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Ghana edges closer to unified licensing to lower mobile data costs

Ghana , 17 Feb 2021

One of Ghana’s proposed changes to policy direction within telecommunications is to move from spectrum-specific to a Unified Licensing Regime (ULR).

This is according to the country’s Minister-Designate for Communication and Digitalisation, Ursula Owusu Ekuful.

Speaking to lawmakers, Ekuful said the move to ULR and other considerations, including improved co-location and fibre damage prevention, will help drive down costs.

“We’re also going forward with implementing a unified licensing regime for the network operatives,” she said. “So it doesn’t matter if it is 2G, 3G or 4G spectrum that you have, you can use whatever available technology that is on the available spectrum that you have to deliver the service that you want.”

According to Ekuful, telecommunications licences in Ghana are currently spectrum-specific and the technology is tied to the spectrum that an operator can use. “But now, they are freeing it up so that with the advances of technology you can use whatever technology you want to deliver the services that you want.”

More countries are now migrating towards ULR for its various upsides - India being the latest.

Advantages associated include simplifying the telecommunications licensing procedure, efficient utilisation of resources, encouraging small operators to cover niche rural or remote areas, and the creation of a level-playing field for telcos - thus widening the scope of services to be provided without any artificial barriers imposed.

The Minister-Designate mentioned some actions already undertaken by the country to reduce data costs, including the 2019 implementation of non-expiry of data bundle that allows a rollover of when not used up within its validity period and a reduction in the communication service tax from 9% to 5% in response to COVID-19. They also assisted network operators with free spectrum.

“MTN and Vodafone had challenges with spectrum because of increased usage, so they were granted the use of free spectrum so that they could also provide affordable services to the consumers,” she said. “They were also given the right to certain technology, which had been limited to the rural areas alone, to be used in the urban areas as well.”

The government is looking to negotiate with service providers like Google, Youtube and Netflix, for Ghanaians to use their platforms to download and pick up local cache services.

Ekuful said: “So you don’t have to use expensive bandwidth to download stuff from wherever their datacentres are, but will be doing it locally. We believe that that will also reduce the cost of data to subscribers.”

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