About 50 percent of Africans are expected be covered by Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks by 2018, increasing the region's access to high speed data, according to a new report.
Market Intelligence firm ABI Research said in its report that LTE base station deployment in the region will swell by 40 percent in the next five years.
In the last two years, LTE networks have been launched in many African countries, including Zambia, South Africa, Angola, Namibia and Nigeria. The report predicts that African LTE subscriptions will increase by 128 percent to surpass 50 million by 2018.
"What makes the subscription growth possible is the increasing affordability of LTE handsets," said the report.
The coming of LTE networks in Africa coupled with the improving economies in most African countries is expected to trigger high demand for LTE-enabled mobile phones and other devices as costs come down.
In most African countries where LTE networks already exists, Chinese handsets manufacturers ZTE and Huawei Technologies have already partnered with mobile phone operators to provide cheaper LTE enabled handsets.
In Zambia, Huawei Technology has already partnered with Zamtel to provide LTE-enabled handsets, in addition to helping the company launch an LTE network last month. China-made LTE internet dongles have already found their way into the Zambian market and are being sold by MTN for US$65.00 with the price expected to fall as competition in the provision of LTE service stiffens.
The report has also pointed out lack of spectrum as a key factor that is holding back the rollout of LTE networks in many African countries.
Angolan mobile operator Movitel was the first company in Africa to launch commercial LTE last year. Since then, a number of operators in the region including MTN, Zambia's Zamtel, South Africa's Cell C and Vodacom have also launched LTE networks.
"A very good example of how LTE networks are fast spreading in Africa is Zambia, where we saw two LTE networks being launched by operators within just one month. We expect this trend to replicate in other countries before the end of this year," said Amos Kalunga, telecom analyst at Computer Society of Zambia.
Telecom companies in Africa are scrambling to adopt next-generation mobile services to boost their revenue, following the drop in voice service revenue as a result of stiff competition.
More operators in Africa, especially larger service providers, are looking to LTE as a technology growth path because it offers a greater variety of service options than earlier mobile technologies.