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15 November 2022

Orange turns on first African 5G network, prioritizing FWA

By Wireless Watch Staff

Orange is a significant operator in Africa, especially the Francophone north and west regions, but has not deployed commercial 5G there, until now. Its first 5G market on the continent is Botswana in southern Africa.

The operator plans to launch 5G in six other markets in the Middle East and Africa next year, as long as regulators and spectrum allocations allow, and is focusing heavily on fixed wireless access (FWA) as a way to expand broadband services to larger populations. The first launch of 2023 is expected to be in Jordan, followed by Ivory Coast and Senegal.

The Botswana network is running in 3.5 GHz spectrum. The CEO of Orange Botswana, Néné Maiga ,said the 5G service reaches 30% of the country’s population, mainly in and around the capital, Gaborone, and the second city of Francistown. It plans to expand coverage to other cities in early 2023.

Maiga said 5G would bring “a wealth of possibilities” based on connectivity “that is as good as fiber” for consumers and would enable new business services incorporating cloud computing, automation and AI.

Jérôme Hénique, CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa, added: “It will allow us to connect people not only on mobile phones, but as well with FWA services. This is our main strategy for launching 5G in Africa and we are very glad to start with Botswana.”

The operator unveiled 5G FWA and mobile data bundles, targeting residential customers and SMEs, though Maiga acknowledged a shortage of affordable 5G mobile devices in Botswana as a barrier to adoption. Until handset costs go below $150, FWA will be the main use case.

Orange already offers 4G-based FWA in Botswana, where half of its 2m broadband customers are connected wirelessly, and the other half by fiber.

Orange is also exploring “many use cases for large B2B accounts” in markets such as mining and ports, said Hénique, as well as other potential 5G-enabled applications including e-health, connected vehicles, smart cities, real-time gaming, smart homes and AR/VR for education.