5G network roll-out in Africa Continues but Pricey Devices Impede Adoption

Image by ADMC from Pixabay

In the US the major wireless carries started slowly rolling out 5G networks to parts of select cities in 2019. By the December 2021, they expected to fully activate their 5G networks, but delays ensued due to concerns about possible interface with certain instruments on commercial aircraft. With all the advertising the big three (AT&T, T-Mobile & Verizon) US wireless carriers have been pushing out about 5G it is hard to realized there are still other parts of the world that are not using 5G as much.

The adoption of the fifth generation (5G) mobile network in regions like North America, Gulf Cooperation Council and Western Europe has been relatively slow, but its uptake is expected to reach over 80% by 2027 against the backdrop of increasing 5G smartphone use.

On the other hand, in Africa, where 5G adoption is slowest in the world, 5G mobile subscriptions are expected to hit just 10% in the same comparative period, according to the latest Ericsson mobility report.

For those not familiar, the Gulf Cooperation Council is a regional, intergovernmental, political, and economic union comprising of six countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

…the bulk of smartphone shipments into Africa focuses on 4G support, in a continent where a majority (43%) are still using 3G devices.

According to the IDC, 5G devices accounted for 7.6% of smartphone shipments (although it grew slightly from the previous quarter) into Africa in the second quarter of this year, which is miniscule when compared to 3G and 4G devices, which accounted for 18.5% and 73.9%, respectively.

In the US, most carries have already shuttered their 3G networks with Verizon expected to be the last carrier to fully shutdown by the end of 2022. On the other hand 4G/4G LTE networks are expected to continue operating until 2030. Which may comes to shock to those in the US with the way the carriers were shoving 5G down our throats. We’d think they had already planned on phasing out 4G/4G LTE much sooner. Meanwhile South Africa does not expect to phase out 3G networks until March of 2025.

Devices (phones) can be expensive. In the US a basic (One Plus Nord N200) Android 5G capable phone is going to cost around $200 USD. On the other end of the spectrum is the Apple iPhone starting around $800 USD and going much higher depending on memory. Okay, these prices may not seem that bad for those in the US. After all, those loyal to Apple have no issues getting the latest and greatest shiny new iPhone every year or two. To be fair though, most US carriers offer incentives for existing (and new) customers to commit to a two-year ‘contract’ in exchange for trading-in their older device. This allows them to get that shiny new phone for a hefty discount or even free as long as they don’t cancel their service within the 2-years.

Now, consider the estimated monthly median income in Africa is around $758 USD. On the higher end South Africa averages $2088 USD with Sudan at the low end with $82 USD.  In the US the 2021 average annual median income was around $71K USD or $5900 USD monthly. It is understandable why people in Africa are not adopting 5G devices even as the infrastructure to support said devices continues to expand. Further, the phones are more expensive in Africa as well. The price of the basic iPhone 14 in South Africa is around ZAR 15,990 or around $869 USD which is about 42% of the monthly median income in South Africa compared to about 14% in the US. The Nord N200 is around ZAR 4000 or $218 USD in South Africa. I am not certain if African carriers offer the same ‘trade-in’ incentives as those in the US.

The article does expand further into discussing that the bigger adoption of 5G in Africa is going to be for Internet service more so than mobile phones. 5G Internet is still being rolled out across of the US by the big three carriers. It is being marketed as an alternative to the monopoly most US customers face when it comes to broadband Internet with having a choice of one or two local ISP’s in their area. There have been claims in regards to 5G Internet that during peak times since users are sharing bandwidth with others in their area speeds can slow dramatically. While T-Mobile does offer 5G Home Internet in my area, I have yet to try it and am not certain if I will at this house. Given the size and layout of this house I’d suspect I would need to invest in extenders and also my main PC is on a hardwired connection (it does support Wi-Fi, but it is a ways from our Wi-Fi router).

I am not sure which is more surprising: the slow adoption in North America or the majority of Africa will continue using 4G or even 3G? I suppose what they mean by slow adoption is being 5G was first introduced in North America 2019, but really only has gained momentum this year.

via Tech Crunch