By Todd Ashton, Vice President and Head of Ericsson South & East Africa, and Rostand Njomgang, Head of Networks Solutions at Ericsson South and East Africa.
Being part of a continent that holds tremendous potential for growth, African countries have significant opportunities to accelerate their digital adoption and leapfrog into a new era of socio-economic prosperity.
From new technologies that make it easier to conduct business, to increasing productivity and efficiency while encouraging an inclusive society, embracing new ways of enabling positive change will boost livelihoods, promote financial inclusion and improve access to health, education and government services.
Indeed, ICT and particularly mobile broadband technology are accelerators for achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to end extreme poverty and hunger while improving access to health care and education, protecting the environment and building peaceful, inclusive societies.
At Ericsson, we believe that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the catalyst for digital transformation, with mobile networks being the crucial ingredient in increasing Africa’s economic competitiveness in the global arena. While we have witnessed impressive market developments in recent years, Africa’s ICT sector still has growth potential compared to leading economies.
Of the ten countries in the world with the lowest internet adoption, eight are in sub-Saharan Africa. With 5G still in its infancy across the continent and LTE making up only 15% of all subscriptions, mobile broadband in Africa has plenty of room for growth to secure sustainable development.
In fact, many of the indicators demonstrate just how much mobile broadband can support sustainable growth in Africa. For example, a 10 percent increase in mobile broadband adoption will lead to a 0.6 – 2.8% increase in economic growth; for every 1000 new broadband subscribers, 80 new jobs are created; and a doubling of the average achieved broadband speed generates an additional 0.3% in GDP growth.
At the same time, indications that show the scale of change required to cater for the growing demand on the continent continues to surge, mainly driven by a young and growing population and accelerated by the changes to home and working lives created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Technically speaking, serving this demand requires the right policies for licensing affordable spectrum on a long-term basis.
To this end, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and Ericsson are working together on spectrum recommendations that focus on transforming Africa into a knowledge economy through the development of technologies that boost connectivity and innovation. An MoU signed by Ericsson and the ATU will help fast-track the roll out of technology across the continent.
Policies between private and public sector stakeholders will address several challenges that will make access to technology and connectivity easier. From affordable smartphones, to lower network operating costs and creating better returns on investment (ROI) for mobile service providers, which can in turn fund new investment, it is imperative that all stakeholders in the ecosystem work hand-in-hand to fulfill these ambitions.
- Mobile broadband status in Africa
With 5G on the horizon, there is still much to be done on broadening the connectivity. For example, 4G penetration remains low in Africa at 15% as at March 2021. This figure becomes more aligned with other developing continents in urban centres, but as a whole, Africa will need to bolster infrastructure, capacity and connectivity for long-term economic development and financial inclusion across the continent.
As the world moves towards Industry 4.0, higher mobile broadband adoption becomes a vital cog to most countries’ economies, with telecommunications playing a central role across sectors like education, health, manufacturing and many others. The global COVID-19 pandemic has also further reinforced the need for fast and reliable broadband for all, particularly for school children in rural areas. Rural geographies present a specific challenge to the mobile industry as the business case is more long-term while the capital investment requirements remain significant. With some African countries having an urbanisation as low as 20%, there is a strong need for a game changing approach if we are to accelerate the digital transformation in Africa.
The giga initiative, launched by UNICEF and ITU, aims to enable greater access to connectivity in schools and in rural areas. Ericsson’s participation with this initiative aims to provide essential data that would help achieve this goal through mapping connectivity across Africa.
- The new radios
Ericsson recently announced the release of a new innovative radio which will help reshape the conversation when it comes to the challenges outlined above. The 6626 radio combines two frequencies and six ports in a single unit, enabling a single radio to power all three sectors on the tower.
This FDD radio offers support to all standards, from 2G to 5G, while bringing very significant reductions in terms of energy consumption, weight, volume and cabling requirements. These reductions translate into immediate and significant savings for operators, thus enabling a much-improved ROI.
As an example, it is now possible to deploy a full three sectors’ site supporting 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G across two different bands by using a single radio. This is quite a remarkable feat. Additionally, the power consumption savings are significant. In a country like Kenya where electricity prices remain high, a network of about 5,000 sites would see a reduction of over 6.2M USD per year in power expenditure by migrating to these units. This in turn would reduce 4,268 tons in annual carbon emissions. To put this into context, it is the equivalent of roughly 35,600 car petrol tanks.
This announcement has been met with an enthusiastic response from our customers as they aim to utilise this new radio to realise OPEX benefits in minimising power consumption, weight on tower, and to shorten the deployment cycle.
Innovative and effective solutions that benefit the environment and address the unique conditions on the continent are vital technologies Africa can use to bridge the connectivity gap. The demand for connectivity is evident and the need for it is imperative, with education, healthcare and financial inclusion requiring solutions to bridge the digital divide. The challenges pave the way for a solution that African stakeholders are committed to in tandem with partners like Ericsson. Much work needs to be done and this requires bold ambitions and action now, in order to alleviate and solve connectivity challenges across the continent.
 Ericsson and Imperial College
 Ericsson and Arthur D. Little
 Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University