5G Technology May Deepen Digital Divide

The next generation of wireless technology could bring many new benefits, but they won’t be coming to everyone.

Mobile base station. airphoto.gr / Shutterstock.com
Mobile base station. airphoto.gr / Shutterstock.com

The next generation of wireless technology 5G has the potential to change our lives by driving growth, create new jobs and enable the development of new technologies.

It will unleash the fourth industrial revolution and the high speeds and low latency promised by 5G will propel societies into a new age of smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT).

But this could only benefit people who stay in smart cities.

A viable case for investment in 5G can be made for densely populated urban areas – always the most commercially attractive regions for operators.

More challenging will be a commercial argument for investing in 5G networks outside such areas, especially in the early years of 5G deployment,” according to a latest report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The report titled: “Setting the Scene for 5G: Opportunities & Challenges” warns that as a result, rural and suburban areas are less likely to enjoy 5G investment, and this will potentially widen the digital divide.

In a sense, rural and suburban areas are less likely to reap the benefits of 5G deployment.

The report sates that industry takes the view that initial deployment of 5G networks will be in dense urban areas and will offer services such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).

“It will be commercially challenging to deploy 5G networks in rural areas where demand tends to be lower – consequently, rural areas may be left behind, thereby increasing the digital divide.”

However, the report suggest that the use of sub-1 GHz frequency spectrum if available, can counteract this in rural areas.

“This part of the spectrum allows mobile operators to cover wide areas at lower cost than with higher frequency spectrum,” it states.

“While data speeds and network capacity in this part of the spectrum are not as high as in higher frequency bands, the sub-1 GHz spectrum will enhance the coverage of rural networks.”

ITU suggested that local authorities and regulators should recognize the risk of increasing the digital divide and support commercial and legislative incentives to stimulate investment in affordable wireless coverage through sub-1 GHz spectrum, where possible.

While the European Commission has earmarked the 700 MHz spectrum as essential to achieve wide-area and indoor coverage for 5G services, it could be used differently in parts of Africa to enhance 4G coverage.

“It is expected that by 2020, only 35 per cent of the Sub-Saharan population will be covered by 4G networks, with many rural areas enjoying little or no 4G mobile coverage. This compares to a global average of 78 per cent,” states the report.

“For this reason, policy-makers in Sub-Saharan Africa might well consider using 700MHz spectrum as the ideal way forward to increasing rural 4G coverage rather than using this for 5G.”

ITU report suggested that policy-makers may consider making available low frequency spectrum (e.g. in the 00MHz) to ensure mobile broadband can be provided to rural areas.



  1. We cannot afford to be digitally divided viz-a-viz the fortunate and the unfortunate beneficiaries of 5G transformation, so we have a conscience to make the revolutionary dream be as close to 5G as possible for those unable to access 5G by ensuring congress reserves and allocates funding each year for the sub-1 GHz spectrum, next the human rights activists should follow up in the process as much as they can and needless to say be a watch dog and finally the non-profits should chip in with their human capital resources extending the advocacy for the sub-1 GHz spectrum availability to the population seeking help. Due diligence solicited with a note of please and thank you.

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