Tanzania becomes the latest African country to launch 5G

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Digital Africa

By Abdul Halim, in Dar es Salaam
Posted on Thursday, 15 September 2022 13:32

Vodacom has launched Tanzania's first 5G technology. A child uses a mobile phone in Nairobi, Kenya, May 28, 2022. REUTERS/Monicah Mwang

Tanzania’s leading telecom operator by subscriptions, Vodacom has launched the country’s first 5G technology in what promises to be a transformational development in the country’s digital journey.

“Our promise is to continue using technology to improve the lives of Tanzanians and lead the digital transformation,” said Vodacom’s Acting Managing Director Hilda Bujiku at the launch in Dar es Salaam on 1 September.

The rollout will start with the establishment of over 200 5G sites in several regions, including Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Dodoma, Mwanza, Iringa, Mbeya, Kagera, Njombe, and Zanzibar, by November 2022.

Bujiku says the 5G network will be available to fixed enterprise and home internet customers through 5G routers, while mobile phone users will require a 5G-capable handset or device. In the coming months, the company expects to have maximum speeds of up to 800mbps unlocked, with this set to reach 1Gbps “once the 5G spectrum is made fully available”.

Vodacom’s new network is powered by Finnish equipment vendor Nokia, which supplied its 5G Air Scale portfolio, Subscriber Data Management software and 5G Gateways.

4G is good, but due to community demands, there was a need for higher technology with low latency

Information, Communications and ICT Minister Nape Nnauye says this latest development is a welcome milestone and a step towards Tanzania’s digital economy journey as well as the fourth industrial revolution.

“This is going to be a game-changer for our country, we want to turn this country into a digital economy and change lives through technology. Today, the world is led by innovation through AI, the internet of things, robotics and I want Tanzania to play a part in these advancements,” said Nnauye.

Affordability issues

However, digital analyst Peter Gerrard expresses his concerns saying: “It’s a big move, but I see the challenges, such as commercial viability, internet connectivity and low citizen purchasing power of 5G-enabled smartphones and expensive internet. Many parts of this country still can’t access 4G networks.”

More than 90% of Tanzanians access the internet through their mobile phones. Although mobile data prices are reasonably low, they remain unaffordable for segments of the population that mostly reside in rural areas, resulting in a large gap in Internet use between urban and rural areas.

Previous estimates from British technology research firm Cable put the average cost of one mobile gigabyte (1GB) in Tanzania at $0.75. However, consumer taxes represent a significant share (32%) of the cost of mobile services. This is higher than the average share of consumer taxes in sub-Saharan Africa (22%).

“4G is good, but due to community demands, there was a need for higher technology with low latency,” Vodacom Tanzania Director of network, Andrew Lupembe told The Africa Report on the sidelines of the launch.

5G benefits

5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. User experience and connection of new industries is made possible through higher performance and improved efficiency.

The network provides a unified and more capable air interface, which is designed with an extended capacity for new deployment models and services.

Moreover, with high speeds, superior reliability and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms. It will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitised logistics — and more — a reality.

Data from the Tanzania Communication and Regulatory Authority (TCRA) indicates that internet penetration in the country reached 50% in March 2021, with the number of internet users at 29,071,817 million.

Other African nations that have started using the 5G network include Botswana, Egypt, Gabon, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

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