How will the transition to 5G in Africa and other emerging markets differ from in developed countries? Gerard Halimi of ECI Telecom considers some of the key issues for CSPs.
In today’s telecom news, 5G seems to be the only thing anyone talks about. Whether it’s highlighting the innovative, new services it will promote, the next round of capital expenditure (CAPEX) investment or the technologies that will enable it, the industry’s hopes and aspirations are tethered to the almighty 5G. There’s no doubt 5G will arrive soon. Analysts expect to see major launches beginning in 2020, and moving well into the future. Two of the largest CSPs have already announced a major push to accelerate the launch of 5G to 2019, and over 40 percent of CSPs worldwide have vowed to launch 5G in the near future.
However, the situation in Africa and many other developing countries is very different to what we’ve outlined above. Most of these countries are still predominantly 3G. In fact, the GSMA predicts that 4G deployment in Africa will only reach 32 percent in 2020, and the actual adoption of 4G will be less than 10 percent. In many cases, the migration to 4G is severely limited by the lower urbanization rate among African populations.
Across the continent, the economics of providing high-speed mobile broadband services remain difficult. As opposed to 4G, the migration to 5G includes a host of different challenges that are complex, and require more time and resources than capable of the current situation in Africa.
So why should African operators concern themselves with 5G? Because Africa and other developing regions are in a unique situation. These countries aren’t necessarily burdened by legacy infrastructure - one of the biggest hurdles to 5G. If adequately planned, and done so in advance, network hand-offs and inner workings can be prevented. By taking these key considerations into account today, governments can save billions of dollars longer term, while ensuring their network investments pave the way for a smooth transition to 5G.
Considerations for CSPs in All Countries
The worldwide communications industry has been plagued by fierce competition and stagnating revenue growth. And while the situation across Africa may be different today; though, Africa and other countries will eventually catch up to the Western world. Fortunately, the rivalry will force telecoms vendors in Africa to focus on three key pillars:
- Ensuring customer satisfaction to increase retention, while reducing barriers to acquisition
- Maximizing the utilization of current infrastructure to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO)
- Future-proofing investments to reduce CAPEX and increase profitability
It’s important to note that in many rural areas, mobile network rollout is outpacing fixed-line networks. That, in turn, will lead to acceleration of technology development through better connection to the outside world, as well as general advancement across a variety of areas.
The State of the Industry (and What It Means for Africa)
As major global deployments of 5G approach, Africa will continue to roll out 4G networks while the greater industry further defines 5G network requirements.
According to the GSMA Africa Mobility report, subscribers across the continent are rapidly migrating to mobile broadband services, driven partially by network rollouts. Mobile broadband connections accounted for a quarter of total connections at the end of 2015, but will rise to almost two-thirds by 2020. It’s clear 5G growth in Africa will be driven by urban centers taking advantage of higher bandwidth and density, lower latency and energy requirements, and greatly increased security — the key to expanding markets for mobile payments and “bankless” consumers — despite Africa’s severely limited urban population. This may also act as a catalyst for urban expansion, further increasing ROI for such network development.
These factors are all vital, given the GDP of nations in this market.
What Africa’s CSPs Must Look For
- Greater network operational efficiency through optimized utilization of spectrum and power, and hardware and network infrastructure
- Improving performance, with increased capacity on demand, while minimizing latency
- The flexibility to incrementally migrate to higher performance, rather than building from the ground up, thereby deferring costs
- Avoiding vendor lock-in while future-proofing investments to establish a legacy for future service innovation
- Ability to concurrently manage existing 2G, 3G and 4G investments concurrently with impending 5G endeavors
- Planning, designing and future-proofing a network that delivers an acceptable quality-of-service to a broad range of customer profiles, expanding from high-demand metro areas to more rural areas with 3G and 4G
Many Challenges are Faced in Accomplishing Key Development
There are several challenges developing countries must resolve to ultimately reap the benefits of 5G. Mobile networks have been optimized for phones, but 5G requires they support mobile broadband services, massive IoT and mission-critical services — each with different requirements for mobility, security, policy control, latency, bandwidth and more.
It is not cost effective to build a dedicated network for each type of service, nor to build a single physical network that supports all the services while meeting the most onerous requirements of each.
There exists no infrastructure backbone in most rural areas, and poor or inadequate infrastructure in urban areas. TCO concerns mean that future transitioning must maintain current fiber investments, as well as address a general lack of standardization. Ultimately, Africa’s CSPs need to rethink their approach to urban networks in high-density emerging markets.
The Solution is Flexible Networking (ELASTIC Network)
CSPs in developing regions will have the opportunity to use their 4G backhaul to get the most out of 5G investments, reducing initial costs and staggering investment, thereby reducing TCO. Proceeding in this measured fashion will result in increased customer satisfaction (reducing churn) as well as higher ARPU (ROI).
ELASTIC networking ensures a better customer experience by facilitating advanced segmentation for customer and service profiling, delivering on service level agreements and differentiating billing. It is a flexible solution that mirrors CSPs’ changing needs. Utilizing a single-box approach, ELASTIC networking enables network and traffic optimization while providing an “open” framework — SDN-ready that evolves as demands change without requiring truck-rolls.
The Overall Picture
Communication and network services are crucial to continued development, economic growth and connectivity in developing countries. The major upcoming implementations of 5G in more developed countries afford developing countries the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes early on, thus ensuring a return on any infrastructure investments made.
Understanding 5G network requirements will help CSPs prepare for its eventual, incremental arrival. By investing in flexible, intelligent infrastructure today, CSPs can help ensure for a more seamless evolution and be safe in the knowledge that the invested infrastructure will last far into the future.
To learn more about how to roll out 5G, click here.
About the Author
Gerard Halimi joined ECI in 2015 to manage the African Market. Prior to this he held managerial positions in Sky Vision, TTI Telecom and Bezeq and has over 25 years of experience in the telecommunication industry.
Mr Halimi earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and a Master in Information Management System from Skema Business School.
This article is sponsored by ECI Telecom.