DON'T MISS : Talking Africa Podcast – Mozambique's insurgency: After Palma, what comes next?

Telecoms: Africa needs 5G regulation overhaul, Nokia says

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Wednesday, 7 April 2021 04:07

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

African regulators need to upgrade their rulebooks to accelerate the adoption of fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks, says Alpin Verlet, Nokia’s CEO for West and Central Africa.

“Regulators and policy-makers need to acknowledge that the mobile industry and 5G are major catalysts in speeding up the digitalisation of multiple industries,” Verlet says.

Nokia was chosen by Togocom in November 2020 to deploy West Africa’s first 5G network. Accelerating spectrum identification and allocation to mobile broadband is critical, Verlet argues. “More spectrum will need to be available for the mobile industry and more specifically for 5G. Regional and global spectrum harmonisation efforts are crucial.”

  • There is a need for certainty over spectrum roadmaps and regulatory rules on issues such as license renewal, taxation and coverage obligations, Verlet says.
  • 5G can help West Africa “leapfrog to Industry 4.0” and will enable uses such as remote medicine and education.
  • Verlet expects industrial applications in industries such as mining, where 5G can support remote control activities or ensuring the security of employees.

The 2Africa subsea cable that will connect Africa to Europe and the Middle East is intended to support increased 4G, 5G, and broadband access.

The cable, which Nokia is involved in building, is expected to be live by early 2024 and will deliver more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today.

  • “This will drive up African inland fiber optical needs to transport this traffic inside the whole continent,” Verlet says.
  • Still, says the GSM Association, 5G is likely to account for only about 3% of total connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
  • According to Michella Venturelli at Analysys Mason in London, African operators have struggled to reap the full benefits of such mega-projects, constrained by “poor inland network coverage, a lack of regulation and their limited ability to invest”.

African bright spot

Globally, Nokia is seeking to cut costs and reduce its headcount. The company said in mid-March that it will reduce costs by about €600m ($712.6m) by the end of 2023 and reduce its 90,000-strong workforce by up to 10,000. In Africa, Verlet says, Nokia is still in a “growth phase”.

Nokia sees Africa as a bright spot. Verlet expects the company’s African growth to continue in 2021, with mobile and fixed broadband among the strongest drivers due to “booming data traffic” in West African countries.

  • The increase in data traffic has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, and telecoms operators are working to respond with network upgrades, extensions and new deployments, he says.
  • Covid-19, Verlet says, led to a geographical shift of data consumption, with traffic instantly shifting from business to residential areas. That was accompanied by a surge in data consumption on Nokia’s networks ranging from 15% to 50%.
  • The result, he says, is that Nokia is using more tools based on artificial intelligence to automate the management of customer networks and to try to predict future demand patterns.

There is likely to be increased demand for private wireless networks in African industries such as mining, ports, energy and public safety, Verlet says. They can be implemented either directly or in partnership with existing mobile operators, according to the local markets and regulatory frameworks, he adds.

  • Private wireless networks can be tailored to the user’s specific needs, with security levels, deployment and coverage quality all made to measure. The network can also be reconfigured quickly as needed.
  • According to ABI Research, the private wireless market is expected to grow to €16.3bn in 2025. Nokia estimates that 14m industrial sites globally will need private wireless connectivity in the coming decade.

Bottom line

Nokia argues that coordinated spectrum regulation will be needed for Africa to take full advantage of cable mega-projects such as 2Africa.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options