Digital transformation in all economic sectors and the increasingly vital role of digital technology in our daily lives is driving the advancements in 4G coverage expansion in Africa.

Notably, the broadband coverage gap reduced from 51% to 19% from 2014 to 2020 in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report. Despite this considerable progress, only 28% of the region’s population are using mobile internet, with many remaining digitally disconnected even though they are covered by 4G.

4G improves on 3G and 2G technologies, providing faster, reliable and secure online access to essential services, enabling financial inclusion and promoting job creation. Access to 4G can transform lives, reduce poverty and support growth in areas such as health, agriculture, education and commerce.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of universal broadband access, another billion people in Africa need to come online by 2030. While robust 4G infrastructure is critical in providing quality connectivity, these new users will not be able to benefit fully from digital services unless this coverage is utilised.

Driving demand for 4G
The GSMA reports that one of the barriers to using broadband connectivity is a lack of digital literacy and skills. To help grow the demand, and therefore usage of 4G services across Africa, investment in infrastructure needs to be complemented by investment in digital skills training so citizens can access 4G effectively.
Understanding the opportunities of broadband connectivity, and how to leverage them, should start from early childhood and continue to adult education, encompassing learners, teachers, parents and communities. This requires partnerships between governments, education sectors and information and communication technology industries. One such initiative that is accelerating digital skills development is Vodacom’s partnership with the Ministry of Education in the DRC to introduce the zero-rated VodaEduc. The e-learning platform offers free digital lessons to more than 113 000 learners and teachers on their mobile devices and laptops.

Investing in digital skills training and financing for digital start-ups and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) on the continent can assist in building a local digital ecosystem. In Tanzania, Vodacom collaborated with selected SMEs to provide them with digital skills training and connectivity to help them use digital platforms to boost profitability. Not only can this type of partnership drive a demand for 4G services but it contributes to sustainable economic growth for the continent.

Key to enabling universal 4G access is addressing the affordability of 4G-enabled devices. The Alliance for Affordable Internet estimates that a smartphone in Africa could cost almost 63% of the average monthly income of citizens. This high price, combined with the expense of purchasing data plans, hampers 4G usage on the continent.