Mobile phone operator MTN is preoccupied with delivering 3G services to its customers across the African market and in no rush for super-fast 5G mobile broadband internet services.
MTN customers in the fast-developing continent are still using 2G and 3G mobile phone handsets.
2G voice population coverage is very high in most countries in Africa where MTN operates.
3G is mostly used with mobile phones and handsets as a means to connect the phone to the internet and other IP networks in order to make voice and video calls, to download and upload data, and to surf the web.
Some industry leaders are already punting 5G technology as a next-generation technology that will have an impact similar to electricty affecting entire economies and benefiting entire societies.
5G, which can revolutionise numerous industries from autonomous cars, e-sports, connected homes, smart industries provides for an average downloads speeds of around 1GB per second and up to 20GB per second and more reliable connection on smartphones and other devices than ever before.
The 5G network will spur Internet of Things technology and enabling smarter and more connected world.
But MTN is in no hurry to bring 5G services across its African markets.
“This is still a 3G story, you know,” says Rob Shuter, MTN Group CEO.
“Yes, 4G is still important. 5G will come. But the reality in our markets (Africa) is that 90% of the devices are 3G. And then will not change overnight.”
Speaking at the ongoing International Telecommunication Union (ITU) summit in Durban, South Africa, Shuter cited Nigeria as an example.
Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market by subscribers and revenues.
“We saw some research for Nigeria that an average of a period that a user keeps a handset is seven years. So, it will take a long time for this to change,” he explained.
“So, still innovating on 3G. I think is very important for our markets.”
African consumers are leaving on $100 a month and are expected to spend between $40 to $50 on a mobile handsets.
Can you imagine if you have to spend half of your monthly salary to buy an entry-level handset, asked Shuter.
“Its very expensive. This is becoming I think the bigger problem now than coverage. Its the simple afforbability of the devices. So we all have to do everything we can to bring down the cost of the devices.”
He added that data is still not as affordable as voice or SMS.
The African mobile phone market is hampered by high import duties and most of the devices comes via the informal channels.
“So, there again I think there is a space for potential policy intervention,” he said. “Because if we don’t have this high import duties the operators will come back to the handset market. Then you will get a lot of innovation because the stores can be used, distribution can be used and campaigns can be used.”
Shuter proposed that operators to attract customers should look at services bundling to make access more relevant for more people.