5G has held out the promise of faster, more pervasive technology for some years – and it’s finally going mainstream in 2024.

The November 2023 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report projects that total mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa will grow at 3 percent annually from 940-million in 2023 to 1,1-billion in 2029. 5G will be the fastest-growing subscription type between 2023 and 2029 at 60% annually, from 11-million in 2023 to 180-million by the end of 2029, and accounting for 16% of total connections at that time.

The telecom sector in Sub-Saharan Africa remains resilient as connectivity has become a necessity for voice and data communications, as well as for enabling services such as banking. Driving forces behind the growth in the region include a positive economic outlook and forward-thinking regulatory measures for building out network coverage.

By 2029, 4G subscriptions will account for 49% of the total, as access to lower-priced smartphones and data services increases across the region. 2G subscriptions will maintain a significant share of total subscriptions at 27%, mainly due to the region’s largely rural population. Service providers in sub-Saharan Africa are also exploring additional offerings on mobile platforms, such as health, education, and e-commerce.

Hossam Kandeel, vice-president and head of global customer unit MTN and customer unit MTN Africa at Ericsson Middle East and Africa, says: “In the latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, it is found that Sub-Saharan Africa is poised to remain the region with the highest growth in total mobile data traffic in the forecast period.

“This growth will be driven by the expansion of 4G network coverage across the continent and the increasing affordability of data and smartphones. We are committed to the digitalization journey in sub-Saharan Africa, hand-in-hand with our partners.”

In the quest to meet Africa’s increasing broadband demands, Fixed Wireless Access emerges as a pivotal technology. Several key African markets, including South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, have already launched 5G FWA services. This shift can be attributed to its cost-effectiveness, rapid deployment capabilities and inherent flexibility.

The report also estimates that in the six years between the end of 2023 and 2029, global 5G subscriptions are forecast to increase by more than 33% – from 1,6-billion to 5,3-billion. 5G coverage is forecast to be available to more than 45 percent of the global population by the end of 2023 and 85% by the end of 2029.  North America and the Gulf Cooperation Council are expected to have the highest regional 5G penetration rates by the end of 2029 at 92%, and Western Europe is forecast to follow at 85% penetration.