5G technology is expected to contribute an estimated $5.2 billion (R67 billion) to the gross domestic product (GDP) in Sub-Saharan Africa, and $970 million (R14 billion) in tax revenue by 2034.
This is according to an economic study conducted by the GSM Association (GSMA), which reveals that releasing 5G millimetre wave (mmWave) capacity will create global economic expansion valued at $565 billion. This figure will represent 2.9% of global GDP growth by 2034.
It says while this economic growth points to a huge impact on developing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, it will largely hinge on the availability of access to a specific strand of radio waves, known as mmWave spectrum.
MmWave spectrum is the band of spectrum between 30GHz and 300GHz, which can be used for high-speed wireless communications.
It is considered by US agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and researchers as the way to bring 5G into the future by allocating more bandwidth to deliver faster, higher-quality video, and multimedia content and services.
The GSMA points out the benefits of 5G mmWave will be felt across industries, playing a key role in exciting new 5G use cases in energy production, transportation, professional services, mining and healthcare, which all require this technology.
However, the report raises serious concerns that this economically-critical spectrum and the 5G services it will enable are under threat due to a territorial dispute triggered by the space industry.
Without adequate support and allocation of 5G mmWave spectrum, the deployment of these essential 5G services may be delayed for up to a decade, it warns.
"We can't let misinformation and the overly protectionist attitudes of the space industry derail the 5G revolution," says Brett Tarnutzer, head of spectrum at the GSMA.
"Over-stringent protection will limit the spectrum needed for 5G and have huge consequences for society. This could put the economic and innovation bonanza accompanying ultra-fast networks on hold for a generation."
According to the GSMA, 5G mmWave technology highlights a $5.2 billion boost to GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa, while South-East Asia will see a $45 billion rise in GDP, and Latin America will benefit by $20.8 billion.
With the overwhelming majority of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa classified as resource-rich in terms of hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas) and minerals (gold, copper and iron ore), the GSMA says mmWave 5G applications can significantly impact the extractive industries, such as mining, hydrocarbon production and industrial automation.
Use cases in these fields include providing the next-generation broadband to transport and conduct remote object manipulation, which are among the highest contributors to GDP in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.
In the education sector, mmWave 5G will provide high-speed broadband to support virtual and augmented reality educational applications, allowing distance learning and richer educational experiences. This will expand opportunities and support improved educational outcomes – a benefit that will ripple through entire communities and societies, notes the GSMA.
In the healthcare sector, mmWave 5G is expected to provide high-speed broadband that enables virtual training to healthcare employees, remote participation of experts during difficult procedures, and remote diagnostic services.
In this manner, mmWave 5G will lead to improved healthcare, especially through access to medical services in rural areas and higher-quality medical services overall.
The GSMA believes some players in the space industry are "determined to limit" mobile use of airwaves that 5G requires to reach its full potential. This "protectionist attitude" is ringing alarm bells throughout the mobile communications world.
Tarnutzer stresses this argument has profound implications for huge swathes of humanity.
"Billions of citizens are counting on more innovation and more investments in their future economic prosperity to improve their lives. The benefits of 5G are truly global and the outcome of this fight matters to us all."
Last week, communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams issued the long-awaited policy and policy direction for the licensing of high-demand spectrum, paving the way for wholesale open access network licensing.
In SA, telecoms companies have long been waiting for allocation of 4G spectrum in order to provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services.
The World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), taking place from 28 October to 22 November, will see 3 000 delegates from over 190 nations meet in Egypt to agree on how radiowave capacity will be allocated and used.
"WRC-19 is a critical moment for administrations to secure mmWave spectrum for future use and guarantee delivery of 5G-enabled services in their countries," concludes Tarnutzer.