widespread 5G connectivity was available for Africans. The forecasts were not that much different than those heard at last year's AfricaCom conference.

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