Half the population of Africa will be covered with 4G networks by the end of 2018, according to a new study from ABI Research, as the number of base stations deployed across the continent increases at a compound annual growth rate of 40% over the next five years.
Even so, LTE network population coverage will be far from homogenous across the region, says ABI Research.
In several countries, including Angola and Namibia, 4G networks have already been extended across nearly half of the population, while in others, such as Botswana and Gabon, the technology has yet to be launched.
“Part of the underlying reason for this digital divide is the different types of initiatives driving LTE roll-out,” said Ying Kang Tan, a research associate with ABI Research. “We expect wholesale or shared networks such as the joint venture between the Rwandan government and Korea Telecom and the public-private partnership proposed by the Kenyan government to spur LTE deployment.”
That public-private partnership appears to have stalled, notes ABI Research, but Kenya’s government is considering a spectrum-sharing agreement to resolve the matter.
The introduction of an LTE-only operator called Smile should also introduce new competition into the market and spur 4G development.
ABI Research also expects African LTE cellular subscriptions to multiply at a CAGR of 128% over the next five years, surpassing 50 million at the end of 2018, with nearly half of those subscriptions using voice over LTE services.
“What makes this exponential subscription growth possible is the increasing affordability of LTE handsets a few years down the road,” notes Jake Saunders, vice president and practice director. “LTE handset shipments will increase by 75% annually on average in the next five years.”
“Given the poor fixed-line infrastructure, people will depend on the wireless network for Internet access,” added Saunders. “There is a strong business case for mobile operators to roll-out LTE early to take advantage of the opportunity.”