The Trump-led American government maintains its chokehold on Huawei, campaigning for other European markets to slam the door on the Chinese tech firm’s 5G offerings. While the propaganda may be working in places like France, Canada and Germany, it is likely that the network equipment maker will conquer the 5G market of North Africa.
Huawei is responsible for Africa’s first commercial fifth-generation connection, which started Rain in South Africa, and on to Lesotho. Ericsson, its biggest rival has also gained foothold in the continent, building MTN South Africa and Telma Madagascar’s versions of the connectivity.
There is much reason to believe that Kenya’s Safaricom will patronize the Shenzhen-headquartered firm’s equipment as well.
Huawei may have to struggle with Ericsson in the Sub-Saharan 5G market, but it seems to already have the upper hand in North Africa, also known as the Maghreb region, where Chinese influence already runs deep.
As of April 2019, Huawei was already singing its 5G launch song ahead of the year’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON), hosted by the country. And, for the first time in Egypt, the new generation connectivity.
After operating in the country since 1999, the Chinese firm introduced the technology at the 74,000 capacity Cairo International Stadium which hosted 10 soccer games, including the competition’s finals.
Despite the fact that a full/commercial 5G rollout for Egypt remains in the works, Huawei already has dominance. The government’s continued commitment to developing infrastructure through smart cities can only be fully achieved with the technology.
Since Huawei is on ground to provide, there is hardly any reason for the leadership and concerned telcos to look elsewhere. In April 2019, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly met with Li Jie, Chairman of Huawei’s Supervisory Board, at the Prime Minister’s Office.
They had in-depth talks regarding new capital smart city construction related technologies and practical education and training in various industry sectors. Both parties are looking forward to cooperate in strategic matters including 5G, AI technologies etc.
In Tunisia, one of Africa’s best places for effective 4G, there is no 5G yet. The country’s mobile network operators (MNOs) are expecting licenses for the technology’s rollout in 2021. But ahead, Ooredoo Tunisie, the Tunisian arm of Qatar-based telecoms giant Ooredoo, has selected Huawei to build the infrastructure.
Alongside Kuwait, Oman, Indonesia, and the Maldives, Tunisia will make use of Huawei’s 5G Single RAN radio solution with advanced Massive MIMO technology, in addition to its 5G Cloud Core technologies. Although, in Qatar, the firm is using 5G technology from Nokia for its core systems and has also tried Ericsson’s build.
Meanwhile, Tunisie Telecom, the country’s legacy operator—which is 65 percent state-owned and consistently dominates the market of fixed-line subscriptions by a wide margin—is also joining hands with Huawei to build one of the fastest LTE networks ahead of the 5G era.
Nevertheless, Orange Tunisie may be the odd teclo out, because its French headquarters has made it known it won’t be joining the bandwagon. “We don’t foresee calling on Huawei for 5G,” Orange CEO Stephane Richard told reporters in Paris. “We are working with our traditional partners – they are Ericsson and Nokia.”
Huawei is already supporting 8 Moroccan universities for the training of 12,000 students in the ICT field over a period of 3 years. It is also helping the public administration to digitize services. Call it goodwill ahead of business proper.
According to Philippe Wang Vice President of Huawei North Africa, the company is ready to collaborate with Moroccan operators in deploying the technology. The country is still operating with a 4G network, but the Global Connectivity Index (GCI) for 2019 published by Huawei ranked Morocco third in Africa for 4G coverage, behind South Africa and Egypt.
Huawei has been operating in the kingdom since 1999 and has headquarters in Rabat, the country’s capital and seventh largest city. The company also opened another regional headquarters in Casablanca in 2018, from where it oversees its North African operations.
No official commercial 5G yet, but Huawei is a major partner in digital transition with all key players in the telecommunications field in Morocco, such as Inwi, Maroc Telecom and Orange.
Meanwhile, Mobilis, one of Algeria’s top telecoms providers, has tested gigabit-capable mobile technology in Oran, a port city in north-western Algeria, as part of the ‘Smart Algeria’ forum. Doing so with Huawei also, the telco will start experimenting 5G across the country from August 2020.
It appears a coincidence that Huawei has presence in the African countries with the best 4G coverage. Looking at the extent of influence they now have in these nations, though, one could easily spot a business tactic, one that is poised to deliver the company almost all of the region’s 5G doughnut.
China’s influence in North Africa is rarely spoken of, but the diplomatic silence needs be broken. Asides from the arguments that America’s bad blood with Huawei cannot replicate in Africa, Beijing has been carving out a niche for itself in the Maghreb.
Through this engagement—with Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco especially—China is setting up North Africa to play an integral role in connecting Asia, Africa, and Europe—a key aim of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
While the Asian country’s dealings with Egypt and Algeria are formed by a robust diplomatic and security partnership, its growing presence in countries like Morocco and Tunisia remains primarily economic and cultural in nature.
According to a Brookings policy brief, the overall strategic location of these five countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean means that China’s presence will only continue to expand, especially in the economic realm.