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EDITOR’S BLOG 130717 The two faces of telecoms

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This week has demonstrated the gulf between the haves and have nots in telecoms more clearly than for quite sometime.

On the one hand we see 5G starting to get going here in the UK – well in trial form at least – which will offer untold richness of communication to users here and open up new business opportunities for the telemedia sector.

On the other hand, we also see that, once the great white hope for mobile emancipation, Africa is now struggling to mobilise its people – and the west seems to have lost interest.

This dichotomy is important as both 5G and mobile spread in Africa are central to the on going development of the telemedia sector.

Africa is already been seen as a hot spot for development, leapfrogging landlines and going straight to mobile. On the back of this we have seen mobile payments and transfers sky rocket. In fact, Xpress Money, one of the world’s most dependable money transfer brands has partnered with TerraPay, the world’s first mobile billing & payments switch, to enable real-time international money transfers to mobile wallets in Africa. And our very own Oxygen8 – newly rebranded as Dynamic Mobile Billing – has long targeted the dark continent for spreading the mobile payment message, with great results.

But it seems that these are two entrants that buck the trend. According to a new white paper by the entrepreneurs behind Qwickfone says that the widely held claim by the telecom and network operators that 1 billion more people in Africa will be connected to the world via mobile phones by 2021 is a fallacy.

The reason is that the infrastructure needed to support the telecoms revolution has failed to materialise. Yes, the will was there to roll out significantly good mobile networks and a raft of services on the top of it, but there is no reliable power supply, there is a lack of foreign money to maintain the mobile networks and spectrum auctions in numerous African countries were poorly organised.

This leaves the people of Africa – and many of those looking to invest in the region – facing some stark decisions.

Compare this to the UK, where 5G network trials are starting. Here, we are looking forward to so much mobile bandwidth that we will see everything from entertainment to medicine to even how we drive and manage our cities change.

5G promises messaging that is rich and intelligent. It promises the ability for surgeons to operate remotely on patients. It offers the chance for cars to drive intelligently and it means that every facet of our lives will change. It will also free up bandwidth on ‘old’ 4G and 3G networks to ramp up the internet of things to such a degree that, in 10 years time, we won’t recognise the world we live in.

But, as with Africa, it all hinges on the infrastructure. Remember when 4G was introduced? It was, at best, ‘patchy’ and it has taken some two years to be something one gets more often than not. In fact, I am still mildly surprised when ‘4G’ appears on the phone when I am outside of London. I imagine that, while there is much promise in 5G, it will be some time before the majority of us get to use it regularly.

And the cost of it will probably make it a luxury item to start with at least. In fact, we may well find ourselves in a similar situation to Africa where many of us don’t see the benefits of 5G for many years, if at all – unless of course, when Brexit is cancelled at the eleventh hour and we become a socialist utopia things will finally get better. I can dream, can’t I?

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Editor and content creator for Telemedia – for 18 years and counting

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