The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a global threat and the GSMA would like to applaud the efforts that governments within the Sub-Saharan Africa region are making to contain the spread of the virus.

With the number of confirmed cases projected to rise in the coming days, GSMA Sub-Saharan Africa and its members in the region remain both concerned and committed to supporting national governments in promoting all prevention, containment and awareness protocols.

Providing robust and secure connectivity to individuals, businesses and governments has never been of greater importance and mobile network operators are working round the clock to ensure that their networks are providing the necessary backbone infrastructure for communication, alternative work arrangements, support for emergency services and information dissemination.

At this critical time, mobile operators are experiencing various challenges in their efforts to ensure that the communities they support are able to overcome the situation at hand. These include:

  1. Network capacity / network stability – Networks have seen significant surges in demand for network resources impacting voice, SMS and data consumption coupled with increased pressure at call centres. This may result in significantly degraded Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE). In this regard, proactive emergency regulatory intervention will be required, including, but not limited to, the immediate availability of free additional spectrum for a limited period of time granted by National Regulatory Authorities to enable mobile operators to continue to offer the best QoS/QoE and avoid mobile internet services congestion.
  2. Resource challenges – Limited human capital resources, disrupted supply chain and distribution processes will also impact service delivery and availability. All stakeholders, particularly National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs), must now manage expectations, secure the necessary protection and assurance of critical infrastructure and the designation of communication services as essential services. Employees of communication services providers and their sub-contractors must also be granted essential services status and exempted from national restrictions. GSMA Sub-Saharan Africa also advocates that governments facilitate a dematerialisation and digitisation approach to permits, authorisations and subscription to services.

The mobile industry across Sub-Saharan Africa has proactively engaged governments and initiated action and palliative measures to support governments at this crucial time, including, but not limited to, using big data to support the contacting and tracing of infected persons, disseminating public information, promoting a cashless society by reducing or removing transaction costs for mobile money, providing flexible payment options for subscribers, aiding ‘work from home’ pronouncements by governments by optimising cost and internet services, and facilitating free calls between personnel from the fire brigade, medical services and security forces to ease their communications during this crisis.

Communication services in Sub-Saharan Africa are almost 100% reliant and dependent on mobile networks. Digital citizens are encouraged to be mindful of their fellow digital consumers to ensure that everyone can continue to enjoy good internet services whilst supporting the emergency services, such as connectivity to emergency centres and hospitals, without interruptions. NRAs must lead the campaign for responsible use of networks and the internet in order to preserve the telecommunication networks at this critical time.

At this crucial time, NRAs must also adopt a more pragmatic approach to regulation recognising that planned work schedules will need to be adapted and rescheduled with focus on critical matters. NRAs are encouraged to suspend all pending consultation deadlines, sundry information requests and non-critical routine reporting. We request that they also implement and fast track decision making and grant of approvals where required.

The mobile industry is confident that it can continue to offer services and provide a resilient network with the support and cooperation of governments and NRAs.