[my joy online] Compared to the relative growths experienced in many other regions, the African Telecommunications spectrum has witnessed an unprecedented rapid cumulative growth over the past decade.
From the hitherto extremely high waiting times, service inconsistencies, outdated PSTN networks and prevalent low accessibility rates that characterized the pre de-regulation and pre mobile diffusion era, the sector has been transformed into one of continued growth largely fueled by the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market.
Today, there are over 310 million mobile phone users in Africa with Nigeria alone accounting for nearly a third of this figure. A projection that puts the continent ahead of North Africa in terms of absolute numbers of mobile phone users. In addition, Africa has improved from a paltry 9% penetration rate in 2004 to a least projection of 32% penetration rate as at the end of first quarter of 2011.
Africa’s emergence as an important player in the global telecommunications market which had been perceived as a systemic techno-dumping ground during the peak of the so called Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) evolution of the early 2000’s is being recently re-defined within the context as a strategic [important] partner capable making or unmaking the transients of the global digital evolution.
In short, Africa has been transformed into a competitive global force where localized solutions are being developed and deployed to serve the interests of the users within the region.
The once eminent scare of the digital divide has been suppressed if not entirely supplanted with “digital addition” – where the region undertakes her Research and Development, and deploys specific solutions that add value to the general ICT body of knowledge.
However, and regardless of all the huge successes attained in operator(s) upgrades and network capabilities among other innovative solutions, telecommunication companies (Telcos) within the region have remained largely a stock of technologies rather than absolute solutions providers. There are no doubts countries such Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are chasing the technological chasm where competitive market forces and sector dynamics are compelling operators to fund frequent million dollar upgrades for typically underused technologies.
In January 2011, Globacom Nigeria became the first to deploy (working) 4G LTE in Africa in a region that is projected to account for 1% of global LTE market share by 2015. Nonetheless, many competitors in Ghana, Kenya and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa have planned active road-maps to support 4G LTE.
In as much as the continent has pioneered various commendable solutions such as mobile banking, virtual SIM cards and a number of e-health novelties, the region at the same time has become susceptible to disruptive technologies that tend to target non-existent segments. Whereas it is typical to observe an upward rump function for service utilization against network capacities, in developed regions, we observe the African situation to be consistent with a normal distribution where the majority of services users only make of use matured technologies. Notwithstanding, and for benign competitive reasons Africa’s Telcos continue to invest in technologies targeted towards the upper tail of the distribution.
And in the process artificially creating accessibility gab(s) difficult to close – average service cost rise and usage rates drop.
Per the current trends, it is imperative as stakeholders’ we begin further analyses on the subtleties of how the market spectrum in Africa is evolving and to understand how per our own actions, we can foster a sustainable and equitable growth. Among the few of the emerging recent emphases and also supported by the International Telecommunications Union and Commonwealth Telecommunications Union is the focus on developing content, connectivity and accessibility for communities within rural Africa and the realization of full mobile number portability in throughout the region. Conventionally, the former is a major technical as well as economic constraint for Telcos. Compounding to this constraint is the gradual urbanization of Africa with fewer people residing in bucolic regions of Africa than ever before.
The latter, a combination of diplomacy and technical infrastructure carries a huge potential instituting a self-regulatory framework for the sector that carries a core potential to balance the fundamentals of service operations within the region. Among these effects, we should expect the rapid emergence of mobile virtual network operators.
The techno-centric Africa of 2011 bears no resemblance to the miseries of the 1990’s; the region accounts for almost all new technologies but access to the technologies remain highly skewed. The encouraging high penetration rates stated early on are calculated using the basic of technologies and solutions widely available to the masses. For instance whereas urban Ghana currently accounts for a penetration rate of over 75%, network utilization rates for ubiquitous data and internet services are 5-10% below typical data averages attainable.
In the search for new policy implementations, the region needs to resist the temptation comparing the gains attained with the usual non applicable factors of comparisons during the 1990s and 2000’s. Instead, a logical framework for quantifying QoS and network optimization matrices given development and maturity of mobile technologies should be employed.
In search of new policy for Africa’s Mobile Telecom Sector