MTN Nigeria announced in late June that it would launch 5G services in Nigeria on 24 August, making it the first provider of 5G services in the country. This is part of the MTN Group’s wider drive to roll out 5G technology and services across Africa. And to make the company the leading 5G provider on the continent. In its effort to achieve this, MTN has engaged technology partners, including Sweden’s Ericsson and China’s Huawei and ZTE.
MTN made the announcement during the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP) organised by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) on 24 June. This followed MTN Nigeria being awarded Nigeria’s first 5G operating licence in December 2021.
The MTN Group has been aggressively pursuing its rollout of 5G technology in the countries in which it operates. In July, the company became the first firm in Africa to exceed 1,000 5G base sites. The majority of MTN’s 5G network is located in South Africa where it launched the next generation service in June 2020. To date, though, MTN is in the process of testing, rolling out, or has already launched a 5G network in four other African states: Botswana (under the Mascom brand), Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia.
MTN is primarily a network operator and telecommunications services provider. As such, the company has needed to partner with information communication technology (ICT) companies in order to roll out its 5G services. Thus far, the MTN Group has partnered with Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE to assist it with launching 5G in various markets. Ericsson is MTN’s preferred partner for its operations in South Africa, Botswana, and Nigeria.
But in Uganda, where MTN is in the early stages of developing its 5G network, the company has opted to partner with ZTE; and in Zambia, the firm selected Huawei as its preferred technology partner. This underscores the extent to which the 5G technology provider sector in Africa remains a highly competitive space. MTN has elected to decide on its partner based on its individual offering in each specific market rather than select a general partner to work with across the continent.
The rollout of 5G technology and services in Africa is among the most important technological developments currently underway on the continent. There is already a high level of mobile phone saturation in Africa with these devices becoming a key point of internet access to large swathes of the continent’s population. Mobile telecommunications infrastructure has also proven to be faster and more effective than the fibre alternative. In South Africa, where its 5G network is the most developed, MTN has been able to provide average download speeds of 326.62 Megabits per second (Mbps). This would revolutionise internet access in Africa should it be replicated widely elsewhere. And would drive e-commerce and streaming services, as well as enable improved remote work capabilities.
The launch of 5G services in Nigeria will be a true test of 5G potential in Africa. The continent’s most populous country has both a large urban and rural population and has larger developmental challenges than South Africa. The Nigerian government has also stated that it wants to have the largest 5G network in Africa within a year. As such, MTN Nigeria’s launch of 5G services will test the general demand for 5G as well as provide a case study for the potential impact 5G would have on technology and communication spaces in Africa.
Should the rollout in Nigeria be successful, MTN – and other network providers – will likely see to hasten their 5G rollouts. This will also see a marked increase in demand for 5G technology partners, especially those with regional experiences such as Ericsson, Huawei, and ZTE.
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