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Opinion: Telecoms 2020 for Africa

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Christoph
Fitih, Director Sales- Africa at Parallel Wireless, predicts that open minds
and fair trade will play a leading role in revolutionising the African telecoms
market into the next decade

Christoph Fitih, Director Sales- Africa at Parallel Wireless
As the
new decade dawns, the telecommunications industry (specifically mobile), has
finally woken up to the fact that its economics need to change, especially with
the advent and expected widespread uptake of 5G. Much of this realisation has
been driven by a need to move away from the consolidation of the RAN industry
that has seen Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia dominate the space and in the process,
creating a closed, almost anti-competitive market.
  The development of OpenRAN, which in 2019,
really gathered momentum, has really changed the playing field.

OpenRAN
by its very nature, has also facilitated a more open and collaborative approach
among a host of service providers who have collectively, developed more
innovative solutions to the rapidly developing communications space’s
needs.  This ability to be creative and
offer alternatives to operators, has also created the ability for operators to
expand their networks and include more users for their services.

An
open market and mindset have also driven efficiencies.  The traditional proprietary and closed nature
of RAN technology has made it costly and difficult to upgrade technology once
it is deployed.  The option to choose and
use multiple vendors, changes this now that a wide range of product, price and
services are on offer. The competitive nature of an open market will also mean
that innovation will be a constant – not a bad thing if you consider just how
fast the sector is evolving.

Here
in Africa, OpenRAN is set to play a vital role in the connectivity race.  Much of the continent is still unconnected
and those that are, are largely dependent on legacy infrastructure, with 2G and
3G abounding, and 4G still in its infancy. 
That has not stopped the sprint to bring 5G to Africa though, with
Uganda recently being the first country in Western and Central Africa to deploy
5G Internet.

However,
although there are capabilities to deploy 5G, Africa-based operators will
require the ability to run 5G alongside their existing 2G, 3G and 4G
networks.  At present, that can only be
solved with either erecting new infrastructure or, deploying OpenRAN, which can
run alongside existing infrastructure. 
It’s a no brainer really…

On
that note, here’s what I see as the key components that will happen in the
African telecoms market in 2020 to set up for the next decade:

5G
  • Widespread rollout of 5G, including the African
    continent.
  • The first commercial deployment of stand-alone
    core. With the 3GPP Release-16 standard being finalized mid-2020, companies
    will be racing to be the first in the world with stand-alone 5G core.
  • Further development of network slicing.
  • 5G advancement will also accelerate OpenRAN
    hardware and software, and open collaboration partnerships to run 5G technology
    efficiently alongside their 2G, 3G an 4G networks.

4G and
OpenRAN
  • 4G is growing and will grow even faster in
    2020. OpenRAN will allow operators to perform more deployments, including
    connecting rural and hard-to-reach areas.
  • We may see operators move heavy data users from
    4G to 5G to improve user experience for those on the 4G network.

Legacy
2G & 3G Networks and OpenRAN
  • Uptake in transition from legacy infrastructure
    (2G and 3G) enabled by widespread deployment of OpenRAN solutions. 3G sunset
    but 2G will more than likely remain.

Internet
of Things (IoT)
  •  IoT will continue to grow, but at a slower pace
    than previously predicted. The connectivity will include many different
    options, including cellular, wi-fi, Bluetooth, non-cellular LPWA technologies,
    and more.
  • Enterprise use of IoT will increase,
    specifically with regard to smart manufacturing.
Private
Networks
  • Private networks will start to gain importance,
    which will help solve tasks that were traditionally difficult to perform using
    other wireless technologies, while improving performance and productivity and
    ensuring security.

Smartphones
and Smart Feature Phones
  • As 5G rollout becomes more widespread and
    consumer interest grows, we will start to see cheaper 5G smartphones. Apple
    have already hinted at a small, cheap 5G handset for first half 2020
  • Smart Feature Phones will continue to gain
    traction, especially in developing countries, allowing people to move from 2G
    technology to 3G and 4G technologies.

Blockchain
and Payment gateways
  • The World Economic Forum’s Africa Growth
    Platform and the development of open public Blockchain initiatives like The
    African Chain, will see Africans connecting to the digital economy in a big
    way.  This will work hand in hand with
    expansion of the telecoms network across the continent.
2020
will also see the roll-out and uptake of other smart technologies such as XR/VR
SIM driven glasses, advancements in the research of Autonomous Vehicles, smart
homes and cities (a focus will be on bettering privacy and security).  All in all, the advent of this new decade is
an exciting time for the global telecoms sector, but especially for Africa and
Africans who can look forward to being actively involved in a vibrant and
sustainable digital economy, facilitated by the dawn of open thinking and open
markets that deliver on what’s best for the whole.

(Views expressed in this article are of the author.)

TECHXLR8 Asia