Spectrum pricing and licensing in Africa – driving mobile broadband
The benefits of mobile broadband are clear to see across Africa. For governments that want to continue to expand coverage and maximise the benefits from connectivity, making sure there is more affordable spectrum for capacity and coverage is an important next step.
Mobile broadband has already made a big impact in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 300 million connected people. During the pandemic, it has become a vital lifeline in the region with traffic growth surpassing the global average, according to GSMA Intelligence’s Mobile Economy 2021 report.
Here are key issues for governments and regulators to grapple with. Again, how these are addressed can either help or hinder the expansion of mobile connectivity:
1. Spectrum roadmaps
A spectrum roadmap is essential to ensure there is enough spectrum to meet surging demand for mobile services in the long- and short-term. They help governments forecast future trends and manage their work. For mobile operators they mean increased certainty to invest based on the government’s future allocation, renewal plans and management of radio spectrum.
2. Spectrum Pricing
High spectrum prices continue to hinder the roll out of mobile services in cities and rural areas. However, for countries that take a different approach there are several benefits. For example, larger amounts of spectrum and lower spectrum prices are strongly linked to higher population coverage. The same is true for better download speeds and increased service adoption.
3. Access to mid-band spectrum
Mid-bands, in particular 3.5 GHz in the short-term, are especially important to the future of 5G as they offer a good mixture of coverage and capacity. Initially, we recommend the access to 80-100 MHz of contiguous spectrum per operator. But meeting long-term needs also requires forward-planning from policymakers. It is expected that 2 GHz in mid-band spectrum will be needed until 2030.
4. Digital Switchover (DSO)
Lack of access to sub-1 GHz spectrum due to a slow digital switchover is also having a negative impact. Without this range, it can be very expensive – and thus impractical – to provide widespread rural mobile broadband services. Experience shows that all DSO-related challenges are solvable and that users reap big benefit from better mobile services in those bands.
5. TV White Space
The advantages of licensed mobile services over the secondary unlicensed approach of TVWS include: a more mature and developed ecosystem, better reliability, higher quality of service and increased coverage (due to higher power limits for licensed devices). Making TVWS available creates an additional challenge to the band clean-up when the rest of the UHF band starts to unleash for mobile services.
So, how can governments and regulators help lead the way? With two new reports, the GSMA aims to give regulators and governments the arguments they need to implement policies that help improve mobile capacity and expand connectivity.
The “Effective Spectrum Pricing in Africa” report is unprecedented in scope and depth, tracking spectrum assignments across nearly 50 African countries for the period 2010–2019. A second report presents the GSMA’s vision for how much mid-band 5G spectrum mobile operators will require between 2025 and 2030. It provides options for operators to meet this demand. Download them and other useful resources below.