The Future of LTE in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Future of LTE in Sub-Saharan Africa

At present, mobile internet is huge in Africa, with the continent accounting for 9% of global mobile subscriptions in early 2014. The downside to this news though, is the fact that most of these mobile subscriptions are still on GSM, rather than LTE or even 3G. Right now, it is reported that only 5% of Africans are covered by LTE, as opposed to the global average of 20%.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s suspected growth rate

Although the current facts seem a little dismal, the Ericsson Mobility Report projects that Africa’s mobile traffic rate is set to grow by 20% in the next 5 or so years, twice the projected global growth rate. A study conducted by ABI Research predicts even better growth rates, with claims that by the end of 2018, half of the African population will be covered by LTE. This translates into an impressive 1.25 billion subscribers.

ABI attributes this claim to the fact that LTE base station deployment is swelling at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40% over the next five years, the increased number of LTE handset will also drive down prices, making them increasingly available to the average citizen.

What makes this exponential subscription growth possible is the increasing affordability of LTE handsets a few years down the road,” notes Jake Saunders, VP 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. There is a strong business case for mobile operators to roll-out LTE early to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Sub-Saharan Africa’s Unique Telecommunication Environment

Due to infrastructure being weak and underdeveloped in many Sub-Saharan countries, Communications service providers (CSPs) have had to adapt quickly and innovate often, in order to meet the challenges and opportunities of the market.

An interesting development is the popularity of mobile data use in the region, which while serving to overcome inadequate physical telecommunication and internet infrastructure in many countries, now requires its own effective infrastructure. Subscribers are expecting an increasingly higher level of quality in respect to their internet experience, and providers have to keep up with the growing demands.

The last two years have seen quite a few African countries rolling out LTE networks, including Zambia, South Africa, Angola, Namibia and Nigeria. Angola’s Movitel was the first to launch its LTE network, with mobile service providers MTN, Zambia’s Zamtel, South Africa’s Cell C and Vodacom soon following suit.

Aiding the move to greater LTE integration, the GSMA has predicted that the amount of LTE-friendly smart phones users in Sub-Saharan Africa will increase by 40% each year through 2017. Africa has also become an attractive option for handset manufacturers looking for new markets, as the mobile infrastructure grows.

LTE’s effect on Africa as a Tourist Destination

Another aspect to why African countries are seeing the need to increase their LTE coverage, is not necessarily for the lone sake of the locals, but to attract more tourists. High level tourists are used to their creature comforts, and the more technologically-advanced African countries are, the more likely that tourists will be tempted to visit.

If tourists know that they can go on safari without losing internet coverage, they will be more likely to jump at the opportunity, than if their African experience involved high levels of discomfort. Technology is associated with civilization, so tourists will be happier to visit somewhere that boasts similar technology to what they are used to, rather than the unknown. Increased tourism leads to increased wealth for the country.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, by the end of 2019, there will be 80% 2G coverage, 65% 3G coverage, and 40% LTE coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa

For further reading, go to these sites:

  1. SSA mobile data traffic projected to grow 20x by 2020, 75% of mobile subscriptions to be 3G/4G”, O Africa, 3 June 2014. Available at:
  2. James Barton, “50% of the African Population to be Covered by LTE Networks by 2018”, Developing Telecomms, 14 February 2014. Available at:
  3. Leslie Ferry, “LTE driving the UC mobile operator opportunity in Africa”, Developing Telecomms, 30 April 2014. Available at:
  4. Nestor Mendy, “Reporting Within the Sub-Saharan African Telecom Industry: Challenges, Growth and Innovation”, Proactive Network News, 13 February 2014. Available at:
David Okwara

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