By Wayne Thembani Chinembiri, LL.M and Dr. Claudia Tapia, LL.M

Education is central to Africa’s capacity to escape extreme poverty and promote sustainable economic development.  To achieve its educational goals and full potential, Africa must encourage faster adoption of cellular standards, particularly of 5G.

Imagine that all cities in Africa become ‘smart’ and are thus able to control and monitor their water consumption, provide intelligent transport systems, reduce their use of energy, and increase public safety. Or that Africans from remote and poor areas can benefit, whenever needed, from advanced surgery using robotic technology (remote surgery) or from receiving the same education as those living in a high-income city. Imagine that Africa can optimize crop placement thanks to the information collected by sensors. Now think about the (r)evolution that these groundbreaking technologies could bring to the African continent’s social welfare and economic growth.

This is not science fiction but a truly achievable goal. Indeed, Africa can accomplish this and much more thanks to the connectivity enabled by cellular telecommunication standards. Cellular standards (2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G) are technical requirements that companies fulfill to make existing and new products, services, or processes compatible (interoperable). Thanks to them, we can successfully call someone else with our phones even if the other person’s phone is a different brand. We also use different networks, even if each of us has a contract with a different carrier. We can connect as our devices speak the same language. They do so because these companies (phone manufacturers, carriers, infrastructure providers, etc.) incorporate cellular standards into their products, processes, or services.

Each generation (G) of a cellular standard represents a significant improvement from the previous one. For example, 4G networks transfer data 12,000 times faster than 2G networks. In practice, this means that with your phone in a 2G network, you would need hours to stream a 90-minute HD video, whereas, in a 4G area, you just require 90 seconds. And with 5G, a ‘smart’ world will become a reality. For industry, 5G allows for massive machine-type communications (i.e., involving one or more entities that do not necessarily need human interaction) and a boom in machine-to-machine communication (i.e., without any human intervention). This is why 77% of African businesses believe 5G will be ‘transformational’.

One of the pillars of a ‘smart’ Africa is affordable and widely accessible education. Education is a path toward eradicating poverty in Africa as it creates opportunities for anyone to generate individual income. Educated people earn more than uneducated people. They also pay higher taxes, which the government can reinvest in other projects. Highly educated (skilled) workers increase the economy’s productivity as they adapt quickly to technology changes, can perform complicated tasks, and are more creative, thus capable of developing innovative solutions. Consequently, educated citizens would translate into a real opportunity for Africa to successfully develop and implement digitalization, the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), and the Internet of Things on the whole continent.

The accelerated adoption of cellular standards, particularly of 5G, is thus almost a necessity for Africa. Mobile broadband should be encouraged as it (1) delivers broadband-speed Internet to devices while not being at home (or in other Wi-Fi areas), (2) is often the only technology in Africa that enables Internet access, and (3) contributes to the gross domestic product (GDP). Indeed, expanding mobile broadband penetration by 10 percent on the continent could yield an increase of 2.5 %in GDP per capita.  One example of the correlation between connectivity and GDP is the development in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to GSMA Intelligence, by the end of 2020, 495 million people had subscribed to mobile services in Sub-Saharan Africa, of which 303 million were connected to mobile Internet, a figure equivalent to 28% of the entire population. Estimates are that by 2025, Sub-Saharan Africa’s mobile industry will contribute around $155 billion to its GDP, led by productivity gains in education, financial services (mobile money), health, retail, agriculture, and public governance.

In the second part of this article, we will discuss why education is a key target for adopting cellular standards and how ARIPO serves a critical role in achieving this goal.

Disclaimer: Wayne Thembani Chinembiri, LL.M is a Legal Researcher, and Dr. Claudia Tapia, LL.M is the Director of IP Policy and Legal Academic Research, both at Ericsson. The views expressed in this article are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily represent those of Ericsson.