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Omdia View: July 2021

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In July 2021, the highlight in Middle East and Africa (MEA) was the award of 5G licenses in Mauritius by the Information & Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA), paving the way for commercial deployment of 5G services.

In Zambia, the regulator launched public consultations on 5G spectrum, which are expected to shape its strategies and decisions on the identification and awarding of 5G spectrum in the country.

Angola mobile market leader Unitel announced plans to launch mobile financial services in the country and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen a number of important fiber-related investments.

Here are Omdia's African highlights for the month:

Mauritian telecoms regulator awards 5G licenses
— by Danson Njue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa.

The Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) of Mauritius has granted 5G licenses to the country’s three telecom operators – Cellplus (my.t), Emtel and Mahanagar Telephone Mauritius Limited (MTML) – to enable them to deploy commercial services in the country.

According to the ICTA, a total of 300MHz of radio spectrum divided into 100MHz blocks is available to telecom operators in the 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz frequency bands. Emtel was awarded the first block in the 2.5GHz band, MTML the second block in the lower part of the 3.5GHz band, and Cellplus the third block in the upper part of the 3.5GHz band.

However, the operators will receive their licenses upon payment of the license fee, the amount of which was not disclosed by the regulator.

The award of the 5G licenses follows the invitation-to-tender formulated in April 2020 by the ICTA, identifying the available spectrum for 5G deployment in the country. Commercial 5G services are set to be launched by the end of 2021.

Mauritius is among the first countries in Africa to award 5G licenses, paving the way for commercial service deployment.

According to Omdia, Africa has recorded an increase in 5G activity, with commercial deployments utilizing temporary spectrum and mostly concentrated in Southern Africa.

The use cases for the service include fixed wireless and mobile broadband access for high-end customer segments.

5G will support the operators' digital strategies by enabling them to offer new applications in the fields of smart homes, e-health, Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities and autonomous vehicles, among others.

The number of 5G subscriptions is projected to grow from 50,000 in 2020 to 114.3 million in 2026, the strong growth supported by increasing demand for data and digital services, and greater deployment and expansion of the network.

Zambian regulator launches public consultations on 5G spectrum
— by Danson Njue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa.

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) has launched a public consultation on 5G spectrum aimed at sharing its preliminary views and plans regarding the identified spectrum for 5G deployment.

ZICTA is also inviting views and comments from shareholders on its planning and licensing proposals for key 5G spectrum bands as it seeks to understand the level of demand for different spectrum bands.

The regulator will use the views of the shareholders to shape its strategies and decisions on the identification of 5G priority bands, adoption of band allotment plans, spectrum requirements for each operator, development of fair and transparent licensing processes, and the development of a 5G spectrum roadmap, among other issues.

The regulator has already identified four spectrum bands – 700MHz, 2.6GHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz – that meet the requirements for low, mid and high bands to meet the capacity and coverage requirements for 5G services in the country.

ZICTA has set August 20 as the deadline for the submission of views from the shareholders.

Omdia's view is that spectrum allocation is key to fast-track the deployment of 5G services on the African continent. However, most countries are yet to develop the 5G spectrum framework to guide them in the identification and allocation of spectrum for the deployment of 5G services.

In terms of the choice of spectrum band, the 3.5GHz midband has emerged as the preferred frequency band for 5G deployment across several countries as it offers better coverage and capacity while reducing the cost of network deployment.

5G network deployment in Africa, 3Q21

Unitel to launch mobile money in Angola
— by Thecla Mbongue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa.

Angola mobile market leader Unitel announced plans to launch mobile financial services (MFS) in August 2021 following the issuance of a payment service provider license by BNA (Angola's central bank) in the last quarter of 2020.

Until now, Angola has been lagging in terms of mobile financial services, with none of the mobile network operators providing them.

In the meantime, standalone fintech company 5Linhas launched its AKI mobile payment platform in the first quarter of 2019. As of the end of 2020, AKI had 16,000 clients, the service compatible with either Unitel or Movicel networks.

This is an important move in Angola, where more financial inclusion is needed even though the country ranks highly among African nations in terms of banking penetration. According to the World Bank, 49% of the Angolan adult population held an account with at least one type of financial institution in 2019.

In comparison, the sub-Saharan Africa region had a 43% rate, with South Africa having 69%, Kenya 82%, Ghana 58% and Sudan 15%.

Angolan mobile networks had not launched mobile money services due to slow regulation from BNA but also because for a long time they were not a priority.

According to Omdia, the mobile penetration rate in Angola stood at 52% in 2Q21, compared with 88% across Africa. The growth has been slow over the past five years as the subscription base only increased from 14 million in 2016 to 15 million in mid-2021 (7% growth rate over the five years).

The slow growth results from a lack of investment. For nearly ten years, Unitel has been involved in a legal dispute with previous shareholder, Portugal Telecom, which prevented major expansion rollout. State-owned Movicel has also not been proactively investing in expansion.

The country is expecting two new mobile entrants by early 2022: Africell and Angola Telecom. Hence, incumbents need to become more competitive and offer enhanced services. At the same time, MFS is now a must-have for African MNOs as it is a key driver to grow the digital services segment.

DRC sees investment in fiber networks
— by Thecla Mbongue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa.

On July 5, 2021, Liquid Intelligent Technologies (formerly Liquid Telecom) announced a partnership with Facebook to launch FTTx services in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In April 2021, Liquid – in partnership with Orange – completed the deployment of a fiber network covering nine cities.

The Facebook deal follows the restructuring of SCPT (Democratic Republic of the Congo Post). The state-owned company opened its capital to Egyptian investor Benya Capital at the end of June 2021.

Besides acquiring a stake in SCPT, Benya Capital committed to building a 16,000km fiber-optic network in the country. On July 15, 2021, SCPT partnered with LMS Holding for FTTx deployment.

These are significant moves for DRC, where fixed broadband services are nonexistent. According to Omdia, the country had 31 million mobile broadband users in 2Q21, representing 75% of mobile usage. The number of fixed-broadband subscriptions did not exceed 100,000 in the second quarter of 2021 and fixed wireless usage (4G) represented over 70% of the total.

FTTx services will be a game-changer, attracting more usage from the high-end segments (corporate, SMEs, high-end residential) in urban as well as industrial areas such as mining.

Orange is already in a partnership with Liquid Telecom, and the SCPT revival might prompt interest leading to involvement from other MNOs either in the form of resale for rapid uptake or investments in their own FTTx networks.

Omdia forecasts that the number of FTTx subscriptions in DRC will increase from 1,090 to 7,475 between 2021 and 2026.

You can find Omdia's full Middle East & Africa News Digest here.

For more information about Omdia's consulting capabilities, contact them directly at [email protected] or reach out to the Omdia analysts by emailing [email protected].

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