Mid-band 5G spectrum crucial to economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

Recent data from GSMA Intelligence has shown the importance of mid-band mobile spectrum to the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) economy by modelling the specific economic impact of 5G using mid-band spectrum. The data analysis shows that 5G driven by mid-band can contribute 0.4% to the regional economy in 2030. This means that its impact as a percentage of GDP is higher than in Europe and North America, even though 5G use will still be increasing in SSA in 2030, meaning that more growth is to come.

Mid-band 5G contributions to GDP in SSA are expected to grow after the study period ends. However, through early adopters, mid-band 5G is expected to bring up to US$13 billion to the SSA regional economy in 2030. As the world seeks to emerge from the uncertain environment of the pandemic, mobile will again have a role to play in connecting a brighter future. Productivity gains made in the 2010s through the development of 4G helped the world to teach, talk, carry out transactions and do business more efficiently. Today these benefits are bound tightly into the global economy, and a new phase of development can now come from the deep integration of 5G into our businesses and societies.

The GSMA Intelligence report outlines how 5G can become a central pillar of worldwide economic development strategies with the right regulatory tools. Its benefit to sectors such as manufacturing, services – including healthcare and education – and public administration – including smart cities – can start a new wave of economic growth.

Spectrum capacity for GDP impact

Beyond the potential economic gains, GSMA Intelligence also analysed the impact if capacity needs of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum are unmet in 2030. The analysis shows that under spectrum constrained to today’s assignments, up to 40% of economic impact could be lost.

If spectrum is limited to current levels as demand for services grows, increased network congestion and deployment costs will stifle 5G. Network quality and speed will suffer, limiting 5G adoption and its economic impact.

An average of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum for mobile operators is required by 2030. That goal leaves a shortfall of 1.05 GHz beyond today’s average assignments in SSA. The GSMA Intelligence report recommends making harmonised spectrum available for licensed 5G in core ranges such as 3.5 GHz, 4.8 GHz and 6 GHz.

Regulators across Africa are assigning more mid-band for mobile, and auctions of the 3.5 GHz 5G launch band are starting to take place. South Africa completed its first 5G auction earlier in 2022, and Nigeria has also assigned 3.5 GHz spectrum. On top of this, the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) successfully assigned the 2600 MHz band to MNOs earlier this year through an administrative process (beauty contest).

Progress on the 3.5 GHz range is promising, but other bands, such as 6 GHz, are also needed. The 6 GHz range will be crucial to delivering city-wide capacity for fixed wireless access (FWA) and provides the perfect environment to expand 5G connectivity. Extending the bandwidth of 5G through the harmonisation of 6 GHz spectrum will improve network performance, allowing businesses and economies to grow. The use of mid-band 5G for FWA will be a significant use case in SSA, where fibre to the premises is often a rarity, and 5G will be the primary delivery mechanism for high bandwidth connectivity to businesses and homes.

Industry delivers 5G promise

5G associated mid-band will primarily be used to benefit retail, manufacturing and agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. While manufacturing tends to dominate elsewhere, the region’s diverse economies will benefit across various sectors. Countries in SSA, which typically have significant agricultural elements in their economies, are expected to benefit significantly from a large set of applications in smart agriculture.

New applications in healthcare will provide reliable and high-quality smart and remote patient monitoring. 5G deployments will also bring benefits beyond an uplift in GDP. Mobile broadband plays a significant role in poverty reduction, improving education and increasing well-being.

The coming years will determine the extent to which 5G can deliver its promise. Spectrum is required to provide fast, affordable services. Governments and industry need to work together on this – through WRC-23 and in national processes – to ensure that 5G can power a new phase of economic growth.

Download the report here to learn more about the socio-economic benefits of mid-band 5G services. You can also learn more about spectrum pricing and licensing in the SSA region here.