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OPINION: Securing spectrum, it's action time for Africa

By , ITWeb
21 Oct 2015

OPINION: Securing spectrum, it's action time for Africa

Exponential growth of mobile services has transformed the lives of millions of people in Africa, and demand for mobile shows no signs of slowing. According to the latest GSMA research, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's fastest-growing mobile region and by 2020, the region is forecast to surpass half a billion (518 million) unique mobile subscribers, representing almost half of the region's projected population.

The mobile industry has already made a profound contribution to economic growth and employment in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014 alone, mobile provided more than US$100 billion to the region's economy, equivalent to 5.7% of GDP. In the next five years, this is expected to increase to US$166 billion, or 8% of expected GDP, with the mobile industry predicted to support more than six million jobs.

At the Transform Africa 2015 event in Kigali, a major focus for the influential political and business leaders attending from across the region is how to continue to fuel Africa's digital transformation agenda. Ensuring that the conditions exist to foster continued mobile broadband growth is critical to realising the socio-economic potential that transformative technology can deliver.

While giant strides have been made in connecting the unconnected and accelerating the migration to high-speed 3G/4G mobile broadband networks, future progress hinges on governments working with the mobile industry to provide a regulatory environment that encourages investment and innovation.

Making more spectrum available is fundamental in driving the further growth of mobile broadband in Africa. Demand for mobile data has grown so fast that we are now facing a shortage of spectrum. According to Cisco, global mobile data traffic grew 69% in 2014 alone. As data traffic surges, networks will face a capacity crunch and spectrum is a critical element for ensuring continued high quality mobile communication.

The time for Africa to act is now. Next month, a unique opportunity exists to secure the future of the mobile internet. At the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15), African governments will decide whether to allocate the spectrum required for mobile to meet the projected demand of their citizens. Because the time between international identification and national allocation can take up to 10 years, decisions made at the conference this November will determine the future of the mobile internet for the next decade.

We are pleased that African administrations have begun to show their support for making more spectrum available to meet citizens' mobile broadband demands. The African Telecommunications Union's (ATU) support of L-band (1427-1518 MHz) spectrum for mobile is a step in the right direction, as global harmonisation of this spectrum will drive economies of scale that will benefit consumers not only in Africa but around the world.

Not enough

But it's not enough. More mobile spectrum must be identified at WRC-15 to safeguard the future of mobile broadband. GSMA operator members agree that 600-800MHz of additional spectrum needs to be identified globally for mobile broadband to meet consumer demand, and that requires securing mobile allocations in multiple bands.

The sub-700MHz UHF band offers an exciting opportunity to bring more and better mobile services to the citizens of Africa. This spectrum has technical characteristics that provide excellent geographic coverage, which will be key for connecting rural communities and continuing to overcome the digital divide. Additionally, higher frequency spectrum is needed to cope with ever-intense urban capacity demands. While African governments have made significant steps in recognising this growing need, it will be important to carry through on decisions to allocate mobile spectrum in the 2.7-2.9GHz and 3.6-3.8GHz bands at WRC-15.

In Africa, mobile broadband is frequently the only way for people to access the internet. At WRC-15, the GSMA urges every African government to make a clear and strong call for significantly more mobile spectrum. Only then can the ambitions of a digital economy and a truly connected society be recognised.

* By Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum, GSMA

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