The globe is now locked in a tight 5G technology race with US and China already emerging as the top contenders.
Africa too seeks not just to be a bystander in this technological revolution but a key player. Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria which are the continent’s top economies have been blazing the trail in innovation and therefore expected to take the lead in rolling out 5G technology.
Kenya, dubbed Africa’s Silicon Savanna, however seems set to lag behind after leading mobile operator Safaricom halted deployment of its 5G network.
The move by Safaricom came as a surprise because the firm had already tested and carried out trials of the new network.
With Safaricom suspending the project, it means Kenya may not be among the first countries to adopt the 5G network which is crucial for the next generations of innovations.
If Safaricom had gone ahead and implemented the project as planned, Kenya would have become the second country on the continent to have successfully rolled out the 5G network, only playing second fiddle to South Africa.
The 5G rollout could have also readied Kenya relatively early for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced wireless technologies.
Kenyan cannot afford to cede its ground as among the top innovation hubs in Africa. The country has all the ingredients to retain the profile having been ranked top on the continent in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) readiness by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and Oxford Insights. The two organisations have placed the county first on the continent and 52nd globally, higher than South Africa and Nigeria – the continent’s two leading economic superpowers.
This highlights the country’s admirable progress in preparing for the adoption of the new revolutionary technology compared to its regional peers.
Kenya is also ranked as having the highest number of tech hubs in Sub-Sahara Africa and second only to South Africa, according to Global Systems for Mobile Communication Association (GSMA) intelligence report.
Despite such an impressive technology record, Kenya now risks being overtaken by other aggressive technology up-takers such as Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco, especially in adoption of 5G which is poised to revolutionise industries, ushering in smart healthcare, smart ports, smart mining and smart manufacturing .
5G has now been deployed in 24 markets with numerous 5G smartphones having been rolled out. It is estimated that by 2025, 5G will account for 20 percent of global connections, with developed Asia, North America and Europe leading in its uptake, according to a GSMA report.
To support this generational shift and further drive consumer engagement, the GSMA report says, operators are expected to invest in the region of $1.1 trillion (about Sh110 trillion) worldwide between 2020 and 2025 in mobile capital expenditure, out of which 80 percent will be in 5G networks.
Between 2019 and 2025, the study notes that the number of global IoT connections will more than double to almost 25 billion, while global IoT revenue will more than triple to $1.1 trillion (About Sh110 trillion).
Smart homes, the study predicts, will be a huge industry.
“The smart home is a critical battleground, with fragmentation being a major challenge to integration and adoption. There are, however, early signs that smart speakers could be at the centre of a smart home revolution in 2020. Despite some financial headwinds, the outlook for global mobile revenue remains stable,” says the report.
To reap the benefits of the new technology, African countries have been urged to properly set the stage through a favourable regulatory regime.
“Governments and regulators must play their part to help propel 5G into commercial use by implementing policies that encourage advanced technologies such as AI and IoT to be applied across all economic sectors.”
With such massive capabilities of the 5G, experts say Kenya must stay the course and live up to its stature as Africa’s Silicon Savanna.