Zuckerberg, Google, 5G and the battle for Africa

Written by on February 26, 2016 in Opinion with 0 Comments

69e39b03-9e64-4b23-b7ac-9da24413bd53It is as if Mark Zuckerberg cannot help himself. He is nice to the communications industry one moment, and then has a swipe at it the next. During his fireside chat at MWC the other day, he did exactly that. One minute it was all partnership talk, the next he was saying that 5G is a rich man’s technology and what are you doing about those who are not connected yet?

He must do it on purpose. He knows that if he pokes at the industry he will get a reaction.

And he is right.

5G may be a rich man’s technology, but he needs it badly. Without capacity his billion or so customers will have trouble watching all the videos he will be posting every second of every day.

The unconnected are also a major part of his vision and he needs the communications industry for that as well. While his Free Basics initiative hit a road bump in India – a large one – he is still determined to roll it out across other regions, particularly Africa.

In fact Africa has become the front line in his battle plan, and his nemesis Google is not in the mood to give it up. While Zuckerberg was poking at the industry, Google and Orange were announcing a major link up in the Middle East and Africa. Google are offering various, Google based, applications in partnership with Orange that together will bring connectivity – and with it creativity – to vast numbers of intelligent but poorly educated people. The result could be amazing.

Both Google and Facebook have looked upon emerging economies as the next real potential for their growth – so have telcos. And it is, and will be, fascinating to see what these two rivals can achieve, that 20 years of regulators pushing for connectivity has not.

The vast areas involved have already pushed some serious innovations into the limelight. Google is about to launch balloons to deliver 4G type connectivity to rural areas, while Zuckerberg is talking laser technology delivering high speed, focused connectivity. And with the connectivity come the applications and the real window to the world, which we all know will have a seismic impact on these remote areas.

Whatever the motivations of these protagonists, and there is no doubt that it is ultimately commercial, the fact that the search for profits brings with it enormous benefits should be welcomed. And, rather like a space race in slow motion, the technology, partnerships and business models that are deployed will provide some great lessons in how the communications industry should think outside the box.

Let us just hope that their advertising based businesses ‘back home’ do not crumble and stop the supply of money to these, ultimately, great, beneficial and profitable projects.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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