Mobile Transformation: What Could 4G Do To Africa?

Mobile Transformation: What Could 4G Do To Africa?

In Africa, banking, healthcare, and other applications have evolved on mobile not because it was particularly suited as a platform, but because there was simply no alternative, according to a report in TheNetwork.Cisco.com.

Mobile’s profound impact on African communities is a result of it being the first networked device to enter the lives of most users, writes Jason Deign, a Barcelona-based business writer.

The success of these applications has been spectacular, to the extent that many of them are now being exported to more developed markets. And all of this has been achieved with the early-generation mobile technologies still available today, Deign said. So what could happen now that African operators are rolling out fourth-generation (4G) networks based on long-term evolution (LTE) and mobile WiMAX technologies?

Healthcare providers, which already use mobiles in Africa to deliver information and collect epidemiology statistics, could use the superior imaging capabilities of 4G for applications such as remote diagnosis and treatment. And small traders are already using mobile devices to help boost sales.

On a recent visit to Africa, Donald Browne-Marke, product manager with the wireless broadband specialist InfiNet Wireless, found fishermen taking photos of their catches on the beach so they could secure sales before even getting to the market.

Adhish Kulkarni, chief marketing officer at Lumata, a telco-oriented mobile marketing company operating in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, and Madagascar notes that 4G poses a couple of challenges for African mobile operators.

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One of these is that users have little disposable income, so the ability to recoup 4G rollout costs is limited compared to other markets. Another is that African users typically hold a number of subscriber identity modules (SIM cards) and switch operators on a regular basis in order to save money. Taking this into account, Kulkarni forecasts African mobile operators could win out by offering cloud services that allow users to store data cost effectively and at the same time tie them into a given provider.

What will emerge in an African context is not so much about your thousand-euro handset but much more around dongle-based technology that you can plug into a relatively cheap laptop or maybe a low-end Chinese tablet that can work over 4G, he said. “I’m not going to keep my files across five different networks. I’m going to keep them in the cloud. And if the operator is controlling that, you get a very sticky customer.”

Right now, 4G is being rolled out across Africa and in many cases regulators are still struggling with how to create the best environment for it. There is also a potential problem of different companies adopting different LTE frequency bands and channel bandwidths, which could hamper interoperability. Overcoming backhaul costs and capacity constraints is another issue facing operators. But with new operator deployments being announced almost on a monthly basis, it is clear that Africa is about to be connected in a way its people could never have imagined before. It will be interesting indeed to see what they do with this newfound power.

Cisco Systems, Inc. is a U.S. multinational corporation headquartered in San Jose, California, that designs, manufactures, and sells networking equipment.