Africa is deciding future of mobile internet

By: BRETT TARNUTZER

Exponential growth of mobile services has transformed the lives of millions of people in Africa and demand for mobile shows no signs of slowing down.

According to the latest GSM Association (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 unique mobile subscribers.

The mobile industry has made a profound contribution to economic growth and employment in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the Transform Africa 2015 event in Kigali, a major focus for the influential political and business leaders attending 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 per cent in 2014 alone.

THE TIME IS NOW

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 Radio communication 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.

The African Telecommunications Union’s support of L-band 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 in Africa and the world.

However, this is 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.

DIGITAL ECONOMY

The sub-700MHz UHF spectrum has technical characteristics that provide excellent geographic coverage, which will be key for connecting rural communities.

Additionally, higher frequency spectrum is needed to cope with ever-intense urban capacity demands.

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.