LIVE FROM MWC KIGALI 2023: GSMA director general Mats Granryd highlighted the need for all stakeholders across the digital ecosystem to help invest in building connectivity in Africa, with operators requiring significant increases in capex to drive the continent’s digital transformation.  

Granryd noted mobile data traffic in the region is forecast to quadruple in the next five years: “We need to be prepared. We need a fair and proportionate contribution towards the costs of network infrastructure.”

He cited data estimating operations in the region need $75 billion to build out their 4G and 5G networks over the next seven years to keep up with customer demands.

Africa has nearly 490 million mobile subscribers, representing just 43 per cent of the population.

The low percentage is mainly due to the usage gap, people covered by mobile internet but not yet using it, which is the highest in the world, he stated. Some 680 million people in Africa are not using mobile internet for a variety of reasons, such as device affordability, digital literacy and relevant content in local languages.

“The good news is in Sub-Saharan Africa the coverage gap narrowed to 15 per cent,” Granryd added, reflecting the fact mobile network coverage is available to the vast majority of the region’s population.

Granryd noted the digital transformation story in Africa “is only just beginning and is one to watch”, given it has the world’s youngest population.

“In Africa we have seen time and again the exponential growth that can happen when technology takes off.”

He cited the example of mobile money, which was introduced in Africa 16 years ago. Today the continent has more than 760 million registered accounts, generating some $830 billion in transactions per year.

While African had a late start to 5G, rollouts are growing quickly, the GSMA chief said. By September, almost 30 operators in 16 markets launched commercial 5G services.

Another key element to addressing the usage gap is spectrum, Granryd said, which makes it critical for the World Radiocommunication Conference in Dubai to deliver low-band frequencies, 3.5GHz harmonisation to drive affordability and the 6GHz band for the expansion of 5G.