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The Million-Dollar 4G/5G Expansion Race In SSA Is Now Mostly Between Nokia & Ericsson


November 18, 2020

When it comes to 5G in Africa, things are still in the infancy stage. As only a few countries out of 54 actually have fifth-generation connectivity, there remains a long thread of developments to be realized.

Nevertheless, the race today isn’t what it used to be some 4 months ago. Plus, based on available facts, the rush to expand 5G in the continent has become a prerogative of two contenders who were previously not in the picture.

Nokia, a Finnish 5G vendor and Ericsson, its Swedish counterpart, have tied up significant deals with African telecom operators to fuel their ambitions to take charge of the fast-growing African market.

Vodacom, Nokia & A Winning SA

The bulk of the continent’s 5G advancements is no doubt happening in South Africa, where Vodacom recently extended its relationship with Nokia to birth faster connectivity.

Thanks to the collaboration, 5G radio, core and fixed network solutions are now available in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.

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In early July, MTN South Africa finally joined the 5G race in the country, partnering with Ericsson after running trials for up to 2 years. MTN’s businesses in other parts of the continent are, however, yet to launch the internet connectivity upgrade.

For Vodacom and Nokia, a 26-year relationship is further extended to cater to a pandemic-induced demand of data in South Africa. Though Vodacom first launched a commercial 5G service in May, it was operating with a temporary spectrum granted by the country’s telecoms regulator for the duration of the national state of disaster to tackle COVID-19.

Moreover, for most parts of the year 2020, Vodacom’s 5G mobile services in South Africa was offered using a network built by another operator, Liquid Telecom.

Now, by joining hands with Nokia on 5G—a knot which was tied in November 2017—Vodacom has once again put South Africa in the spotlight as the continent’s fastest-growing fifth-generation connectivity market.

Ericsson’s Strong Momentum 

While Nokia kicks off its play in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ericsson is bagging telecoms contracts in Cameroon, Tanzania, Benin, Kenya, Egypt, Madagascar, Congo, and even South Africa.

Rather quietly and though not 5G, the Swedish comms tech provider seems to be solidifying its footprint in the region, after laying the groundwork for MTN South Africa’s rollout and Madagascar’s first-ever commercial 5G service.

For example, in October 2020, it helped Airtel Africa enable 4G coverage in Kenya via RAN and packet core products. By modernizing the network, the deal upholds the ramification of the Kenyan Digital Economy Blueprint which aims to provide robust connectivity in rural areas and enable eCommerce.

Ericsson also extended its relationship with MTN Benin Republic with a deal that would provide network operations centre, radio field services and transmission in the Francophone West African country.

In October 2020, it was also revealed that Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator would power the global connectivity of Telenor Connexion to Wayout’s sustainable water treatment micro-factories in East Africa.

The same month, Airtel Zambia partnered with the vendor on a Product Take-Back program to minimize the impact of disposal of decommissioned electronic equipment on the environment.

With these developments, it is obvious Ericsson’s play to ramp up 5G in Africa amongst other telecom considerations, could be more than just press.

Huawei MIA? Not Quite!

It is pretty much common knowledge that the Trump-led American administration is campaigning against the patronage of Huawei Technologies, supposedly because it is Chinese and poses a threat to world security.

The ploy may be working since the gadget-making arm of the Shenzhen-based firm typically produce phones without Google apps and services. Plus, as it seems, America’s closest allies are boycotting the company as a 5G vendor, favouring the Nokia and Ericsson.

For Africa, though, it the campaign working? That depends on how you look at it. When it comes to gadgets, Huawei is still selling in the continent, where it sits on 17.71 percent of the mobile phone market, right behind Samsung.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), Huawei, for the first time, reached the number 1 position with 55.8 million smartphones shipped in Q2 2020 despite a small decline of 5.1 percent year over year.

The company also achieved its highest-ever share of the global smartphone market, reaching 20.0 percent, thanks to its tremendous 10 percent year-on-year growth in China.

On the 5G side, North Africa (not SSA) is pretty much the conquering grounds for Huawei. The Chinese firm has either tied up or is working to finalize deals with major telecom operators, both on 4G and 5G bases. Also, Kenya’s Safaricom, which is East Africa’s most profitable firm, is looking to bring in 5G to the country through Huawei.

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