Fifth-generation (5G) cellular network rollout in regions such as North America, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Western Europe has been relatively slow, but as 5G smartphone usage increases, its adoption is expected to reach over 80% by 2027.
On the other hand, in Africa, where 5G adoption is the slowest in the world, 5G mobile subscriptions are expected to reach just 10% over the same reference period, according to Ericsson’s latest mobility report.
Some of the continent’s largest telcos — like Safaricom and MTN — are creating space for 5G growth by expanding infrastructure, but the low penetration of 5G devices, which remain unaffordable for many, stands in the way of mass adoption.
Most (80%) of handsets shipped to Africa in the second quarter of this year cost less than $200, according to International Data Corporation (IDC), an indicator of low spending power and confirmation that there is still some time to go for 5G Devices are within reach for the average smartphone user on the continent.
During the commercial rollout of its 5G network on Thursday, East Africa’s largest mobile network operator (MNO), Safaricom, said it was first prioritizing businesses and homes over the crowd due to the low penetration of 5G phones.
Safaricom is the dominant mobile network in Kenya and the parent company of M-Pesa, one of the largest mobile money platforms in the world. The company plans to tap into demand for high-speed internet from businesses and people working from home before rolling out plans for its subscribers later in the year. The company is also exploring regions outside of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi (where it hasn’t rolled out its fiber network) to boost its 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) subscriber base.
Safaricom chief executive officer (CEO) Peter Ndegwa said the approach was inspired by the low adoption of 5G handsets, as the operator only has 200,000 5G devices on its network, which is 0.5% of its 41 million subscribers.
“Adoption of 5G smartphones remains low, mainly due to the high cost of the devices. We will continue to work with our partners who sell or deliver devices and use our pay-as-you-go device financing solutions to make both 4G and 5G smartphones more affordable,” said Ndegwa.
While leading the rollout of 5G in Africa, MTN had only reached 200,000 of its 35 million subscribers in South Africa by the end of last year.
Expensive devices notwithstanding, expensive internet is also expected to make access more difficult for customers across Africa. Ethiopia, Botswana, Seychelles, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have rolled out a 5G network, while a number of other African countries including Egypt, Gabon, Lesotho and Ghana are still conducting trials.
Despite increasing investment in infrastructure, the sluggish rollout of 5G is expected to continue as the majority of smartphone shipments to Africa are focused on 4G support, in a continent where a majority (43%) still have 3G devices used.
According to IDC, 5G devices accounted for 7.6% of smartphone shipments to Africa in the second quarter of this year (although they increased slightly from the previous quarter), compared to 3G and 4G devices, which accounted for 18.5% , is tiny. and 73.9%, respectively.
The 5G networks offer super-fast Internet speeds, low latency and can support up to one million devices per square kilometer – ten times more devices than 4G networks. For businesses, the network can be used to automate a variety of processes in industries like mining and manufacturing to increase capacity and efficiency.