[Column] Mazen Mroué: Spreading the magic of 5G
Mobile communications technology has been a crucial enabler of the information age, connecting individuals, businesses and governments, and facilitating improvements in daily life for people everywhere. Connectivity is the lifeline of modern societies and access to it is a digital human right.
Digital disruption is supporting economic development and the ambitions of the nation states in which MTN operates. According to a recent GSMA report , mid-band 5G will generate a $13 billion contribution to GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. The rollout of 5G will help usher in the fourth industrial revolution and drive economic growth.
5G is more than just an incremental upgrade from 4G. It delivers dramatically increased fibre-like broadband speeds compared to 4G, creating the potential for unlocking many new use cases for consumers and enterprises alike.
5G has the ability to transform business and livelihoods beyond simple connectivity. The key lies in the ultra-fast end-to-end communication capacity it enables. It will enable many industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and mining to be more efficient.
5G will also revolutionise the security and telematics industries as it allows a much larger number of devices to connect to telecoms networks at the same time.
While developing countries have traditionally lagged developed ones in terms of readiness for and rollout of innovative technology, with the advent of 5G, both developed and developing countries are advancing simultaneously. Even markets where 4G is yet to mature are embracing 5G.
Modern base stations can switch dynamically between different technologies. Customers with capable handsets can experience the magic of 5G as soon as it becomes available, while customers with older handsets can continue to connect to older technologies on the same base station.
At MTN, we are driven to deliver on our purpose, which is to enable the benefits of a modern connected life to everyone. Back in 2018, we completed Africa’s first ultra-low latency 5G network indoor and outdoor trials. We did this in South Africa, where we launched commercial 5G services in June 2020.
MTN South Africa now has more than 1 000 5G sites across several spectrum bands, with plans to significantly scale this up since we procured high-demand spectrum in a landmark auction in March 2022.
MTN Nigeria also secured, via auction, spectrum for the deployment of 5G in 2022, and in December 2021, MTN Côte d’Ivoire launched 5G trials.
Authorities across Africa see the value of adopting 5G. In 2021, regulators in Uganda and Zambia conducted consultations on 5G spectrum, paving the way for 5G deployment. Markets such as eSwatini, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire also displayed movement in terms of discussions around securing 5G spectrum.
Since 2020, demand for broadband services has surged, with work from home during COVID-19-related lockdowns accelerating adoption everywhere. In 2020, MTN’s data traffic increased by a dramatic 110%. In 2021, it expanded by a further 58.3%.
Not wanting to leave anyone behind, MTN Group is ramping up its rollout of 5G sites. In 2021, across the Group, we rolled out 849 5G radio sites. Over the medium term, we aim to reach 5G population coverage of 10%-30%.
But to provide faster speeds and capacity and contribute to the realisation of the African digital transformation agenda, we need adequate, suitable, affordable and harmonised spectrum to fuel our networks.
To advance this cause, we advocate for recognition and accommodation in terms of our spectrum requirements and to ensure Africa’s recognition in the 5G space at international forums, including the GSMA’s Strategic Spectrum Management Group, Future Spectrum Group and Future of Spectrum Access.
As our Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita has said, “ Africa will surprise on 5G .” The continent stands at the cusp of 5G mass markets deployments. Never has a technology been so eagerly anticipated.