For many countries, the prospects of automation and 5G deployment are thrilling. They conjure up the kinds of innovations we see in science fiction.
In Africa, however, the dawn of automation and 5G deployment carries with it a fear of falling further behind more-developed economies, rather than the eager anticipation of new technology.
At the peak of the pandemic in 2020, there were many conspiracy theories linking 5G to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). In spite of the pervasive narrative that automation spells doom for Africa’s development, it is essential to note that with thoughtful planning, the continent can leverage on 5G as a tool to help grow our countries’ economies.
For too long, African markets have been stagnant in that capacity, but automation and 5G deployment are well poised to change that. In countries like Nigeria and Kenya, where capital is scarce but ideas are abundant, process automation can enable businesses to run on leaner models.
Moreover, rather than displacing employees, machines can empower low-skilled workers and equip them to take on more complex responsibilities. Africa need not dread the age of robotics and automation. Across the continent, this technology has the potential to bring a myriad of positive changes in sectors such as healthcare, finance – bridging the gap between physical infrastructure inadequacies and consumer demands.
It also has the potential of freeing up more time for skilled labour and increased labour productivity. For Africans to reap these benefits, African governments, investors and civil society must key into the fourth industrial revolution’s transformation of the modern workplace by training workers for complex tasks, reforming laws and education to meet the demands of tomorrow.
Also some stakeholders in the Information Communication and Technology sector, during an online Tech Policy Talk, shared the view that Africans need to embrace automation, 5G and artificial intelligence to improve their economies.
Mr Lacina Kone, Director-General of Smart Africa, stressed the need for Africa to be transformed to a single digital market by 2030. He pointed out that currently, only 39.8 per cent of Africa’s population were connected, noting that the remaining are still not connected.
Kone noted that the time has come for Africans to start using automated machinery. The director-general said that machine automation would aid digital transformation in Africa’s manufacturing sector.
“Manufacturing for instance is labour intensive. So, if we Africans want to transform our economies, we need to start moving to machine automation and 5G presents a unique opportunity for such services,” Kone said. He, however, pointed out that to allow a better and efficient deployment of 5G in Africa, governments and regulators in the industry must learn from the mistakes made during the deployment of 4G and 3G.
Prof. Umaru Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman, Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), also emphasizes the need for African countries to invest in the right infrastructure to facilitate the deployment of 5G services. He said the key to the success of 5G deployment was infrastructure, noting that African countries would do well by investing in the right infrastructure to facilitate it.
Danbatta noted that Nigeria’s network infrastructure was 80 per cent wireless and quite a few percentages of the infrastructure was 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE).
“As we are all aware, 5G services will initially have to rely on the 4G LTE for the provision of enhanced broadband services. We do not have the infrastructure in place yet, this services will entail deployment of additional infrastructure if we are going to move to the usage of low latency as well as machine-to-machine services,” he said.
Also, Mr Nkateko Nyoka, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer at Vodacom Group, said that in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphsa had spoken severally on the need to build smart cities. According to him, South Africa actually have some smart cities but the country has both elements of a developed and underdeveloped economy.
Nyoka added that the concern of having both elements stretches across many countries in Africa. “The reality is that in many of our markets, some of these services are provided by the existing technologies of 3G and 4G.
“We do accept that 5G will present certain benefits that we have not had before, but there will be issues around access. Just like the South African situation of smart cities, the challenge for Africa is how do we close the gap.
“What 5G will present to us is obviously a reduction of latency, but we also need to think of what the general population will benefit from it without creating an unnecessary gap.
“This unnecessary gap would be between the rich segments of our population and the poor,” Nkateko said.
He said the introduction of 5G should be targeted at areas like health care and education that everyone could benefit from.
Mr Jide Awe, Chief Executive Officer of Jidaw Systems Limited, stressed the need for the acceptance of Artificial intelligence (AI) automation and 5G deployment in Africa, noting that it will go a long way in boosting our economies.
He pointed out that to compete with developed countries, it is necessary to accept new technology trends and also invest in the right infrastructure that would drive innovations.
“An example is what Facebook is trying to do with the introduction of the Metaverse technology globally, an innovation which would enable users to teleport instantly to their places of work or conference or see their loved ones without commuting.
“The Metaverse is a virtual world that users can explore using personalised avatars. It extends beyond gaming and allows visitors to interact virtually and experience various activities in real-time.
“These are the kind of technology trends we should be looking forward to as Africans in order to make our operations and daily activities better and faster without stress,” Awe said.
He pointed out that for such technology to work in Africa, the deployment of 5G and other critical infrastructure was needed. Awe noted that the acceptance of new technologies was key, adding that if not, we will be left behind while advanced countries continue to evolve in the tech space.