The growth in the use of mobile devices in accessing the internet has been at a remarkable rate all across the African continent and is putting intense pressure on existing spectrum allocations.
Mobile operators are clamouring for access to adequate spectrum in an attempt to tap into the socio-economic benefits that comes with mobile broadband.
Mobile data traffic is expected to grow to account for 39 percent of fixed and mobile data traffic in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is by 2018, as compared to 10 per cent in 2013 – 14-fold growth between 2013 and 2018, at a compound annual growth rate of 70 per cent according to reports by Cisco statistics. About 90 percent of this mobile data traffic in the region is predicted to be via Smartphones by 2018.
In the Sub-Saharan African region specifically, the data suggests over half of all subscribers will have 3G connections by 2020, compared to 15 per cent in 2013 – making the region the second largest region for 3G connections by 2020.
The proposed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommendation for the upcoming 2015 World RadioCommunication Conference (WRC-15) that contemplates the allocation of 3400-3800 MHz C-band spectrum for wireless broadband services has raised concerns among a number of satellite firms.
However, Mortimer Hope, Director of spectrum and public policy in Africa at the GSMA, at the recent African Telecommunications Union’s third preparatory meeting for the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) World RadioCommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) to be held in November is of the opinion that spectrum reallocation could define the future of mobile data in Africa.
“At WRC-15 in November 2015, Africa has a rare opportunity to secure the future of the mobile Internet. Decisions on spectrum allocation made at WRC-15 will define mobile connectivity well into the next decade,” Hope said.
She went on to stress that government involvement remains key to increasing pressure on mobile networks by releasing further spectrum to operators to ensure that the social and economic benefits of reliable mobile internet is not missed.
“Exponential growth in the use of mobile phones, tablets and other wireless devices accessing the Internet is putting intense pressure on existing spectrum allocations in Africa. Unless governments choose to grant mobile operators access to sufficient spectrum, countries across the continent will miss out on the substantial socioeconomic benefits that mobile broadband delivers,” Hope said.
“It is therefore critical that governments and regulators take the opportunity that WRC-15 provides to take strategic and decisive action on spectrum allocation that will safeguard the future of mobile broadband in Africa. Policymakers need to act urgently to deliver all the undoubted advantages that the mobile internet provides to citizens throughout the continent.”
Recent research by GSMA considers how mobile operators in Africa can respond to the predicted spike in demand for mobile data over the next four years to 2018, with the results of the research advocating the reallocation of spectrum away from satellite.
Reallocating the C-band spectrum – currently used to provide satellite services such as television – from satellite to mobile could bring Africa benefits of up to US$22 billion such that mobile operators will be able to expand their capacity in line with the growing data demand, the report stated.
In Nigeria, the research suggests the benefits could range from $2bn to $5bn, as compared to costs of between $32mn and $95mn – pointing to potential benefits 57 times the costs in the base case.
With the active internet subscriber base at just over 70 million as at September 2014, the surge in Nigeria’s internet subscriptions has been remarkable over the past few years – accounting for around 40 percent of Africa’s internet users.
In anticipation of this growth, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has set in motion various regulatory initiatives. Back in February 2014, the Bitflux Consortium won the 2.3GHz spectrum license in Nigeria.
“Very soon, infrastructure companies (Infracos) will be issued licences on the 2.6GHz spectrum. These and many other licensing rounds will add to growth indices for broadband connectivity, “Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, has said.