Welcome to the 6th annual review of telecommunications infrastructure development in Africa. This review combines my analysis of the last 12 months as well as links to over 270 articles covering a range of African telecom infrastructure development issues in 2019.

Undersea Cables

On the surface it would appear to be just another great year for African undersea fibre optic cable capacity. Both WACS and SEA-ME-WE5 completed capacity upgrades. MainOne expanded into Côte d’Ivoire and soon Senegal. The DARE and METISS cables seem on track for lighting up in 2020, bringing even more capacity to the east coast of Africa. METISS should have a significant impact on Mauritius, Madagascar, and Reunion offering both redundancy and competition to existing services. Similarly the DARE cable will bring additional capacity to the horn of Africa.

But the biggest African undersea cable news of the year came from Silicon Valley. Both Google and Facebook were in the news for founding undersea cables that would serve African countries. Google at least had the courtesy to post a news article on their site confirming their intention. For Facebook, we are left with rumour and speculation. Both companies seem a little tone-deaf on the naming of their cables. Google exhibits a degree of hubris in naming their cable after, Olaudah Equiano, a West African writer and abolitionist from the 1700s. Given what is known about the cable, it might be more appropriately named the Cecil Rhodes cable. Among other things, Cecil Rhodes is famous for his dream of a railroad running from Cape Town to Cairo; a railroad designed to facilitate the extraction of resources from the continent. For Facebook, naming their cable Simba, from Disney blockbuster The Lion King, also strikes an off key. Simba is a Swahili word meaning lion but the word has been appropriated globally by the Disney franchise.

The cable names are trivial compared with their potential impact. These are the first African undersea cables to be led by Google and Facebook as opposed to a consortium of telecommunications companies like WACS, EASSy, and others. This is part of a global shift in undersea cable investment where the resources to invest are increasingly coming from Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other digital giants. These companies have billions of dollars at their disposal in comparison with telecommunications operators that are often struggling to cope with high taxation, spectrum fee windfalls, and other regulatory compliance issues. I seldom have much sympathy with the likes of Vodafone, MTN, Orange et al but they are hopelessly outmatched when it comes to resources for undersea cables.

This shift in the balance of power in terms of investment resources is compounded by the fact that these new cables also represent a new generation of fibre optic technology with the result that these cables may have capacity that is more than ten times greater than any existing cable. Add to this the knowledge that the greater part of all undersea cable traffic are bits flowing to refresh the far flung data caches of Google, Facebook, Microsoft et al and what we see is nothing less than a tectonic shift in the very architecture of the internet. There is much more to be said about this that goes beyond the scope of this review. For a big picture view, I recommend Geoff Huston’s talk on the The Death of Transit.

The most important take-away for African governments is to recognise that Equiano and Simba represent an opportunity to negotiate a better internet deal for their countries, in terms of both neutrality and capacity. There are enough Google and Facebook users in Africa to insist on a better deal. The railroad needs to run in both directions.

CableDatePublicationArticle
AFRICA12019/01/04TelegeographyCable Compendium: a guide to the week’s submarine and terrestrial developments
AFRICA12019/01/07TechCentral - South AfricaAfrica-1 cable forging ahead: reports
DARE2019/02/07CIO East AfricaKenya ICT Ministry in cable landing deal ahead of the 36TB Dare1
DARE2019/05/17The Star - KenyaKenya working on fifth submarine cable
DARE2019/06/03ITWeb AfricaKenya to invest US$59-million in DARE submarine cable system
DARE2019/12/10Business Daily AfricaDjibouti sea fibre optic cable to go live in June 2020
ELLALINK2019/04/08dNoticias - PortugalTécnicos avaliam local para cabo submarino
ELLALINK2019/07/15SubSea World NewsEllaLink Inks Mauritania Connectivity Deal
ELLALINK2019/12/13SubTel ForumTelebras Withdraws From Ellalink Submarine Cable for Lack of Financial Resources
ELLALINK2019/12/14BN AmericasICT roundup: Telebras gives up on cable, Peru’s e-shoppers growing
EQUIANO2019/07/01Total TelecomGoogle seeks partners for new Europe-Africa cable system
EQUIANO2019/07/01Capacity MediaGoogle launches Equiano subsea cable
FLY-LION32019/02/25TelecomPaperComoros-Mayotte undersea cable from Orange-led consortium to become operational in Q3
MAINONE2019/09/01Leadership NigeriaMainOne Cable System Set To Connect Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire | Leadership Newspaper
MAINONE2019/09/23Data EconomyMainOne set for submarine cable systems landing in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire
MAINONE2019/12/03Total TelecomMainOne Subsea Cable ready for service in the Ivory Coast
METISS2019/12/05Engineering News - South AfricaNew Metiss sub-cable to go live in 2020
METISS2019/12/05SubTel ForumLiquid Telecom Inaugurates METISS Subsea Cable Landing Station in KwaZulu-Natal
PEACE2019/03/07Connecting AfricaConnecting Africa - Bringing PEACE to Africa's Comms Ecosystem
SACS2019/04/17ITWeb AfricaAngola Cables' AngoNAP Fortaleza datacentre goes live
SEACOM2019/07/17SubTel ForumSeacom to Double Capacity, Light up FibreCo Assets
SEA-ME-WE52019/09/17Developing TelecomsSEA-ME-WE 5 upgrade completed
SIMBA2019/06/21The Telegraph - UKInside Facebook's plan to bring cheap internet to Africa – by surrounding continent with undersea cable
SIMBA, EQUIANO2019/06/28TechCentral - South AfricaGoogle, Facebook to encircle Africa with subsea fibre
WACS2019/02/02Telecom DriveSubmarine Cable: Huawei Marine Completes WACS Upgrade II
WACS2019/02/07Connecting AfricaConnecting Africa - WACS Subsea Cable Upgrade Completed by Huawei Marine
WACS2019/02/11ITWeb AfricaHuawei Marine completes WACS Upgrade II
WACS2019/02/20Guardian - NigeriaWACS cable gets second upgrade
EQUIANO2019/06/28GoogleIntroducing Equiano, a subsea cable from Portugal to South Africa
EQUIANO2019/07/30Sunil TagareGoogle Should Stop Naming Cables After Dead People

Terrestrial Backbone Fibre

African terrestrial fibre networks continued to expand in 2019. According to Paul Hamilton of Africa Bandwidth Maps, there are now more than a million kilometres of fibre optic networks across the continent.

The most noticeable change in 2019 was an increase in cross-border fibre connectivity. Building on their announcement last year of a network spanning from Cape Town to Cairo, Liquid Telecom announced in November that they had successfully established the first east-west continental network connection linking DRC with the rest of their network. In West Africa, Orange announced plans for a West African terrestrial fibre network linking Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana. In Namibia, Paratus was also spreading its wings with the Trans Kalahari network extending connectivity to Zambia. On the east coast, Tanzania’s state-owned operator, TTCL, announced plans to extend connectivity to Burundi.

All of this is great news for land-locked countries offering more connectivity options and better network redundancy. Hopefully, this will also lead to lower prices for network capacity. MainOne’s CEO, Funke Opeke is not the only one to lament the fact that terrestrial fibre networks remain under-utilised due to high prices and a failure to establish an enabling environment.

CountryOperatorDatePublicationArticle
BeninIsocel2019/04/23ITWeb AfricaIsocel expands fibre footprint in Benin
Botswana2018/11/05MmegiOnlineMmegi Online :: State Of The Nation Address 2018 [Full Text]
BurkinaFaso2019/10/07TelegeographyBurkina Faso ratifies financing for national fibre-optic network
Burundi2019/11/01Ventures AfricaBurundi to get improved internet services with new fibre optic agreement
Cameroon2019/03/01AllAfricaCameroon: Central African Backbone - Govt to Complete Component This Year
Chad2019/07/15ARCEP SoudanRéseau à fibre optique Tchad/Soudan officiellement inauguré
Chad2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyChad: SUDATCHAD commissioned to manage N’Djamena-Adré fiber optics network
Chad2019/07/16TelegeographyGovt inaugurates N’Djamena-Adre cable, lifts blockade on social media
Cote D’IvoireOrange2019/10/21ITWeb AfricaOrange Côte d'Ivoire expands fibre optic network interests
Ethiopia2019/01/29Africa BriefingEthiopia ‘to build new national fibre network’, says innovation minister
Ethiopia2019/01/23Ethiopian News AgencyMinistry to Replace WoredaNet with New ICT Infrastructure
Ethiopia,DjiboutiEthio Telecom2019/05/31Ethio TelecomEthio telecom, Djibouti telecom to use railway communication fiber for telecom services -
Madagascar2019/09/11Africa Business CommunitiesIncreased consumer spending, competition powering Madagascar’s telecom industry, report
Mauritania2019/02/21Agence EcofinLa Mauritanie a engagé la construction de quatre tronçons de fibre optique qui complèteront le Backbone national  
NamibiaParatus2019/03/18ITWeb AfricaParatus Group invests US$14-million in Trans-Kalahari project
NamibiaParatus2018/12/08Paratus8141-Paratus-TKF-Brochure-spreadv7.pdf
Namibia2019/03/11New Era Live - NamibiaNamPower launches fibre optic Grid Online
Namibia2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyNamibia: NamPower enters the internet segment
NamibiaParatus2019/06/13Intelligent Data CentresParatus rolls out fibre infrastructure in Gobabis, Namibia | Intelligent Data Centres
Namibia2019/07/29The Namibian - NamibiaNamPower, Paratus collaborate on network connection - The Namibian
Namibia, ZambiaParatus2019/03/01Economist - NamibiaParatus Zambia first to take full advantage of the Trans Kalahari Fibre project | Namibia Economist
NigeriaMainOne2019/02/26Data EconomyMainOne partners with Facebook on fibre infrastructure project amid impending Nigeria general election results
NigeriaMainOne2019/02/26MainOneMainOne / Press release | MainOne and Facebook announce open-access fiber network in Nigeria
RegionalLiquid Telecom2019/11/07Connecting AfricaLiquid Telecom Connects East to West Africa via DRC
RegionalLiquid Telecom2019/11/13Capacity MediaLiquid Telecom Launches Fastest East to West Africa Link
RegionalOrange2019/11/13Capacity MediaOrange to build international network in West Africa
Sierra Leone2019/09/02ITWeb AfricaSierra Leone secures US$30-million to advance fibre optic project
Sierra Leone2019/09/10Global Times News - Sierra LeoneGov’t Secures US$30M Loan For SALCAB
South AfricaSeacom2019/09/30ITWeb - South AfricaEXCLUSIVE: Seacom’s 1TB fibre link between Joburg, Cape Town goes live
South AfricaFacebook2019/02/25FacebookMobile World Congress 2019: Better global connectivity - Facebook Code
South SudanLiquid Telecom2019/07/01ITWeb AfricaLiquid spearheads South Sudan's first fibre network
TanzaniaTTCL2019/09/09ITWeb AfricaTTCL completes first phase of SADC fibre optic project
TanzaniaTTCL2019/01/09Daily News TanzaniaTTCL to Link SADC Region With High Speed Fibre Optic Cable
Tanzania,BurundiTTCL2019/11/06ITWeb AfricaTanzania secures US$5.9-million Burundi connection deal
Tanzania,BurundiTTCL2019/10/23Xinhua - ChinaTanzania to provide broadband Internet services to Burundi
Tanzania,BurundiTTCL2019/10/30The East AfricanTTCL to expand fibre optic cable to Burundi
Uganda2019/10/09PML DailyNITA-U denies corruption allegations in national broadband project
Uganda2019/04/16Xinhua - ChinaChina plays critical role in advancing Uganda's ICT development
Uganda2019/11/07Xinhua - ChinaYoung Ugandans applaud Xi's CIIE speech
Uganda2019/05/05PC Tech MagazineNITA Uganda Extends Internet To West Nile, Uganda
Uganda2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyUganda: President Yoweri Museveni launches fourth phase of national backbone’s construction
Uganda2019/05/11Watchdog UgandaMuseveni launches Internet connectivity project for West Nile, Karamoja
Zimbabwe2019/03/13Harare24 - ZimbabweMnangagwa commissions the National Backbone Fibre Optic Link
Zimbabwe2019/03/12NewdzeZimbabweED TO OPEN OPTIC FIBRE NETWORK
Zimbabwe2019/03/13TechZim - Zimbabwe[Press Release] President Commissions The TelOne Beitbridge-Masvingk-Harare Fibre Link
Nigeria2019/12/24The Fast ModeSparkle Expands its IP Backbone in Africa with New PoP in Nigeria

FTTH and OTT

Fibre To The Home (FTTH) continues to grow across the continent although news of their roll-out doesn’t seem to be making as many headlines as last year. Perhaps the spread of FTTH in urban areas has become so commonplace as to no longer be as newsworthy as it was a few years ago. Safe to say that every major operator on the continent is rolling out FTTH services at one level or another. And why wouldn’t they? Fibre’s capacity is comparatively infinite, especially as compared with most wireless services, making its lifespan much longer than wireless technologies. It also doesn’t have the massive rents now associated with radio spectrum for mobile services that can cost an operator anywhere from ten to a hundred million dollars just to begin building an LTE network. Granted it comes with other challenges like rights of way but for urban areas it can often seem like a safer bet for investors.

A possible downside to FTTH is that it may be inadvertently accelerating the digital divide as these high-capacity networks are only being built in densely populated urban areas where the return on investment will be maximised. Of course this is also true of mobile networks but it does point to the fact that fibre investment needs to be considered in the context of universal service strategies.

With the arrival of FTTH networks (and higher capacity LTE networks), streaming media service like Netflix et al that require substantial network capacity have really come into their own.

Sidebar: This year I have run into a bit of a nomenclature problem with the term OTT. I have always treated it refer specifically to streaming services that are increasingly an alternative to traditional broadcast services. This is more or less in line with Wikipedia’s collection of definitions for OTT. However, as taxes on social media emerged as an issue in 2019, governments and journalists seem to have rolled social media into the definition of OTT. And indeed the line does become blurry when services like YouTube are considered.

Around the world, streaming content is challenging traditional broadcast networks and African countries are no exception. South Africa alone is expected to generate USD21M for Netflix in 2019. But that is only half of the story. Netflix is also investing significantly in the development of African content in South Africa, Nigeria, and Senegal. As global competition to Netflix grows from Amazon and others, it seems like this is only likely to be good news for African television and movie developers who may find new sources of investment. My favourite streaming media news story of the year is this one about Nigerian teens who are making amazing sci-fi short movies with smartphones and open source tools like Blender.

In the world of social media, things are not so rosy. As evidence mounts around the world of the role that social media services like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and others are playing in the promotion hate speech, radicalisation, and the spread of “fake news”, governments across the continent have become legitimately concerned about the role that social media is playing in the life of their countries and the extent to which they operate without oversight or consequence. They also see the tremendous wealth accumulated by these companies and debate whether some of it should be finding its way to them in the form of taxation for services delivered in their countries.

Unfortunately early attempts to tackle these issues have destroyed more value than they have created for governments. Uganda is the poster child for user tax on social media having implemented one in mid-2018. Virtually every analysis of the impact of this policy point to Uganda’s policy driving users offline in droves, reducing overall revenues generated from taxation of the sector. Unfortunately, Benin, Tanzania, Zambia, and others have followed suit with variations on this theme. Sadly, those who suffer most from a user tax on social media are the poor whose voices are least heard at the best of times.

CategoryCountryDatePublicationArticle
OTTKenya2019/02/20Broadcast Media AfricaKenya: Govt Finalises Plans To Tax Netflix, YouTube
OTTNigeria2019/08/16Kottke.orgThese Nigerian Teens Are Making Sci-Fi Shorts with Slick Visual Effects
OTTRegional2019/04/05TechCrunchBoomplay, a Spotify-style music and video streaming service for African music and Africa, raises $20M
OTTSenegal,South Africa2019/02/20Broadcast Media AfricaNetflix Intensifies Focus On African Content, Acquires Cannes Grand Prix Winner -Atlantics!
OTTSouth Africa2019/07/22MyBroadband - South AfricaGoodbye DStv – Here are the best alternatives
OTTSouth Africa2019/06/21ComparitechNetflix Subscribers and Revenue by Country [2019 version]
OTTUganda2019/01/26Research ICT SolutionsOTT tax causes massive decline in estimated internet users in Uganda – Research ICT Solutions
OTTUganda2019/12/07The East AfricanInternet tax sends users offline
FTTHBenin2019/04/18Agence EcofinBénin : Isocel lance officiellement à Sémé City la 1 ère phase de déploiement de son réseau en fibre optique
FTTHCongo Republic2019/04/19Agence EcofinGroup Vivendi Africa déploie Canalbox, le premier reseau internet très haut débit FTTH au Congo
FTTHGambia2019/06/27TelegeographyGamtel launches new fibre range over National Broadband Network
FTTHKenya2019/04/01Business Daily AfricaSafaricom fixed internet rises to 30pc, Zuku loses
FTTHKenya2019/08/05Capital FM - KenyaSafaricom Unveils Customer Offer to Grow Home Fibre
FTTHNigeria2019/05/22Data EconomyMainOne set to commit $70m to the digitisation of Lagos - Data Economy
FTTHNigeria2019/10/12NokiaSpectranet and Nokia to provide 100+ Mbps ultra broadband services with FTTH to home and business users in Nigeria | Nokia
FTTHSouth Africa2019/03/18TechCentral - South AfricaMetrofibre Networx gets foreign investor
FTTHTogo2019/07/17TelegeographyGVA halves cost of entry-level FTTH offer in Togo
FTTHTogo2019/07/19TelegeographyTEOLIS rolls out network to 80% of Grand Lome
FTTHUganda2019/08/28HomeFiber UgandaCSquared Home Fiber ~ Fiber Cable Installation Company

Licensed Spectrum

This year saw more spectrum deals resulting from acquisitions or trades rather than outright auctions of spectrum.

In Ghana, there was ongoing fall-out from the 2015 800MHz spectrum auction which saw MTN as the only successful bidder paying $64M dollars for 20MHz of spectrum. MTN’s insistence that any future bidders for that band match what they paid meant that no one got any additional 800MHz spectrum until 2018 when Vodafone agreed to pay $30M for 10MHz of spectrum. But it turns out that 10MHz is not enough for Vodafone to serve its customers and so the debate regarding the remaining 800MHz spectrum is set to continue into 2020.

In Nigeria, Airtel has acquired 10MHz of 900MHz spectrum from InterCellular to aid their LTE rollout. That spectrum is priced at USD70M plus administrative fees. The deal is still subject to approval by the regulator. USD70M is the price set under the regulator’s spectrum trading guidelines. It is not mentioned whether the trade extends the period of the license or whether it will expire when InterCellular’s license is due to expire. According to the trading guidelines, revenue from the acquisition is split 40/60 with the regulator. Meanwhile, after a protracted debate with the regulator, MTN Nigeria succeeded in gaining access to the 800MHz spectrum resulting from their acquisition of Visafone in 2015.

Almost inconceivably, South Africa has still not assigned any new mobile spectrum since their first attempt to do so in 2010. There has been some progress with a policy direction being announced by the minister and options for moving forward being published by the regulator but it is unclear what options are a likely to be selected. The proposed wholesale wireless network (WOAN) remains a wildcard in the whole process.

In Kenya, Jamii’s 700MHz trial license was ‘upgraded’ to a full license by the regulator, which appears to be something of a formality as they had already paid the first installment of their full license fees.

LTE services continue to expand on the continent (with or without new spectrum) with too many announcements to list.

CategoryCountryFrequencyOperatorDatePublicationArticle
AuctionGhana800MHzVodafone2019/12/04News GhanaVodafone Ghana Needs More 4G Spectrum to Feed Its Customers
AuctionGhana800MHzMTN2019/05/16Ghana WebMTN wants fair price for remaining 4G spectrum slots
AuctionGhana800MHzMTN2019/04/04Joy Online - GhanaMTN interested in available 4G spectrum
AuctionKenya700MHzJamii2019/03/20Business Daily AfricaBig win for Jamii Telecom in Sh2.5bn licence fees push
AuctionMauritania2019/02/13TelegeographyMauritania reopens 4G spectrum sale
AuctionNigeria900MHzAirtel2019/11/14Premium Times - NigeriaAirtel Africa acquires Intercellular Nigeria spectrum
AuctionNigeria900MHzAirtel2019/01/05THISDAYLIVE - NigeriaAirtel Africa to Buy Additional Spectrum in Nigeria for $70m
AuctionSouth Africa2019/08/07Connecting AfricaConnecting Africa - SA Spectrum Licensing: What You Need to Know
LTEAngolaMultitel2019/09/11TelegeographyMultitel expands fixed-wireless LTE to five provinces
LTEBurkina FasoOrange2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyBurkina Faso: Orange renews its 2G/3G licence and acquires the 4G+ license
LTEBurkina FasoOnatel2019/03/28TelegeographyOnatel switches on ‘4G+ Advanced’ network
LTEBurkinaFaso2019/01/28ITWeb AfricaBurkina Faso looks to catch-up on 4G
LTEBurkinaFasoOrange2019/03/19TelegeographyOrange extends LTE footprint in Burkina Faso
LTEBurkinaFasoOrange2019/03/20TelegeographyOnatel secures XOF40bn loan to acquire 4G licence
LTECabo Verde2019/09/17ARME - Cabo VerdeARME promove cerimónia de entrega dos Direitos de Utilização de Frequências 4 G
LTEEquatorial GuineaCeragon2019/04/12TelegeographyCeragon to deploy 4G network in Equatorial Guinea
LTEGhana800MHzVodafone2019/01/08ITWeb AfricaVodafone ready for Q2 4G rollout in Ghana
LTEGhanaVodafone2019/03/25ITWeb AfricaVodafone, MTN advance on 4G in Ghana
LTEGhana800MHzVodafone2019/03/12Ghana WebVodafone Ghana rolls out 4G services next month
LTEGuineaOrange Guinea2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyOrange Guinea acquires its 4G license, comforting its leadership
LTEGuineaOrange Guinea2019/03/15TelegeographyOrange Guinea awarded 4G licence
LTEGuinea-ConakryOrange Guinea2019/04/16TelegeographyOrange Guinea launches 4G in Conakry
LTEGuinea-ConakryOrange Guinea2019/05/13TelegeographyOrange Guinea extends 4G network coverage in Conakry
LTEKenyaTelkom Kenya2019/01/17The Standard - KenyaTelkom Kenya to inject Sh1b in 4G, 3G expansion : The Standard
LTEKenyaAirtel2019/02/28TelegeographyAirtel to expand 3G, 4G coverage in Kenya
LTEKenyaTelkom Kenya2019/05/31TelegeographyTelkom upgrades 3G, 4G networks in major cities
LTEMayotteMaore Mobile2019/04/03TelegeographyMaore Mobile launches 4G services
LTEMayotteTelco OI2019/10/31TelegeographyTelco OI launches 4G in Mayotte
LTEMozambiqueTMCEL2019/08/27ITWeb AfricaMozambique's Tmcel plays catch up with 4G deployment
LTEMozambiqueVodacom2019/07/10Verdade MozambiqueDepois da falsa 4G da Vodacom maputenses passam a ter 4,5G LTE da Movitel
LTENamibiaParatus2019/08/07ParatusParatus | Always Prepared - Telecommunications Services in Namibia - News Details
LTENamibiaTelecom Namibia2019/04/20TelegeographyTelecom Namibia launches services in Kavango West Region
LTENiger800MHz 1800MHzAirtel2019/07/03TelegeographyAirtel switches on 4G in Niamey
LTENigeriaTizeti2019/11/11MVNO BlogTizeti Launches 4G LTE To Accelerate Nigerian Broadband - Capacity Media - MVNO MVNE MNO Mobile & Telecoms industry intelligence
LTENigeriaAirtel2019/05/15TelegeographyAirtel switches on 4G in additional states
LTENigeriaAirtel2019/05/21TelegeographyAirtel expands 4G to Owerri
LTENigeriaAirtel2019/06/06TelegeographyAirtel expands 4G to Ota
LTENigeriaAirtel2019/08/06TelegeographyAirtel offers 4G home broadband service in 130 cities
LTENigeria9mobile2019/11/21Telegeography9mobile embarks on 4G expansion programme
LTERwandaKTRN2019/01/14The New Times - RwandaKT Rwanda Networks introduces ‘unlimited’ 4G internet for smartphones
LTERwandaKTRN2019/12/02TelegeographyUSD10m upgrade for Rwandan 4G network
LTESierra LeoneOrange2019/03/29IT News AfricaEricsson and Orange launch 4G network in Sierra Leone
LTESomaliaSomtel2019/03/28TelegeographySomtel set to roll out LTE-A
LTETanzaniaAirtel2019/11/15TelegeographyAirtel Tanzania launches 4G in Dodoma
LTEUgandaAirtel2019/02/15PC Tech MagazineAirtel Uganda Announces Countrywide 4G Coverage
LTEUgandaAirtel2019/07/22TechJaja - UgandaUCC investigates Airtel Uganda's claims of having a countrywide 4G Network
LTEZambia, DRCAMN2019/10/17LinkedInAMN's 3G/4G solution successfully undergoing qualification testing
SpectrumGhana800MHzMTN2019/03/19Tech Nova - GhanaMTN Ghana Launches 4G+ Service On Its 4G LTE Network
SpectrumGhana2600MHzMTN2019/03/26Graphic Online - GhanaMTN acquires selected assets of Goldkey
SpectrumKenya700MHzJamii2019/05/03TelegeographyJamii upgrades trial LTE permit to full operating licence
SpectrumNigeria800MHzMTN2019/06/26Guardian - NigeriaMTN Nigeria unveils 4G+ in Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt
SpectrumNigeria800MHzMTN2019/04/11TechCentral - South AfricaMTN granted more Nigerian spectrum after long regulatory battle
SpectrumNigeria2019/05/24PM News - NigeriaFG to release N30bn for digital switch over process – NBC | P.M. News
SpectrumNigeria800MHzMTN2019/04/12TelegeographyNCC approves transfer of 800MHz spectrum to MTN
SpectrumNigeria900MHzAirtel2019/11/15Capacity MediaAirtel to acquire additional spectrum in Nigeria for $70m
SpectrumNigeria800MHzMTN2019/04/19BloombergMTN Granted More Nigerian Spectrum After Long Regulator Battle

Unlicensed and Dynamic Spectrum

WiFi went through a year of expansions and contractions in 2019. Facebook (ExpressWiFi) and Google (Station) both expanded their their respective WiFi initiatives into South Africa, with ExpressWiFi also launching in Ghana. Meanwhile, South Africa’s largest WiFi company, VAST Networks, became insolvent. Surf Networks in Kenya also found itself in financial trouble and was snapped up by BRCK. BRCK itself also expanded into South Africa with its offering of advertising-paid WiFi on buses/taxis. Meanwhile there were various announcement of “free WiFi” from national governments, municipalities, and operators across the continent.

The lesson I take away from the above is that commercial WiFi initiatives rush to scale at their peril. The barrier to uptake of WiFi is higher than mobile broadband. Commercial WiFi operators can be caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of decreasing LTE costs and free WiFi offerings from governments. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t successful businesses to be built on WiFi but it does mean that success is likely to be very contextual, with WiFi operators taking advantage of specific environments and market conditions. If that is true then the growth of WiFi is likely to be more organic than meteoric. The market needs investors that understand this. As a technology, WiFi has scaled through a millions of small implementations and, as such, has created a market worth billions of dollars. Small and medium size operators, whether commercial or community cooperatives are quietly succeeding without much fanfare.

In the world of dynamic spectrum, TVWS continues to make incremental progress with regulators. South Africa, having approved TVWS use in 2018, still awaits the establishment of a publicly-available geo-location database service provider that can dynamically assign spectrum to TVWS devices. In spite of that, the regulator has approved some commercial projects to move forward with TVWS. In Mozambique, the regulator announced a regulatory norm in August 2019 which allows the commercial use of the TVWS spectrum.

Thus, a year of modest but still significant progress in TVWS regulation across the continent. The fact that South Africa and Mozambique have formal TVWS regulation is bound to embolden and encourage other countries to move forward. There are rumours that Nigeria is very close to enacting TVWS regulation.

Sidebar: An on ongoing stumbling block for TVWS regulation in many countries, is the need for a geo-location database. While this may be necessary and even inevitable in the fullness of time, it may well be overkill in terms of getting started with TVWS regulation. In most African countries, there is enough spectrum available in 470-694MHz that operators could be allowed to proceed in underserved areas without any significant danger of interference that could not be successfully dealt with using an excel spreadsheet.

CategoryCountryDatePublicationArticle
WiFiKenya2019/02/15ITWeb AfricaKenya's BRCK acquires ISP Surf
WiFiKenya2019/02/15TechCrunchBRCK acquires ISPs EveryLayer and Surf to boost Africa’s public Wi-Fi
WiFiKenya2019/02/15ForbesKenya's BRCK Acquires Surf To Become The Biggest Public WiFi Network In Sub-Saharan Africa
WiFiKenya2019/02/27Disrupt AfricaKenya’s BRCK partners Facebook to simplify mobile network deployments
WiFiKenya2019/07/31TechCrunchStartups BRCK and Swvl partner on free Wi-Fi for Kenyan ride-hail buses
WiFiKenya,South Africa2019/11/12ForbesKenyan Public WiFi Sensation BRCK Launches In South Africa
TVWSMozambique2019/08/07INCM - MozambiqueNorma vai regular reutilização do espectro radioeléctrico
WiFiNigeria2019/03/18ITWeb AfricaGoogle Station prickles Nigeria's tech regulator
WiFiSouth Africa2019/02/28MyBroadband - South AfricaFacebook Express Wi-Fi to launch in South Africa
WiFiSouth Africa2019/03/19CAJ News AfricaCell C starts Wi-Fi rollout with Cape launch | CAJ News Africa
WiFiSouth Africa2019/03/19TechCentral - South AfricaCell C to roll out public Wi-Fi in South Africa with Facebook
WiFiSouth Africa2019/03/19ITWeb - South AfricaTshwane promises more free WiFi hubs
WiFiSouth Africa2019/03/28BBC NewsThe village that built its own wi-fi network
WiFiSouth Africa2019/05/07ITWeb - South AfricaCell C, Free State ink public access WiFi deal
TVWSSouth Africa2019/08/05TechCentral - South AfricaCommercial TV white-spaces roll-out gets under way
TVWSSouth Africa2019/08/06ITWeb - South AfricaNew TV white space pilot under way in SA
TVWSSouth Africa2019/08/12IT News AfricaTV White Space project receives funding for deployment in South Africa
WiFiSouth Africa2019/10/18BloombergAfrica's Biggest Public Wifi Company to Close as Sale Talks Fail
WiFiSouth Africa2019/10/18MoneyWeb - South AfricaAfrica’s biggest public wifi company to close as sale talks fail
WiFiSouth Africa2019/10/18MyBroadband - South AfricaVAST Networks is shutting down
WiFiSouth Africa2019/11/07TechCentral - South AfricaGoogle launches free public Wi-Fi initiative in South Africa
WiFiSouth Africa2019/12/15IOL - South AfricaMetro restoring free wi-fi services | Pretoria News
WiFiUganda2019/06/04AllAfricaUganda: Where Is Kampala's Free Wireless Internet?
WiFiUganda2019/06/06PML DailyAirtel provides free unlimited WiFi to Jinja public library, to connect more 18 in Uganda
WiFiUganda2019/06/06PML DailyAirtel Uganda signs MoU with Mbale Public Library ahead of launch of free WiFi
WiFiUganda2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyUganda: NITA-U to add 216 additional free wireless internet access points in the next six months
WiFiZimbabwe2019/01/31TechZim - ZimbabweTelecel Launches Home WiFi Modem And Service Challenging NetOne's One-Fi And ZOL.'s Wibronik
WiFiFacebook2019/02/01Venture BeatFacebook brings Express Wi-Fi to Ghana, quietly expands Free Basics to Morocco and Laos

Satellite

The biggest genuine news on satellite services in Africa in 2019 was the launch of new High Throughput (HTS) satellites including Hylas-3 (covering West Africa), Intelsat 39 (focus on DRC), and Amos 17 (West and Southern Africa). These new generation satellites should offer practical alternatives for rural broadband backhaul on the continent. By practical I mean broadband capacity at prices that are comparable with other access technologies. However, as of year end 2019, there isn’t much public market information available on prices yet.

Dwarfing the news of these launches has been the news of initial launches of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations that promise low-latency, high-speed broadband virtually anywhere in the world. The most notable in 2019 was Spacex’s Starlink initiative which launched two sets of 60 satellites in the course of the year. These are the first of many launches for a network that is planned comprise more than 4000 satellites. If successful, Starlink could potentially out-perform fibre optic links for some connectivity. Spacex is not alone in this endeavour. Other LEO broadband satellite constellations include OneWeb, which also launched six satellites in 2019 and claim to have signed up their first wholesale customers. Other contenders include Amazon’s Project Kuiper which has just established a large manufacturing facility in Seattle and is busy hiring. Last but not least is satellite veteran Telesat. This is a high-stakes game with billions of dollars at stake for each player. There has already been one casualty with LeoSat folding in November after investors pulled out.

Will the LEO broadband constellations actually work as advertised? Bill Gates famously took a bath on that prediction twenty years ago. Much has changed since then though. One of the key factors will be whether phased-array antennas can be manufactured cheaply enough to make them a realistic consumer option. If only one of these networks succeeds, it could mean a significant change for internet infrastructure globally.

LEO constellations are not without controversy though. Astronomers have complained that Starlink may ruin observation of nearby galaxies. The rush to launch these constellations has a bit of the flavour of the scramble for Africa in the attempt to exploit a lack of awareness and regulation in order to colonise a region with technology without thought for long-term consequences.

CountryDatePublicationArticle
Algeria2019/01/11TelegeographyAlgerie Telecom launching consumer satellite broadband in September
Ghana2019/03/29ITWeb AfricaGhana's AfricaOnline to broaden its core service
Ghana2019/04/12TelegeographyAfricaOnline’s JOLA satellite broadband service now live in Ghana
Regional2019/09/16AllAfricaSatellite Going Through Its Fibre Moment - How This Will Help Africa Reach Beyond Fibre Networks to More Remote Areas
Regional2019/02/28Capacity MediaOneWeb signs first wholesale customers as six satellites go into orbit
Regional2019/08/07Capacity MediaIntelsat, Avanti launch Intelsat 39 and HYLAS 3 satellites
Regional2019/08/18City A.M. - UKSoftbank suffers £380m writedown in Oneweb stake - CityAM : CityAM
Rwanda2019/01/23RegionWeekRwanda set to launch a Telecommunication Satellite this yea
Rwanda2019/02/27The New Times - RwandaRwanda to launch broadband satellite Wednesday
Rwanda2019/02/27The New Times - RwandaSix satellites that Rwanda will benefit from successfully launched into orbit
Regional2019/08/13Avanti Hylas 3 Launches Into Orbit
Mozambique2019/08/06IntelsatIntelsat 39 Launch Successful
Regional2019/08/06SpaceNewsSpaceX launches Amos-17 satellite for Spacecom

Summary

Again this year, I leave you with with a grab bag of issues that didn’t fall neatly into the above categories.

In July of 2018 there was fanfare about Alphabet Loon’s tie-up with Telkom Kenya to deliver rural broadband via balloon. Fast forward to the end of 2019 and Loon service in Kenya has yet to materialise. Elsewhere Loon has just have received permission from the Civil Aviation Authority in Uganda to operate. More to come we hope.

Mergers and consolidations were also a part of 2019. A merger of Telkom Kenya and Airtel has been hotly debated in the country. In Uganda, a potential acquisition of Eaton Towers by ATC threatens to create a tower monopoly. Smart Telecom in Tanzania closed its doors. Zimbawe’s Telecel may be in trouble, as may South Africa’s Cell C. It does make you wonder whether any country can sustain more than two or three mobile network operators. As I argued last year, technological diversity is a factor in promoting competition. Not to mention equitable and affordable access to both backhaul and spectrum, which may ultimately be the two most important indicators of a competitive market.

Noticeable by its absence this year has been much discussion of zero-rating on the continent. Facebook has been expanding their Free Basics without much notice. A notable exception has been South Africa where the Competition Commission has proposed both zero-rating of essential web resources, and a daily basic allowance of broadband for all citizens.

CountryOperatorDatePublicationArticle
Burkina FasoOrange2019/01/21Le Faso - Burkina Faso4G+ de Orange Burkina : Pour plus de rapidité dans la connexion internet
CameroonHuawei2019/08/26ITWeb AfricaCameroon unveils Huawei-built video surveillance centre
Cote D’Ivoire2019/11/07ITWeb AfricaCôte d'Ivoire: Regulator, operators sign charter for national IXP
Djibouti2019/03/23Agence EcofinDjibouti : Weco Weco et Telsam ont signé avec le gouvernement pour l’installation d’un centre de données dans le pays
DRC2019/11/06ITWeb AfricaNew IXP launched in Lubumbashi, DRC
EthiopiaOrange2019/06/13TechCentral - South AfricaEthiopia shuts off the Internet for days - to 'stop exam cheats'
GambiaGamcel2019/05/31TelegeographyGamcel appeals for bailout to ‘avoid closure’
GhanaMainOne2019/09/27Capacity MediaMainOne to build new data centre in Ghana
Ghana2019/03/21Center for Global DevelopmentWhy “Leapfrogging” in Frontier Markets Isn’t Working
Ghana2019/05/16Ghana WebConsumer Advocacy Centre sues NCA
Ghana2019/10/14Ghana WebRe-register your SIM by June 2020 or lose your phone number - Ursula Owusu
GhanaMTN2019/05/19News Ghana - GhanaMTN Ghana Posts GH¢1.6 Billion profit
GhanaAirteltigo2019/06/24TelegeographyAirtelTigo partners with Huawei for USD30m network modernisation
KenyaSafaricom2019/05/03Business Daily AfricaSafaricom net profit jumps to Sh63.4bn - VIDEO
KenyaTelkom2019/02/11Business Daily AfricaTelkom holds on to its fibre network
Kenya2019/01/16Business Daily AfricaKisumu turns to WhatsApp for better services
Kenya2019/06/21Business Daily AfricaM-Pesa, Airtel Money set for split in new Bill
KenyaAirtel2019/01/14Capacity MediaAirtel reportedly looking at Telkom Kenya merger
KenyaTelkom Kenya2019/07/16Dignited - UgandaTelkom Kenya's Fiber network and ICT unit will not be part of the merger with Airtel Kenya - Dignited
KenyaLoon2019/07/01ReutersGoogle internet balloon spinoff Loon still looking for its wings
KenyaAirtel2019/07/02TelegeographyBharti Airtel to hold majority stake in Airtel-Telkom
KenyaAirtel2019/01/14The East AfricanBharti Airtel in talks to buy Telkom Kenya - sources
KenyaAirtel2019/01/14Total TelecomAirtel eyes African expansion with potential Kenyan acquisition
Liberia2019/04/11Liberian Observer - LiberiaFinally, Liberia Establishes a Research and Education Network and Joins WACREN, as UL Takes the Lead
LibyaAI Madar2019/11/12TelegeographyAl Madar extends LTE-A coverage to Zuwaytinah, Brega and Bishr
Malawi2019/08/12The Nation - MalawiAre Malawians Sleep-Walking into a Surveillance State? – The Nation Online
Mali2019/07/15Africa Renewal - UNAfrica Watch: Innovative messaging app tailor-made for Malians | Africa Renewal
MauritaniaMattel2019/09/13Agence EcofinMauritanie : Mattel s’offre l’expertise technique de Huawei pour renforcer son réseau télécoms
Mauritania2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyMauritania: Telecom regulator relaunches public tender for 2G/3G/4G licences
Mozambique2019/07/10Research ICT AfricaState of ICT in Mozambique – Research ICT Africa
Mozambique2019/01/21TelegeographyMozambique telcos complete merger
MozambiqueVodacom2019/11/12TelegeographyVodacom Mozambique takes over 22 cell sites under universal service fund
Mozambique,Libya,Sudan2019/10/30FSIFSI | Cyber | Internet Observatory - Evidence of Russia-Linked Influence Operations in Africa
NamibiaMTC2019/08/12TelegeographyMTC activates new cell towers in remote areas
Nigeria2019/08/13Guardian - NigeriaNCC to decommission 693 abandoned telecoms masts
NigeriaOrange2019/03/22Capacity MediaOrange deploys two IP PoPs in Nigeria
NigeriaVDT2019/07/12TelegeographyVDT unveils LTE-A for home customers
NigeriaVDT2019/06/18The Cable - NigeriaVDT communications to launch 4G LTE data services
RegionalAirtel2019/03/07Connecting AfricaConnecting Africa - Airtel's African Turnaround
Regional2019/08/02ITWeb Africa5G to unlock R67bn value for Sub-Saharan Africa
RegionalMTN2019/11/13Africa Business CommunitiesMTN selects Vanu to provide OpenRAN mobile communications systems for off-grid communities across Africa
RegionalATC2019/05/30TechCentral - South AfricaAmerican Tower to buy Eaton in R27-billion deal
RegionalHelios2019/10/15BloombergSoros-Backed Helios Trades Flat in London in Subdued Debut
RegionalVanu2019/05/30Financial TimesAmerican Tower buys African masts group Eaton in $1.85bn deal
RegionalVanu2019/05/07IT News AfricaVanu partners Africa Mobile Networks to deliver mobile connection services
Rwanda2019/01/30Agence EcofinRwanda : près de 900 000 cartes SIM pourraient être désactivées lors de l’entrée en vigueur de la nouvelle réglementation, le 1er février
Rwanda,Tanzania2019/08/13Financial TimesRwanda: where even poverty data must toe Kagame’s line
Sierra Leone2019/07/12ITWeb AfricaEthereum-based platform eyes increased connectivity in West Africa
Sierra LeoneSierratel2019/04/11TelegeographyAuditor report highlights need for regulatory reform and Sierratel’s weaknesses
South Africa2018/06/06AmabhunganeSurveillance: silent killer of journalism and democracy - amaBhungane
South Africa2019/07/23TechCentral - South AfricaHomegrown e-hailing app hopes to take on Uber, Bolt
South AfricaHelios2019/02/25BloombergHelios to Build 1,000 Towers in South Africa 5G Networks Push
South AfricaHelios2019/01/16Developing TelecomsHelios Towers and Vulatel partner for 5G in South Africa
South Africa2019/04/26ITWeb - South AfricaDigital migration creeps forward
Tanzania2019/09/27ITWeb AfricaTanzania threatens to disconnect 39 million subscribers
Tanzania2019/01/10Council on Foreign RelationsIn Africa, A New Tactic to Suppress Online Speech: Taxing Social Media
TanzaniaSmart2019/10/08TelegeographySmart winds up operations in Tanzania
Tanzania2019/04/17The Citizen - TanzaniaBiometric Sim listing set to start
Tanzania2018/10/03ReutersTanzania law punishing critics of statistics 'deeply concerning': World Bank
UgandaLoon2019/12/12ITWeb AfricaAlphabet's Loon gets regulatory nod in Uganda
Uganda2019/06/28PML DailyUCC hosts talks over Eaton Towers takeover by ATC amid competition concerns – PML Daily
Uganda2019/11/04UCCUCC SETS NEW FRAMEWORK FOR TELECOM LICENSING
Uganda2019/09/06UETCLEnergy Utilities of Uganda
UgandaAirtel2019/10/03Airtelairtel: Prepaid | Postpaid | 4G
Uganda2019/12/16Ecofin AgencyUganda: Social media tax generated $13.51 mln in 2018, only 17.4% of expectation
UgandaUTL2019/02/19Independent - UgandaUTL’s prospective investor fails to raise capital
UgandaEaton2019/06/26Daily Monitor - UgandaEaton Towers to sell stake to ATC, creates monopoly
Uganda2019/06/29Daily Monitor - UgandaGovernment in new move to control Internet
Uganda2019/01/18Daily Monitor - UgandaParliament orders assessment on impact of social media tax
Uganda2019/01/22TelegeographyUganda to force telcos to list 30% of shares
Uganda2019/06/03TelegeographyUgandan regulator switches on 3G sites under rural rollout scheme
ZambiaVodafone2019/09/26Lusaka Times - ZambiaZambia : ZICTA cancels Vodafone licence
Zimbabwe2019/09/11The Herald - ZimbabweZim, China sign ICT pact
ZimbabweTelecel2019/06/10TelegeographyPressure mounts on Telecel
ZimbabweEconet2019/05/27Zim24News - ZimbabweEconet Finally Agrees To Share It's Infrastructure
Regional2019/12/19Ecofin AgencyEU pledges additional €30mln for AfricaConnect project
South Africa2019/12/06Mail & Guardian - South AfricaFrom data must fall to data for all

Stop press: Cheating a bit as this is technically 2020 news but a happy report from Nigeria. On January 2nd, the regulator published draft guidelines on use of Television White Spaces spectrum.

16 Jan 2020: The first publication of this review incorrectly stated that Microsoft was the successful bidder for 800MHz spectrum in Ghana. It now correct says MTN.



This work would not have been possible without the support of the Mozilla Foundation, the Association for Progressive Communications, and the Network Startup Resource Center.

Series Navigation<< Africa Telecoms Infrastructure in 2018

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data