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African countries urged to accelerate E-band planning to build continent’s digital future

African countries urged to accelerate E-band planning to build Africa’s digital future

To accelerate 5G in Africa, regulatory frameworks governing critical wireless backhaul spectrum E-band (70-80 GHz) needs to be put on the agenda swiftly.

This is the call made by ICT experts at the 6th Annual Sub Sahara Spectrum Management Conference took place using a virtual format.

For data to move from one point to another on the internet, there needs to be a medium that allows these points to interface with each other. Wireless backhaul is the use of wireless communication, such as microwave, to transport data between the wireless site and core. It’s a key component to connect a device to the internet.

A combination of high capacity and low latency makes E-band (70-80 GHz) is ideal for high capacity backhaul.

“The E-band and 5G RAN spectrum planning prior to 5G is essential for the development of ICT in Africa especially as network densification and planning for (dense) urban network development advances,” said Shu Peijian, Director of Wireless and Core Network for Huawei Southern Africa Region.

According to GSMA’s Wireless Backhaul Evolution Delivering next-generation connectivity report published in February 2021, 5G is set to have a significant impact on backhaul networks in the coming years.

Microwave backhaul will account for the majority of global backhaul links from 2021 to 2027, with around 65 percent market share. The continued use of wireless backhaul will require an evolution toward higher frequency bands, such as the E-band, which can support wider channels and have a greater total amount of spectrum available.

Having demonstrated clear technical advantages in 5G backhaul construction globally, E-band spectrum has been allocated in 86 countries, including eight in Africa.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), for example, started E-Band regulatory planning in 2015 with amendments for use of these bands coming into force in 2016.

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Nigeria is also amongst first countries in Africa to open up 70/80GHz spectrum to support terrestrial service providers for short backhauling.

“E-band enables Nigeria’s backhaul network to evolve to the 4G & 5G era. The release of E-band is a very important step to accelerate Nigeria’s ICT development and enable more people to enjoy digital service,” said Engineer Joseph Emeshili, Head Spectrum Planning, Nigerian Communications Commission.

Industry insights show more than 85 percent of base stations in Africa use microwave for backhaul while eight carriers provisioned 5G services. Alongside the rollout of 5G in Africa, microwave backhaul is playing an increasing important role as an essential component to 5G network infrastructure in the continent.

As more and more of the African continent comes online, spectrum management will be critical to ensuring consistent, affordable, and equitable internet access.

Across the region, approximately 800-million people are not connected to the mobile internet. Of those, some 520-million can access the mobile internet but don’t, because of factors such as smartphone penetration and lack of skills while 270-million cannot access the mobile internet because they don’t have the requisite coverage.

Across the region, less than half of the population is covered by 4G mobile broadband.

Achieving consensus on spectrum management will play a major role in addressing those shortfalls.

“We live in a time when we talk about digital as a default, about digital transformation of our societies and economies, and the need for a fully connected society,” said Mario Maniewicz, Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau.

The 6th Annual Sub Sahara Spectrum Management Conference took place using a virtual format from July 20 to 22, 2021. The conference provided a platform for governments, regulators and industry to deliberate on issues pertaining to the management and coordination of spectrum policy across Africa and clear the path towards 5G to build Africa’s digital future.

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