The fifth technical standard for wireless networks, or 5G, promises more speed, less lag when connecting to the network and the ability to connect many devices to the internet without bogging it down.
But before we can all use it, wireless companies and phone makers will have to upgrade.
Phones need new chips and radio antennas. And that comes at a price not everyone can afford.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed this process even further.
“Sub Saharan Africa has always lagged in terms of mobile technology penetration,” Dr. Joyce Mwangama, Senior Lecturer Electrical Engineering University of Cape Town, explained.
“So, when we’re talking about 5G, the penetration is going to be quite slow and it will only in the beginning stages be deployed in small islands and small pockets.”
The COVID-19 pandemic may not be the only hurdle for Africa’s 5G rollout. The continent could also be dragged into tensions between the United States and China over future 5G networks.
The US government is lobbying allies to exclude the Chinese telecoms company Huawei, citing security risks.
“Africa is in a difficult situation maybe because it’s left somewhere in the middle,” Ben Roberts, Director of Network Strategy at Liquid Telecom, said.
“The Chinese telecoms vendors have certainly made more investment in Africa, in terms of the resources they have put here and the employment they have created.”
“And as a result, African operators have invested heavily in that Chinese equipment. Now, we are seeing pressure from the US not to use some of these equipments in 5G networks, they’ve been applying that pressure to other nations in Europe.”
In some African countries, like South Africa, mobile operators started rolling out 5G networks this year.