4G uptake is still slow in South Africa, and in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. This is according to Akinwale Goodluck, the head of the GSMA in Africa.
Goodluck said that despite 90% of South Africa being covered by 4G, only 23% of South Africans who are connected to the Internet use the technology.
Despite this, Goodluck said that sub-Saharan Africa is making progress, as feature phones are beginning to lose market share, as well as “2G smartphones” – which are feature phones with some minor smartphone capabilities.
According to Goodluck, if smartphone and 4G uptake are to continue to increase in the region, it is important to find a compelling proposition for people to come online.
“I think the biggest problem is relevant content,” said Goodluck.
“We have to give something that shows value to coming online. They will only invest money in what will drive their economic being and if they don’t see that in the Internet they will not go online.”
“A lot of people cannot afford to have Internet just for entertainment – there has to be a proposition,” he said.
“If you look back 20 years ago, when GSM first started, people would walk into a shop, buy a SIM, put it in a phone, and immediately talk to someone – they saw the immediate value.”
Goodluck said that similar value needs to be driven to improve Internet and smartphone uptake.
Goodluck said there are three key financial issues that also inhibit the uptake in sub-Saharan Africa:
- Pricing of devices
- Pricing of content
- Pricing of access to content (data prices).
Goodluck said that the cost of devices has come down, and continues to do so, with many initiatives attempting to develop smartphones that cost less than $20.
However, Goodluck said a big obstacle affecting the price of smartphones in sub-Saharan Africa is governments trying to tax access to the Internet, as well the owning of devices.
For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo plans to pose an annual tax of $1 on feature phones and $7 on smartphones.
Such a tax places a large financial strain on owners – especially if they are only paying about $20 for their smartphone.
Goodluck added that if you can afford a smartphone, however, access to online content is not free.
“I believe very strongly that if the content is right, people will factor the cost of the access and do what they need to do,” said Goodluck.
5G – The future, but not the present
Speaking on 5G, Goodluck said it will be a big enabler for the economies of countries moving forward.
“5G is ultimately going to be a big game-changer for the world and for us in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
However, widespread use of the technology is not imminent in the region.
“5G will drive efficiency in a lot of complex operations, but for us in sub-Saharan Africa, we need to get quite a few things right before we can run 5G.”
- Ensuring that power supply is steady enough to support the extensive rollout of 5G – as “5G is not going to run on generators.”
- Review and relax regulations relative to the rollout and building of cell towers.
- Alleviating anxiety around 5G – such as that seen recently in the UK.