Mobile Phone Technologies In Africa

Much of the technology available globally is also available in Africa. Thus, the information here might apply elsewhere. Our prime focus though is Africa.

First Generation of Mobile Telephony (1G)
These basically entails the earliest technology that was deployed with the initial advent of mobile telephony. These include: AMPS and TDMA. 1G was introduced to Africa in the early 1990s and is gradually being phased-out and replaced by 2G technology.

Deployment of 1G in Africa
Due to its affordability for consumers, it is still available in Ghana and is gaining more popularity.

Second Generation of Mobile Telephony (2G)
This was the next phase of development after the 1G mobile technology. Research into the development of 2G technologies started as way back as the early eighties and saw real deployments in 1992. It was developed with the aim of correcting much of the problems that came with the earlier mobile phone systems. It is far more efficient with voice and data transmission and comes with enhanced security. 2G is a digital technology. Mobile networks in Africa mainly deploy well-known systems like GSM (900 / 1800MHz band) and cdmaOne.

Deployment of 2G in Africa
This is the most common deployment of mobile phone technology in Africa. GSM networks are widely available in many African countries though actual coverage can be wide-spread as in South Africa, or scant as in Mali, Sudan, and Burkina Faso.

Advanced Second Generation Technologies (2.5G)
High data requirements amongst consumers necessitated the improvement of the available technologies. Engineers tried to figure how they could ‘squeeze’ more data (information) through the available mobile network infrastructure. This saw the advent of technologies like GPRS, HSCSD, EDGE, CDMA2000. These improved versions of the 2G systems have brought much more improved functionality, possibilities and real-life applications. Most mobile phone networks in Africa, at time of writing, are still on the plain 2G system of GSM and CDMA. Some though are now aggressively migrating to the higher 2.5G platforms and even 3G! Needless to say that much of the rapid developments are witnessed in South Africa, Egypt and to some extent, Nigeria.

Deployment of 2.5G in Africa
The most common of the 2.5G technology deployment in Africa is GPRS. This is more because of its affordability with deployment. More GPRS-enabled handsets are widely available in many of Africa’s fast growing mobile phone market.
South African networks MTN and Vodacom had launched GPRS by 2002. GPRS has long been available on Egypt’s mobile phone networks Mobinil and Vodafone Egypt (Click GSM).
It is currently still being deployed in Nigeria by the mobile phone networks. Nigeria’s glo mobile took the lead by launching Nigeria’s first GPRS network in August 2004 followed by Mtel in April 2005. Kenya’s Safaricomm followed suit in April 2005.
Other networks are quiet about time of deployment.

Third Generation of Mobile Telephony (3G)
This is the latest form of mobile telephony technology that is currently gaining widespread deployment globally, especially in Europe and the Far East. It was designed to provide the best platform for mobile communication and can support features like Video Telephony, High Speed Internet access (burst speed of 384kbps), real-time audio & video broadcast and more.

Deployment of 3G in Africa
This is still a relatively new technology and as such has witnessed very limited real-time deployment in Africa. The earliest entry into this arena was EMTEL, a mobile phone company based in Mauritius. They launched Africa’s first 3G-capable network in November 2004. Following closely is South Africa’s Vodacom which deployed the first 3G network in South Africa in December 2004. MTN South Africa is also gearing up to launch an EDGE-capable network in early 2005, taking the lead from Spacefon Areeba who announced that they would be launching Africa’s first EDGE-capable network as way back as April 2004.

Fourth Generation of Mobile Telephony (4G)
4G promises High-speed mobile wireless access with a very high data transmission speed, of the same order of magnitude as a local area network connection. It is still under-going development and test are only currently running in Japan. It promises much more possibilities and applications and needless to say that this technology is currently not available anywhere in Africa. You can always check back here for developments as they unfold.

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Oluniyi D. Ajao
Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.

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