Telecoms and Development

5G and the New Kenyan Economy

In their 2019 Hype Cycle report for Enterprise Networking, Gartner placed 5G services at the Peak of Inflated Expectations. This means that we are at the peak of media and marketing hype about 5G. In this phase, people are over-expectant about what the technology can deliver coupled with unrealistic projections of the same becoming available to the wider population. The report also says that 5G is about 10 years away from showing real-world benefits and being consumed by the mass market. The fact of the matter however is that 10yrs is not a long time and 5G is coming and it will change the economy in more significant ways than the current and previous mobile generations did.

The question in many people’s mind however is why is the world rushing to 5G when much of the worlds population isn’t even covered by 4G? The other question is some people’s mind is also why do we need higher speeds yet the current needs are being met twice over by the existing generation? The answer lies in how this new generation of mobile technology is designed. Unlike previous generations, 5G is designed with three things in mind namely; Offer higher speeds, connect a much large number of devices to the network and do this at a much lower latency.
These three focus areas of 5G means that wireless mobile networks will no longer just be high-speed highways to access content online, but will morph and become part of our critical supporting infrastructure to provide services such as urban transportation, medical services, e-government and run smart cities.

The same way previous generations of mobile networks have created jobs and revolutionized how we live and work (e.g. mobile money, internet, social media use), 5G will do even more. For example, to deliver low latencies on some critical services such as remote medical and machine operation procedures and access to the cloud, content providers will need to host their content and Machine Learning code as close as possible to the end-users. To achieve this, they will need to host their content, not on the cloud, but at the edge. Edge computing is going to experience an exponential growth as content providers host content at edge. This will democratize storage service provision and enable smaller investors and players to invest in edge computing services in their locality. A staff sacco for example, instead of doing the usual land-buying ritual as a form of investment can build small green energy powered data centers in rural Kenya and lease them out to 5G network operators and content providers.

The ability to connect a significantly large number of devices to the network is also a strong point of 5G. Unlike previous generations that only connected mobile phones, 5G will connect sensors and other everyday items such as cars, home electronics, gates, windows and doors, pets, furniture and many more to the Internet. The same way mobile devices have created employment for the masses ranging from those who sell them, repair or even maintain them or even sell airtime scratchcards, these newly connected devices and sensors will likewise create new business and job opportunities for the citizens in ways we cannot imagine today.

Finally, the higher throughput that 5G will bring will usher new ways of accessing online content and infotainment, due to low latency and high bandwidth in 5G, technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will go mainstream, product owners will be creating VR/AR tours of their products for marketing and sales purposes, e-learning will change from being presented on a 2D screen into an immersive 4D experience and this will change how education is delivered. All these technologies will spur new industries the same way the initial internet and mobile revolution spurred new jobs and careers for web and mobile app designers, social media influencers and vloggers. The lower latency and bandwidth will also enable the remote operation of machinery and patients by experts from halfway round the world and would bring world-class medical care or technical expertise close to where its needed in a cost effective way. This development will also spur new opportunities and business models will emerge. If you are amazed by the current mobile revolution, prepare to be one hundred times more amazed by what 5G will usher into the world.

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