As BICS’ Regional Vice President for Africa, I’m excited for one of the region’s key events: AfricaCom 2018. The annual gathering of telecoms and technology experts is a great opportunity to meet with our customers and partners, and always presents a showcase of innovation from one of the world’s most diverse and exciting geographies.
The mobile sector is very important in Africa. Mobile phones are used for far more than basic voice communications, including things like mobile payments; over half of the world’s 174 million active registered mobile money accounts are in sub-Saharan Africa. Reliable connectivity and robust telecoms architecture are critical, and BICS has long had a presence in the region. We’ve been providing connectivity services to the African market for over 18 years, and we currently have over 120 mobile operators on the continent which are using our network.
At AfricaCom, I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing about the businesses, initiatives, applications and future-gazing projects which are enabled by this connectivity. The event is split into a number of streams, including AI, 5G, IoT and fintech. Whilst we can’t foretell all of the news and views to come out of the event, I do have a number of more general predictions for AfricaCom 2018:
Women in the spotlight
Almost half of the headline speakers at the event this year are women, which sets the show apart from a number of others: Hon. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister of Communications at Republic of Ghana; Elisabeth Medou Badang, Senior Vice President Africa and Indian Ocean and Spokesperson at Orange Middle East and Africa; and Priya Thakoor Chief Digital Officer, Southern and Eastern Africa at Coca Cola. This reflects a wider industry trend of more women on the continent assuming leadership roles, and AfricaCom will be a great opportunity to hear from female leaders, and sessions such as At the cutting edge – Africa’s female techpreneurs promises to showcase some exciting innovation.
IoT to offset voice decline
The global IoT is growing, and Africa is just one of the regions helping to fuel that growth – and reap the rewards; in the first quarter of 2017, revenues generated by the IoT industry increased by 30% year on year in Africa. Cellular networks connecting people, sensors, and things will have a significant impact on a range of industries, from mining and agriculture to smart cities and finance.
It’s not just businesses which will benefit either: efficiencies within, and easier access to, services like education and healthcare could have a dramatic affect on the wellbeing of citizens. This will be a key theme of AfricaCom 2018 and co-located event, IoT World Africa. The event aims to bring together the entire IoT ecosystem under one roof, from early adopting enterprises and inspirational governmental bodies, through to the most innovative operators and platform providers.
At BICS, it’s exciting to continuously look for creative solutions which can drive new revenue streams for operators – and the IoT will help do just that, enabling them to access new markets, and provide connectivity to a multitude of new applications.
5G is the future, but 3G and 4G are here to stay
Vodacom launched Africa’s first commercial 5G network in Lesotho in August, and there’ll no doubt be lots of talk of 5G at AfricaCom. It’s even been given its own show within the event: 5G Africa, where visitors will be able to ‘assess feedback from recent 5G trials, explore 5G use cases, learn about next generation services enabled by 5G and build a detailed roadmap for 5G deployments in Africa.’
However, 5G is a while off yet, and much of the continent still relies on 2G and 3G. According to the GSMA, it is 3G which will emerge as the dominant technology in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next seven years, accounting for 60% of the region’s connections by the end of 2025.
Alongside this, we’re seeing a growth in LTE traffic – both domestic and roaming. Supporting this growth is a costly investment for operators, so as well as providing connectivity solutions, BICS also offers a number of solutions which help operators get the most value out of their mobile data business and delivering the best service to their subscribers and roamers.
While we can look ahead to 5G and the IoT, there’s still a lot of work to be done to support current end-user needs – from traditional voice and SMS, to data traffic and the growth of fledging IoT businesses.