African 4G is improving yet still falling behind the rest of the world, according to “The State of African 4G”, a new report by research firm Xalam Analytics.
According to the report, around 115 LTE networks are expected to be in commercial operation in Africa before the end of 2018.
“The African 4G subscriber base has been doubling every year since 2015”, the report notes, and operators are reporting double-digit traffic growth numbers.
Despite this positive evolution, the report notes that the African market is falling behind the rest of the world on 4G.
“Africa accounts for around 5% of global mobile broadband connections, but only 2% of 4G connections”, report authors note.
“African 4G penetration is the lowest in the world, as is 4G network coverage of the population.”
Further, report authors suggest, “African 4G spectrum allocation has been a near-disaster, and 4G business models remain in flux.”
Other key points highlighted in the report include:
African 4G coverage is still narrow, and largely urban-centric.
The median African 4G network coverage is ~40%.
4G reaches only around 35% of the African population – and only about 25% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa.
Put it differently, African 4G may be increasingly available – but only a small minority has even a chance of having access to it.
Africa’s 4G growth has been broadly strong.
The number of 4G connections on the continent is expected to rise to around 90m in 2018 and projected to quadruple to reach close to 350m by 2023, overtaking 3G around 2021 to become Africa’s primary broadband access technology.
This is however subject to the timely availability of the needed spectrum.
Africa is falling behind on 4G because of the terrible spectrum and fibre economics.
4G spectrum allocation has been late and dysfunctional. Lower (and more cost-effective) 4G bands are either not available or not clean enough for use.
Regulatory frameworks are largely inflexible. As a result, African operators are having to pay dearly for spectrum, only so they can use the most inefficient spectrum bands available, compounding what is an already tenuous business case.
There is no solid correlation between strong 4G adoption and increased mobile operator profitability.
This is a problem.
For many African providers, 4G will ultimately look like 3G did in Europe. A commercial success (in user terms), but an economic failure.