Preparing for a new generation of African digital consumers

Jonathan Plant, Marketing Director at Openet discusses the evolution of digital consumers in Africa.

Global excitement surrounding the global availability of 5G has been tempered in parts of Africa. While further launches are anticipated in 2020, only South Africa and Lesotho can currently boast commercially live 5G networks. The reality for most African countries is that commercially available 5G services won’t arrive for another five years or more.

The rate of 5G development across Africa must be viewed in the appropriate context, however. While mobile broadband technology is the most popular way of enabling internet access, 3G and 4G connections only surpassed 2G in Sub-Saharan Africa last year (GSMA Intelligence, 2019). Nobody doubts that Africa will embrace 5G, but it will do so at a pace that makes most commercial sense to operators in each African country.

Playing the 5G long game

Most African operators have invested a lot of money in 4G technology and are some way away from sweating these assets. With the widespread absence of fibre infrastructure in many African countries, 3G and 4G are the key technologies providing access to a new generation of young, ‘digital-first’ African subscribers. There is a growing familiarity across this new demographic when it comes to accessing new digital platforms, including new content services and social media. In most cases, 4G provides more than adequate connectivity to power these apps and services, leaving most operators content to play the 5G long game.

However, according to GSMA Intelligence, 44 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population, equivalent to just over 450 million people, are under the age of 15 years, and most will own a mobile phone for the first time over the next decade. This young demographic will take a digital-first approach to life – the work they do, the channels via which they communicate and the content they consume. Will their thirst for digital inclusion accelerate appetite for 5G? Maybe, but only if the business case supports it.

Riding multiple horses

Africa offers such a diverse collection of mobile industry economies, all at different stages of technological maturity. Many operators are managing the complexity of running 2G, 3G, 4G technologies in tandem. In addition, Africa is by and large a prepaid mobile market with many African subscribers carrying multiple SIM cards from multiple providers in search of the best tariffs.


Most African subscribers are extremely cost-conscious, and so will be […]

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