African Telecommunications Infrastructure in 2018

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Annual Review

Welcome to the 5th annual review of telecommunications infrastructure development in Africa. This review combines my analysis of the last 12 months as well as links to over 350 articles covering a range of African telecom infrastructure development issues in 2018.

Undersea Cables

Investment in undersea fibre optic cables appears to be the new normal as 2018 saw no slacking off of undersea cable investment news. The biggest news was the launch of the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS) which finally connects Africa directly with South America, offering alternative, lower-latency routes to the Americas. This is probably of most interest to companies that depend on extremely low-latency internet connections for financial trading although SACS is also going to be interesting for the new alliances that emerge for internet capacity and the redundancy it offers existing operators.

A number of smaller undersea cable initiatives were announced including Cap Amílcar Cabral, Ceiba-2, METISS, and Ultramar-GE. This reflects a maturing of the market where smaller countries that have been left out of the first waves of undersea cable investment are seeking to connect into these larger cable initiatives whether for the first time or to establish redundant capacity links.

Also of interest was an announcement from GLO of a 12Tbps capacity, 850km GLO2 undersea cable project and news of a partnership between MainOne and Orange to add landing stations in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.

Interesting too in 2018 are the undersea cable projects that refuse to go away. SAEx, which has been a great powerpoint presentation for the last six years, is showing signs of life at last with Alcatel beginning a survey for the cable in October.

Almost in a category of their own are the PEACE and SAIL undersea cables which are less commercial investments than national strategic investments in global infrastructure by China, perhaps as part of their Belt and Road strategy. Whether these cables will be sustainable in the long term is an open question but either way it is good news for access to international capacity on the continent.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the last ten years of cable investment is that one international connection is not enough. Fibre optic capacity enables the internet economy and those who build their enterprises on it depend on it to always be available. Millions of dollars a day can be lost in undersea cable interruptions. Having a redundant international connection has become an essential feature of any robust digital economy.

KenyaPEACE2018-01-08Huawei begin subsea survey on new Asia to Africa cable route | total telecom
AngolaSACS2018-01-24Offshore installation of SACS nears completion | Markets Insider
DjiboutiPEACE2018-01-30Submarine cables set to link East Africa with Asia, Europe
MauritiusMETISS2018-02-19La construction du câble METISS, confiée à Alcatel Submarine Networks et Electra TLC SPA - Agence Ecofin
AngolaSACS2018-02-21SACS lands in Brazil providing first ever subsea link between S America and Africa | total telecom
AngolaSACS2018-02-23Africa: Cable Landing a New Chapter in Africa-America Telecoms -
CameroonSAIL2018-03-02Camtel, l’opérateur public camerounais des télécoms, annonce l’exploitation du câble sous-marin entre le Cameroun et le Brésil, au plus tard le 15 septembre 2018 - Agence Ecofin
RodriguesSEACOM2018-03-05PCCW Global To Link Rodrigues With Submarine Cable - SubTel Forum
Equatorial GuineaCEIBA-22018-03-06Guinea Ecuatorial conecta con Sudamérica a través del cable SAIL – GITGE
MauritiusSACS, IOX2018-03-20IOX Cable And Angola Cables Sign Agreement To Expand Their Reach Across Africa -
AlgeriaOrval2018-04-18Algérie: Houda Imane Feraoun annonce la connexion du pays à deux nouveaux câbles sous-marins avant la fin de l’année
NigeriaGLO12018-04-24Glo, Huawei to construct 2nd submarine cable, Glo2 - Vanguard News
AlgeriaOrval2018-04-25Algeria progresses on new submarine cable connectivity project - ITWeb Africa
NigeriaGLO22018-04-25Globacom to Roll out Glo2 Submarine Cable in 18 Months - THISDAYLIVE
NigeriaGLO22018-04-26Globacom to build new subsea cable in Nigeria
NigeriaGLO22018-04-26Huawei and Globalcom to build new subsea cable in West Africa | total telecom
NigeriaGLO22018-04-27Huawei to build Glo2 fibre cable in Nigeria - ITWeb Africa
NigeriaGLO22018-05-03Achieving Last Mile Connectivity with Glo2 - THISDAYLIVE
Cape VerdeELLALINK2018-05-07EllaLink Submarine Cable System receives €25 million euro “Intent to Award” from GÉANT and RedCLARA
CameroonSAIL2018-05-25Huawei cable ship sails on journey to lay new south Atlantic link
Seychelles2018-05-29Seychelles government, cable company agree to second internet cable for island nation - Seychelles News Agency
Equatorial GuineaCEIBA-22018-06-01La Guinée équatoriale inaugure le câble sous-marin de fibre optique Ceiba-2 le 4 juin 2018
RegionalSEACOM2018-06-05SEACOM Finalizes the Upgrade of Subsea Cable System to 1.5Tbps for High-Speed Backbones
Equatorial GuineaCEIBA-22018-06-06GITGE Inaugurates Ceiba-2 Cable
DjiboutiPEACE2018-08-31Pakistan, Djibouti land deals for 60Tbps Peace subsea cable
AngolaSACS2018-09-05Le câble SACS, reliant l’Angola au Brésil devrait être opérationnel d’ici la fin du mois de septembre
CameroonSAIL2018-09-05SAIL consortium completes Cameroon to Brazil cable connectivity
CameroonSAIL2018-09-05SAIL subsea cable system connects S America and Africa for the first time | total telecom
CameroonSAIL2018-09-10Africa has fibre optic link to South America - ITWeb Africa
Nigeria SenegalMAINONE2018-09-14Orange to invest in West African subsea initiative | total telecom
AngolaSACS2018-09-19First Subsea Cable Across South Atlantic Activated | Dyn Blog
NigeriaMAINONE2018-09-20TE Connectivity: Every Connection Counts - TE | TE Connectivity
South AfricaSAEX2018-09-24SAEx, Telecom Italia partner for US leg of SA cable - TechCentral
Sao TomeUltramar GE 2018-09-26GITGE, ASN to Link Sao Tome and Annobon - SubTel Forum
DjiboutiPEACE2018-09-29Seychelles signs contract for second underwater communications cable to open in 2020 - Seychelles News Agency
South AfricaSAEX2018-10-04SAEx broadband cable progressing after deal with Alcatel - TechCentral
South AfricaSAEX2018-10-04Capacity Media - global telecoms news, events and community
Cape Verde, GuineaCap Amílcar Cabral2018-10-29Cape Verde and Guinea soon connected by fiber optics
MauritiusMETISS2018-11-06Câble MARS : coup d’envoi des travaux de connexion le mardi 6 novembre -technologie- my.t - île Maurice
AngolaSACS2018-11-14SACS Cable to expand connectivity in Africa via data centresIT News Africa – Up to date technology news, IT news, Digital news, Telecom news, Mobile news, Gadgets news, Analysis and Reports | Africa's Technology News Leader
South AfricaACE2018-11-21Sierra Leone data penetration still below expectation – SALCAB | Politico SL
Cape VerdeCap Amílcar Cabral2018-12-14Capacity Media - global telecoms news, events and community
BeninACE2018-12-29Benin requires the ACE GIE to stop illegal exploitation of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) fibre - Ecofin Agency
Cape Verde, GuineaCap Amílcar Cabral2018-12-29Cape Verde and Guinea to soon be linked by submarine optical fiber - Ecofin Agency
GuineaCap Amílcar Cabral2018-12-29GUILAB and Cabo Verde Telecom sign a MoU to build a regional telecommunications submarine cable system - Ecofin Agency

Terrestrial Backbone Fibre

Terrestrial fibre investment too showed no signs of slowing down with fibre investment announcements from 25 African countries in 2018. Perhaps most notable was Liquid Telecom’s announcement of the “One Africa” fibre optic network. Through a combination of build-outs, acquisitions, and partnerships, Liquid Telecom now has fibre optic infrastructure that stretches all the way from Cape Town to Cairo. The speed at which Liquid Telecom has grown is remarkable and is clearly good news for intra-African internet traffic. They are by far the biggest regional fibre network operator on the continent.

Unfortunately the massive investment in terrestrial fibre capacity hasn’t been matched by commensurately significant drops in the cost of terrestrial access. In many countries on the continent, it still costs more to get data to a submarine cable landing point than it does to take it the rest of the way to the US or Europe.

One big change in 2018 that may be a sign of things to come is the arrival of global internet transit provider, Hurricane Electric  (HE) into the Kenyan market. By operating a Point of Presence (PoP) in Nairobi, it allows service providers to buy international capacity (transit) from them directly without having to purchase both terrestrial and international transit. This is not a brand new concept by any means. Undersea cable operators like Seacom have operated PoPs in a number of major African cities for some time. What is unique about Hurricane Electric is that they don’t own any undersea or terrestrial infrastructure in or around Africa. They are able to establish a PoP by trading capacity on their international networks with African network operators. This allowed them to offer wholesale transit pricing at a significantly lower price than local operators. Expect this trend to grow to other major African cities in 2019.

Global transit providers like HE aren’t the full solution to terrestrial fibre prices though. Governments that have investments in national fibre optic networks need to unlock the potential that high prices are keeping pent up in their fibre networks. One strategy would be to offer shares to smaller service providers to enable them to compete more effectively with large operators.

SierraLeone2018-11-2348% cost reduction for bandwidth in Sierra Leone - ITWeb Africa
Uganda, Kenya2018-10-27Affordable internet comes knocking at Uganda- The Exchange
Nigeria, Algeria2018-11-02Algeria, Nigeria eager to complete trans-Saharan fibre project - ITWeb Africa
Algeria2018-01-23Algerie Telecom’s fibre backbone to surpass 80,000km this year
Algeria2018-06-20Algérie: GRTG loue à Comintal son réseau de fibre optique noire pour l'aider à améliorer l’accès à Internet dans le pays
Angola, South Africa2018-11-26Angola Cables, Broadband InfraCo sign connectivity agreement - Lightwave
Benin2018-04-13Bénin : le gouvernement annonce l'extension du programme PDI2T, destiné au déploiement du haut débit
Benin2018-04-12Bénin: selon Djalil Assouma, DG de Bénin Télécom Infrastructures, la phase 1 du projet PDI2T est réalisée à 83%
South Africa2018-11-21Big fibre plans for Liquid Telecom in South Africa
Burkina Faso, Ghana2018-07-23Burkina Faso govt lauds US$20.6m fibre optic project - ITWeb Africa
Ghana2018-07-11Burkina Faso: le tronçon de fibre optique reliant Ouagadougou à la frontière ghanéenne, inauguré
South Africa2018-11-13BusinessLIVE
Gabon, Cameroon2018-09-27CAB backbone project enters fourth phase - ITWeb Africa
Angola, Uganda2018-02-16Cable Compendium: a guide to the week’s submarine and terrestrial developments
Mauritius2018-01-12Cable Compendium: a guide to the week’s submarine and terrestrial developments
CAR2018-04-06Central African Republic's €33.3m fibre network project underway - ITWeb Africa
Cameroon2018-02-05Congo to connect to Cameroon and Central Africa via a 550 km optical fiber - Business in Cameroon
Cameroon2018-07-16Congo: 17 sociétés en lice pour la construction du lien de fibre optique avec la Centrafrique et le Cameroun
Cote D’Ivoire2018-12-29Côte d'Ivoire secures a CFA72bn loan from AFD to deploy optical fiber - Ecofin Agency
Ghana2018-04-17DANIDA Hands Over ICT Project To government - BusinessGhana News | General
Zimbabwe2018-06-15Dark Fibre Africa expands into Zim amid acquisition rumours - ITWeb Africa
Regional2018-07-31Economic promise linked to Cape-to-Cairo deal - ITWeb Africa
Regional2018-12-18EIB confirms support for EUR 495m transformational investment across Africa at Vienna summit
Uganda2018-10-06Facebook, Airtel Uganda partner with BCS to expand cheap  internet to Uganda’s upcountry – PML Daily
Kenya2018-03-13Fibre-optic connectivity in Kenya accelerates move to the cloud | IT News Africa – Africa's Technology News Leader
South Africa2018-05-31FibreCo increases dark fibre resilience from Johannesburg to Durban | Intelligent CIO Africa
Gabon2017-10-26Gabon : Korea Telecom annonce le déploiement de la fibre optique à Oyem, Bitam et Lambaréné - TIC Mag
Gabon2018-04-20Gabon: Gabon to invest $277 million in fibre optic network, Telecom News, ET Telecom
DRC, Congo2018-08-22Helios Towers announces 1,800km new backbone network for DRC - ITWeb Africa
Regional2018-09-28How Liquid Telecom Connected Africa from Cape to Cairo » 263Chat
Uganda2018-05-02Kenyan company to lose control over Ugandan internet highway - Daily Monitor
Kenya2018-10-26Ketraco eyes Sh500m from Liquid Telecom deal - Business Daily
Benin2018-03-23Le Bénin passe à l’internet haut débit fin août prochain
Gabon2018-04-08Le Gabon et le Congo interconnectés par la fibre optique - RFI
Nigeria2018-09-03Le Nigeria obtient 328 millions $ de la Chine pour réaliser la Phase 2 du réseau national de fibre optique
Ethiopia, Eritrea2018-07-13Les services télécoms entre l’Ethiopie et l’Erythrée rétablis après 20 ans d’interruption
Regional2018-09-11Liquid Telecom Cape to Cairo network first of its kind for Africa -
Zimbabwe2018-12-11Liquid Telecom in R2.6-billion funding boost - TechCentral
Regional2018-07-17Liquid Telecom in venture to build Cape to Cairo fibre network | ITWeb
Egypt2018-12-10Capacity Media - global telecoms news, events and community
Egypt2018-12-29Liquid Telecom to invest $400m in Egypt for network infrastructure, data centres | IOL Business Report
Malawi2018-02-02Malawi completes US$23m national fibre rollout project - ITWeb Africa
Mali2018-12-29Mali: National assembly authorizes government to borrow XOF93 billion for "Mali digital 2020" - Ecofin Agency
Mauritania2018-03-14Mauritania to add 1,600km of fibre backbone this month
Mauritius2018-11-15Mauritius the Only African State with 100% Fibre Coverage
Uganda2018-01-29Museveni orders gov’t to switch to UTL internet
Nigeria2018-02-05Nigeria: NCC Approves Two New Infrastructure Companies for South East, North West -
Botswana2018-02-14Nimbus constructs TKF line linking Namibia to Botswana - ITWeb Africa
Uganda2018-02-07NITA-U Updates the Parliamentary Committee on ICT on the Status of Missing Links Project
Malawi2018-09-06Private Equity Firm Harith Buys Into Malawi Fiber Network
Uganda2018-02-02Report on NITA-U's Internet Backbone Infrastructure Project - GURU8
Nigeria2018-08-03RoW approval: IHS returns InfraCo license — Business — The Guardian Nigeria Newspaper – Nigeria and World News
Zimbabwe2018-02-06SA firm plans $60m fibre network investment - NewsDay Zimbabwe
Egypt2018-07-15Telecom Egypt, Liquid Telecom sign Cape to Cairo fibre network deal
South Africa2018-08-22Telkom’s massive fibre network versus the rest
DRC2018-02-09TIC-CONGO : la  mission du projet CAB présentée à la presse - Justin Morel Junior
Nigeria, Algeria2018-01-25Trans-Saharan Highway Project Will Strengthen Strategic Relations Between Algeria, Nigeria – Onyeama | Independent Nigeria
Zimbabwe2018-05-30Villagers Dig Up TelOne Fibre Cables Out Of Curiosity - Techzim
Ghana2018-08-06Vodafone expands Fibre Optic Network in West Africa | Business News 2018-08-06
Liberia2018-06-19Who’s Digging In and Around Monrovia? The CSquared Monrovia Metro Fiber Optic Ring Project (AKA Google’s Project Link), And Its Impact on the GoL’s Pro-Poor Agenda. | Liberian Observer
Ghana2018-09-01Bawumia Cuts Sod For $42m Fibre Optic Project - Daily Guide Africa

Fibre To The Home and OTT

Like other fibre markets, the rapid spread of Fibre To the Home (FTTH) seems perfectly normal now whereas it barely existed only a few years ago. The combined trend of rising demand of streaming movie and television services and the decreasing cost of FTTH deployment continues to fuel this boom. Fibre is a significantly different technology from wireless in two important ways. First, it has a much longer lifespan. Whereas wireless technologies must be replaced or upgraded every 3-5 years, fibre optic infrastructure can last 15-25 years. Second, while wireless technology continues to improve in capacity, it does have limits. Fibre optic infrastructure, on the other hand, capable of carrying terabits and even petabits of traffic, effectively does not. I have argued that any operator that is planning to be around for a few years should be investing in fibre optic network infrastructure as part of their strategy.

Along with FTTH, streaming media or Over The Top (OTT) companies continue to grow and evolve on the continent. In 2018, Netflix announced its first investments in an original South African series, which hopefully is just the first of many investments in local content in African countries by OTT companies. The biggest losers in the spread of OTT services are those who markets are being eroded by OTT. This includes the hundreds of millions of dollars invested by governments and companies in digital terrestrial broadcast system as a part of the digital switchover from analogue to digital television broadcasting. It is hard to see how any digital terrestrial broadcast markets will ever break even. Satellite television is also suffering but their ability to reach outside of the urban centres served by FTTH services providers means they are not going away any time soon. Also, sports and live events seem to be areas of broadcast that OTT service providers remain excluded from.

FTTHKenya2018-05-10141,000 homes get Safaricom fibre Internet access - Business Daily
FTTHAngola2018-02-05Algeria Telecom rolls out controversial FTTH - ITWeb Africa
FTTHAlgeria2018-01-31Algerie Telecom announces major FTTH deployment
FTTHRegional2018-03-13Fibre 'land grap' underway in East, Southern Africa says SEACOM - ITWeb Africa
FTTHSouth Africa2018-05-03How many fibre infrastructure and service providers there are in South Africa
FTTHSouth Africa2018-06-04How many homes in South Africa have a fibre connection
FTTHBenin2018-06-08ISOCEL to launch first FTTH service in Benin, first in capital Cotonou and then more widely | Balancing Act - Africa
FTTHBotswana2018-07-31KT to carry out fibre project for Botswana’s BoFiNet
FTTHSudan2018-02-27Liquid Telecom - News
FTTHSudan2018-02-28Liquid, Sudatel pen landmark FTTH deal - ITWeb Africa
FTTHReunion2018-06-14Mediaserv covers 75% of households with FTTH
FTTHBotswana2018-02-23Mmegi Online :: Mascom first to launch Fibre to the Home
FTTHRwanda2018-04-25More Kigali households get fibre optic coverage | The New Times | Rwanda
FTTHAngola2018-02-02MSTelcom lançará serviço Triple Play - Revista Rumo
FTTHSouth Africa2018-03-29Octotel to double down on Cape Town fibre expansion - TechCentral
FTTHTogo2018-03-26Operators race to boost 4G, fibre optic access in Togo - ITWeb Africa
FTTHSudan2018-07-03Sudatel, Nokia to trial 5G mobile tech - ITWeb Africa
FTTHTanzania2018-02-28Tanzania: TTCL Embarks On Fibre to Home Project -
FTTHTanzania2018-02-28TTCL embarks on fibre to home project
FTTHKenya2018-01-08Video-on-demand spurs rise in fibre Internet users - Business Daily
FTTHSouth Africa2018-05-08Vumatel rolling out in Alexandra will kill DStv market share
FTTHUganda2018-10-08Zuku Fiber service packages and prices in Uganda. - Dignited
OTTZimbabwe2018-01-08African pay TV subscriber numbers to grow 74% by 2023 – Digital TV Europe
OTTBenin2018-08-28Benin introduces new service tax
OTTUganda2018-08-08Facebook to hold back Uganda investment over tax - Business Daily
OTTKenya2018-02-21Kwese acquires stake in Malaysia-based iflix - Business Daily
OTTGhana2018-11-02Kwesé TV is no MORE! Company goes digital with Kwesé Play, Kwesé Free Sports & Kwesé Iflix - Proudly Ghanaian! | EnewsGH
OTTRegional2018-05-31Netflix in Africa hiring content producer for Africa, Turkey, Middle East more Nollywood, Arab language shows — Quartz
OTTSouth Africa2018-12-10Netflix unveils its first South African original series - TechCentral
OTTSouth Africa2018-06-14South Africans would rather have Netflix over DStv
OTTSouth Africa2018-07-17Tbo Touch to take on DStv, Netflix with new venture THD - TechCentral
OTTSouth Africa2018-07-17Tbo Touch to take on DStv, Netflix with new venture THD - TechCentral
OTTZimbabwe2018-10-05TelOne to launch Africa's first fully converged on-demand entertainment service - Bulawayo24 News
OTTRegional2018-05-30The rise of OTT and VOD services in Africa | Screen Africa
OTTSouth Africa2018-05-02Urban SA turning its back on linear pay TV, GfK says - TechCentral
OTTZambia2018-09-14Zambia to tax internet phone calls - The East African

Licensed Spectrum

The biggest news in licensed spectrum in 2018 was the licensing of digital dividend spectrum (700MHz and 800MHz) for mobile broadband across a number of countries on the continent.

The drama of Ghana’s 800MHz auction which began in 2017 with only MTN the only successful bidder, paying $67.5 million for 20MHz (2x10MHz) of spectrum, carried on in 2018. The regulator’s attempts to carry out a second auction were stymied by MTN’s insistence that any bidder must match the amount that they paid for the spectrum. This option did not find any takers. The regulator compromised by offering smaller chunks of spectrum 10MHz (2x5MHz) in the second round for $33.7 million each, although still the same price per MHz. They eventually settled on $30 million for 10MHz, which was acquired by Vodafone just before year end.

In Tanzania, a successful spectrum auction was held in the 700MHz band with two operators, Vodacom Tanzania and Azam Telecom winning licenses for 20MHz (2x10MHz) for USD10M each.

In Mozambique, the regulator put 800MHz, 1800MHz, and 2600MHz up for auction but only received bids for 800MHz spectrum. Three of the five 10MHz (2x5MHz) lots were successfully auctioned at $15M each to Mcel, Vodacom and Movitel. This is a great step forward after the same 800MHz spectrum was put up for auction in 2013 with no bidders due to the high reserve price. The fact that no bids were made for either 1800MHz or 2600MHz may be due to the lower capital costs required for network rollout in 800MHz spectrum, thanks to the larger cell size that is possible in that frequency. The 30 million dollar reserve price for 10MHz of 1800MHz may also have been a factor.

In Kenya, where the regulator has chosen not to use spectrum auctions as a vehicle for assigning spectrum, plans for the 700MHz band are a little confusing to the external observer. The regulator has divided the band into three lots of (I assume) 30MHz (2x15MHz) each. Last year, Jamii Telecom was given a trial license for one of these lots and the regulator has encouraged second tier service providers to form consortia to request the other two lots. Successful applicants will be assigned the spectrum for a year and then will be allowed to keep it if they pay the USD25M fee. First tier operators (Safaricom, Airtel, Telkom Kenya) who received 800MHz spectrum last year are precluded from participation in 700MHz.

You can see from the above that there is no particular standard for either price per MHz or the default size of the spectrum lots made available. In theory, making smaller lots available enables operators to bid on the amount of spectrum they need by choosing the number of lots to bid on but the reality seems to be that the reserve prices are so high that operators are only just meeting the reserve price for a single lot. Larger frequency assignments can help to reduce the likelihood of a cell being overwhelmed by a combination of users and demand. Thus, a comparatively small license such as 10MHz (2x5MHz) may not be ideal for use in dense urban areas.

The missing story in all of the above auctions are the missing operators, those who could not afford the multi-million dollar entry fee. New spectrum licenses ares going to existing incumbents and that’s that. A side-effect of high spectrum fees is that small and even medium-sized operators are locked out of the LTE market. This is obviously not good news for competition and, in particular, is not good news for rural access as high auction prices for spectrum are going to push operators to deploy where they can make their money back fastest, in densely populated, comparatively wealthy urban areas. There is an urgent need for spectrum polices and regulation that directly address affordable, rural, service delivery.

LTERwanda2018-01-05Rwandan 4G network hits 95% coverage
LTETogo2018-01-08Newcomer TEOLIS now ‘operational’ in Togo
LTESenegal2018-01-18Orange Senegal targets 50% LTE coverage by end-2018
LTEMalawi2018-01-24Airtel 4G to cover three cities | Malawi 24 - All the latest Malawi news
LTEGambia2018-01-30Africell Gambia launches LTE, claims 68Mbps speed
LTESierra Leone2018-01-30Sierratel launches LTE services
LTEKenya2018-02-08Airtel pays Sh2.5bn licence fee for full 4G Internet rollout - Business Daily
LTEGhana2018-02-09Afrimax announces sale of Busy Internet Ghana | IT News Africa – Africa's Technology News Leader
LTENigeria2018-02-13Airtel switches on 4G network in Ibadan
SpectrumNigeria60GHz2018-03-01NCC seeks release of 60Ghz frequency spectrum for broadband deployment — Technology — The Guardian Nigeria Newspaper – Nigeria and World News
AuctionKenya700MHz2018-03-07Connecting Africa - Kenya's 4G Hopefuls Wait for Spectrum Ruling
DSORegional2018-03-07Microsoft PowerPoint - Nairobi 2018 ITU Broadcast Workshop - DSO - Digital Migration Status (Update) in Africa.pptx - Nairobi 2018 ITU Broadcast Workshop - DSO - Digital Migration Status (Update) in Africa.pdf
LTERegional2018-03-08Africa: Nokia, Orange Sustain Major Africa LTE Rollout -
LTELibya2018-03-09LTT launches LTE fixed broadband service
SpectrumKenya700MHz2018-03-1210 telecom companies launch bid for 4G licence - Business Daily
AuctionKenya700MHz2018-03-13Kenyan consortia seek 4G licences
LTETogo2018-03-13Togocel plans 4G launch in Lome next month
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-03-13Ghana to issue second 4G spectrum license in June - ITWeb Africa
AuctionTanzania700MHz2018-03-14TCRA invites comments on 700MHz spectrum auction procedure
LTELiberia2018-03-20ORANGE Liberia Launches 4G LTE Sites in Grand Bassa | Liberian Observer
SpectrumNigeria2018-04-17Nigeria okays frequency spectrum trading among operators | Technology Times
LTEKenya2018-05-02Airtel Kenya Joins 4G Family with Nairobi and Mombasa Launch
LTENiger2018-05-03Airtel secures Niger Republic's first 4G license - ITWeb Africa
LTENigeria2018-05-08Airtel expands 4G to Abuja
LTETogo2018-05-09Togo to issue 4G licences to Togocel and Moov; extends 2G/3G concessions to 2032
LTENiger2018-05-11Airtel spends 12 billion for the acquisition of its 4G license in Niger | NexTV News
AuctionTanzania700MHz2018-05-12Vodacom Tanzania eyes more spectrum after solid annual earnings growth | Business | | Karachi
LTEDRC2018-05-17Vodacom DRC first to launch 4G connectivity - ITWeb Africa
LTEKenya2018-05-30Telkom Kenya expands 4G in Nairobi outskirts - Business Daily
LTETogo2018-06-11Togo: 4G in…at last! - Togo First
LTESouth Africa2018-06-20No airtime or SMSs on Rain Mobile
AuctionTanzania700MHz2018-06-26Bakhresa's Azam Mobile, Vodacom secure new broadband - Business | The Citizen
AuctionTanzania700MHz2018-06-26Vodacom Tanzania welcomes the announcement of the 700 MHz Spectrum Auction results | | IT News Africa – Africa's Technology News Leader
LTETogo2018-07-02Togocel launches 4G for its 20th anniversary - Togo First
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-07-18Government won’t reduce cost of 4G spectrum - George Andah | Business News 2018-07-18
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-07-24Vice President Hints At Vodafone Ghana Soon Gaining Access To The 4G LTE spectrum - Tech Nova
AuctionMozambique800MHz2018-07-264G em Moçambique pode acontecer ainda em 2018
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-08-12Other telcos to enjoy 4G soon – NCA assures | Business News 2018-08-12
SpectrumSouth Africa2018-08-15Liquid Telecom in talks to share idle spectrum
LTEKenya2018-08-17Telkom Kenya boosts network with 200 new 4G sites in Nairobi
LTEKenya2018-08-18Airtel takes 4G beyond Nairobi, Mombasa - Business Daily
AuctionGhana2018-08-19Broadband chamber calls for ‘better spectrum pricing policies’ -
AuctionMozambique800MHz2018-08-23Anuncio Leilao do Espectro.pdf
LTEAngola2018-08-24Unitel adding five more 4G cities this year; aims to cover all communes in less than three years
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-08-28National Communication Authority to Sell Last 4G Spectrum - Tech Voice Africa
AuctionMozambique800MHz2018-08-31Mozambique to conduct 4G auction on 25 October | Balancing Act - Africa
LTESeychelles2018-08-31Airtel Seychelles launches 4G broadband ‘fixed replacement’ service
LTESenegal2018-09-07Orange booste la vitesse de connexion avec le déploiement de la 4G+ - KoldaNews
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-09-12NCA Opens Applications For Three 4G Spectrum Slots
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-09-14National Communications Authority Sets Spectrum Price At $33.75m
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-09-14NCA's new 4G move: A fix or more miss? -
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-09-15NCA Sets New 4G Spectrum Price At US$33.75m
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-09-15NCA's new 4G move: a fix or more mess? - Ghana Business News
LTETanzania2018-09-20Tigo launches 4g+ network in Tanzania | Tigo Tanzania
LTENigeria2018-09-24Globacom upgrades Nigerian networks
LTEMozambique2018-09-28Vodacom é a primeira Operadora a lançar tecnologia 4G em Moçambique
LTESouth Africa2018-09-28Vodacom launches "false" 4G service in Mozambique
LTENigeria2018-10-01Airtel 4G reaches Delta, Rivers State
AuctionMauritania2018-10-05Mauritania hoping to attract new player as part of 4G sale
LTENamibia2018-10-10Paratus to begin work on second phase of TD-LTE network
LTENigeria2018-10-25Airtel expands 4G network to Lagos; 100 cities to be covered by end-March
LTEKenya2018-10-31Kisumu, Eldoret and Nakuru next in line for Airtel 4G
AuctionGhana2600MHz2018-11-01MTN Targets Goldkey's 4G Spectrum In Exchange For Shares
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-11-01NCA Spectrum Auction Produces Interesting Bids: Vodafone $24m, Quantum $2m
LTENigeria2018-11-05Glo extends 4G LTE to 36 states, 208 tertiary institutions - Daily Post Nigeria
LTESomalia2018-11-05Mogadishu gets 4G mobile network - Daily Nation
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-11-16Ghana's regulator at crossroads over 4G spectrum - ITWeb Africa
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-11-16NCA to Accept Bids for 4G Spectrum - Tech Voice Africa
AuctionMozambique800MHz2018-11-23Mcel, Vodacom and Movitel now have available spectrum for 4G in Mozambique
LTEKenya2018-11-23Telkom Kenya Set to Expand 4G/3G Coverage with a KES 4.1 Billion Loan
LTEZambia2018-11-26Zamtel announces 4G mobile launch
AuctionMozambique800MHz2018-11-30Microsoft Word - press release 30.11.2018 Leilão Editado.docx
LTEMali2018-11-30Malitel launches 4G commercially
LTEAlgeria2018-12-03Mobilis LTE reaches another ten provinces
LTESenegal2018-12-06Tigo Senegal obtains 4G licence
AuctionMozambique800MHz2018-12-12Mozambique expects to raise over US$83-million from spectrum auction - ITWeb Africa
LTENamibia2018-12-20Telecom Namibia enhances 3G, 4G coverage
SpectrumSouth Africa2018-12-21Liquid Telecom to build national 4G network in South Africa - TechCentral
AuctionGhana800MHz2018-12-28Vodafone Ghana wins 4G licence bid at US$30m | Business News 2018-12-26
LTENigeria2018-12-29Finally, Airtel 4G LTE Network Is Up And Running; Get Free 4GB 4G Data For The Test Run - High Technologies
LTEBurundi2018-03-05Burundi : Lumitel étend son service 4G à l’ensemble du pays - Agence Ecofin
LTEBurundi2018-03-06Viettel’s Burundian mobile operator Lumitel extends 4G nationwide
LTEGhana800MHz2018-12-26< href="">Vodafone Ghana Gets 4G Licence at US$30m

Unlicensed and Dynamic Spectrum

Another ‘new normal’ these days is WiFi. As WiFi comes standard on more and more phones, WiFi access has become a natural value-add to any venue and is remarkably inexpensive to deploy. Hence it is not surprising to see governments, enterprises, and network operators (both commercial and not-for-profit) everywhere putting up WiFi infrastructure. The unresolved question is who should pay for the backhaul/bandwidth. In some cases the government underwrites the cost as a public good. For many businesses, it is like providing parking; a way to draw customers in. In others cases, it is sold on a pay-as-you-go model just like mobile broadband. Still other providers operate a third-party pays model where sponsors and/or advertisers cover the cost of bandwidth. There are a host of WiFi startups that are trying to figure out what the optimum sustainability model is. In the Eastern Cape in South Africa, a cooperative model has been adopted by Zenzeleni Networks to deliver affordable broadband in areas that are too poor and sparsely populated to interest commercial operators. This model appears to be thriving. What is exciting about WiFi is that it allows the kind of innovation that will see successful, sustainable business models naturally emerge from hundreds of experiments.

In the world of dynamic spectrum or Television White Spaces (TVWS) there have been a couple of big leaps forward on the continent. In March the South African regulator formally gazetted rules for the use of TVWS in the country. It has still to appoint an administrator for the geo-location database but has apparently already granted permission in October to an operator to proceed in the deployment of TVWS infrastructure.

Mozambique also made substantial moves toward TVWS regulation. They partnered with Nominet, the UK internet registry who have developed a TVWS geo-location database, to run trials early in 2018. They have plans to announce a regulatory norm shortly that will allow operators to deploy TVWS access technologies. The norm will have particular incentives for operators connecting rural areas and schools in particular.

WiFiNamibia2017-07-19Windhoek to provide free Wi-Fi - The Namibian
WiFiUganda2018-01-06Church provides internet in northern Uganda, connects more than computers | National Catholic Reporter
WiFiRegional2018-01-10Yahsat and Tanaza partner to increase the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots globally
WiFiZimbabwe2018-01-11Econet to accelerate WiFi rollout | The Zimbabwe Daily
WiFiZimbabwe2018-01-19Zimbabwe's Silent Revolution: Public Wi-Fi | Fast Forward | OZY
WiFiTogo2018-02-23Togo-Internet : le réseau TEOLIS opérationnel | CIO MAG
WiFiSouth Africa2018-02-25Western Cape free Wi-Fi and 1Gbps fibre project update
TVWSSouth Africa2018-03-23Regulations on the use of Television White Spaces 2018 — Independent Communications Authority of South Africa
WiFiSouth Africa2018-03-276-month extension for city's free wi-fi | Pretoria News
WiFiTogo2018-04-09Togo : le gouvernement se lance dans le maillage de tout le territoire national par des hotspots wifi publics
WiFiNigeria2018-04-097 New Internet Service Providers (ISPs) Issued Licences by the NCC
WiFiKenya2018-04-10Facebook deepens spying in Kenya - Daily Nation
TVWSMozambique2018-05-03PowerPoint Presentation - Day3-5-2_ChallengesToUniversalAndAffordableConnectivity_SalomaoDavid.pdf
WiFiSouth Africa2018-06-08Wi-Fi remains free in the capital – The Citizen
WiFiSouth Africa2018-07-09HeroTel's acquisitive trail continues | ITWeb
WiFiSouth Africa2018-07-24Tshwane free Wi-Fi not canned - metro | Rekord East
WiFiNigeria2018-07-26Google Station launches free public WiFi in Nigeria — Quartz
WiFiZimbabwe2018-07-26Free Wifi for College Students - Technology News Zimbabwe
WiFiNigeria2018-07-27Google Adding Free Wi-Fi Hotspots In Nigeria As Part of Push In Africa | Fortune
WiFiNigeria2018-07-30Majority Of Organizations Have Too Few Cybersecurity Workers
WiFiTunisia2018-08-08Le conseil municipal de Raoued adopte le Wifi public gratuit dans deux parcs de la ville
WiFiNigeria, Ghana2018-09-06Nigerian ISP, Tizeti expands into Ghana | IT News Africa – Africa's Technology News Leader
WiFiSouth Africa2018-09-11The current state of free public WiFi in South Africa -
TVWSSouth Africa2018-10-14The new mobile network for rural South Africa – How it works
TVWSSouth Africa2018-10-15AfriCanopy to deploy low-cost Internet to rural KwaZulu-Natal in TV white space trial
WiFiNamibia2018-11-12City in N$150m Wi-Fi deal ... MTC and MTN among interested companies - The Namibian
WiFiSouth Africa2018-11-30Liquid, Western Cape govt partner to boost public Wi-Fi access - ITWeb Africa
WiFiSouth Africa2018-12-29Significant progress in the restoration of free ‘Tshwi-fi’ | Pretoria News


Satellite broadband is a technology to watch in the next year or two. It feels a bit like the calm before the storm in satellite service delivery. There are a couple trends that are poised to re-shape the industry.

The first is the launching of High Throughput Satellites (HTS) which are capable of delivering modern broadband speeds at realistic prices for ISPs. HTS satellites have been around for a while but 2018 represents a shift to more widespread accessibility of these services and hopefully more competitive prices. At the end of 2017, there were few HTS satellites offering services over the continent. They included Al Yah 2 (2012) and Intelsat 33e (2016). Services from these satellites have brought satellite broadband prices down but there are still a limited number of countries where the service is available and prices, though cheaper, may still be beyond what can enable a sustainable ISP service.

2018 saw the launch of Al Yah 3 which can offer broadband services in 19 countries in the region. Another HTS launch in 2018 came from Avanti with the Hylas 4 satellite. These satellites are signs that HTS services are reaching critical mass over Africa; offering real alternatives to terrestrial backhaul for rural service delivery in particular. Expect more HTS launches in 2019, such as Spacecom’s Amos 17, Eutelsat’s KonnectAfrica and others. If prices come down further on HTS services, this could have a real impact on rural internet service delivery on the continent.

Meanwhile, O3B, a Middle Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite network that launched in 2013 providing high-speed broadband to operators and corporates, expanded their constellation from 12 to 16 satellites in 2018. As a service, they are out of the financial reach of most small to medium service providers. Their clients range from the government of Burkina Faso to mobile network operators in Central African Republic or South Sudan.

The biggest change in the satellite industry, which has yet to bear fruit but whose impact has the potential to re-shape the access landscape, is the launch of several new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite broadband networks, including OneWeb, Spacex’s StarLink, Telesat LEO and others. Launches have already begun for these satellite constellations, which require hundreds of satellites. Some promise to be in service as early as 2020. If these come to fruition, they are likely to change the broadband market substantially providing new competition, driving down prices in served markets and providing affordable access alternatives in remote, underserved regions.

As with any new technology though, the proof is in the pudding. Just launching a single satellites can be a risky business. Operating a constellation of hundreds of satellites introduces new levels of complexity of operation and maintenance. It seems inevitable that LEO broadband satellites will be commercially available in the near future but 2020 may be an optimistic estimate.

If satellite broadband is new to you, I highly recommend this talk by my colleague Jon Brewer at NSRC. Or if you think you already know everything there is to know about satellite, try this interesting analysis of potential throughput of three different LEO constellations.

Global2018-01-26After launch scare, satellites found safely in orbit
Algeria2018-03-13Algerie Telecom Satellite prepares triple-play service
Angola2018-04-23Angola confirms loss of its first satellite, eagerly awaits successor Angosat-2
Burkina Faso2018-05-08Burkina Faso extends O3b access deal with SES Networks
Cameroon2018-10-02Emirati Yahsat launches internet service in Cameroon
Global2018-06-28OneWeb and SpaceX are leading the way to global internet with smallsat constellations –
Global2018-05-01OneWeb shifts first launch to year’s end -
Global2018-07-27SES S.A.: Half Year 2018 Results
Global2018-01-08This is the Year Internet From Space Gets Really Serious - Universe Today
Uganda2018-05-28Uganda's regulator pens satellite connectivity deal
Global2018-01-29Yahsat confirms launch of Al Yah 3 mission


This year I decided to include a list of articles (below) that seemed relevant to African telecom infrastructure but didn’t fit neatly into a single category. Among them, one thing that stands out for me is the news of operator mergers and of failed operators. In Kenya, Airtel and Telkom Kenya have been exploring a merger and, in Mozambique, TDM and mCel have just completed a merger. In Uganda, Vodafone filed for bankruptcy. In Ghana, second-tier service provider Surfline shut down. And just at the end of 2017 Airtel and Tigo merged in Ghana.

This is not entirely surprising. As mobile network operators become increasingly similar in business model and operation, outsourcing both infrastructure and operations to the same companies, it is not surprising that service delivery becomes a race to the bottom with only a few dominant operators surviving.

This is compounded by the fact that deeper and deeper pockets are required to purchase and retain the spectrum licenses needed to deliver next-generation broadband, effectively shutting out all but the biggest operators.

Real competition is more likely to be enabled by platforms that are sufficiently technologically distinct so as to have different capital and operation costs, allowing innovative business models to emerge. Fibre optic network operators, FTTH service providers, WiFi-based ISPs are all challenging the standard business model of MNOs and could do more if regulators were to enable affordable access to spectrum for small and medium size operators and for under-served regions.

3GGhana2018-04-05Vodafone expands 3G network to 25 new locations
CensorshipRegional2018-07-17African governments silence social media, bloggers on Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook — Quartz
ChinaRegional2018-07-25More of Africa Finds Itself in China’s Debt - WSJ
ChinaRegional2018-09-17China’s suspicious interest in Africa’s internet networks — Features — The Guardian Nigeria Newspaper – Nigeria and World News
ChinaRegional2018-11-05Reality Check: Is China burdening Africa with debt? - BBC News
ChinaRegional2018-11-05Africa: China Plans to Sell Off Its African Infrastructure Debt to Investors -
ChinaGhana2018-12-08Ghana seeks 100 mln USD in providing rural telephony: minister - Xinhua |
Data CentresRegional2018-02-08African countries invest in data centres - Afrika News
Data CentresKenya2018-08-07Telkom Kenya completes US$1.5 million datacentre project - ITWeb Africa
Data CentresGuinea2018-10-15Government announces launch of Guinea’s first internet exchange point
EcommerceKenya2018-01-18Facebook threatens Jumia's dominance in Africa - ITWeb Africa
EcommerceKenya2018-01-19Mobile money deal spells doom for M-Pesa - Business Today News
EconomySouth Africa2018-01-19OPINION: Fourth Industrial Revolution seemingly holds the key to growth in South Africa | IOL Business Report
EconomyLiberia2018-03-14Preparing for a Data-Driven Revolution in Liberia | JIA SIPA
EconomySouth Africa2018-07-16How the government is holding back fibre rollouts in South Africa
EconomyRwanda2018-10-09Rwandan operator KTRN to slash 4G prices
EconomyKenya2018-11-02Safaricom Half-Year net profit rises to Sh31.5 billion :: Kenya - The Standard
EducationNigeria2018-01-24MainOne partners with West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) to boost connectivity in research and education institutions - CNBC Africa
FacebookCameroon2018-02-06MTN Cameroon partners with Facebook to launch Facebook Flex
FacebookKenya2018-02-08This is why Facebook Groups are the reason OLX is exiting Kenya, Nigeria
FacebookMalawi2018-06-08Facebook to work together with Malawi's government
FacebookRegional2018-07-10After Troubles in Myanmar, Facebook Charges Ahead in Africa | WIRED
FacebookUganda2018-08-08Facebook to hold back planned Uganda investments over social media - Africa | The Citizen
FacebookTanzania2018-08-20Expanding Wi-Fi access in Tanzania: Facebook’s Boston office adds to global Internet push - The Boston Globe
GoogleSouth Africa2018-04-12Google launches lightweight Go search app in South Africa - TechCentral
GoogleKenya2018-06-27Google to sign Internet balloon deals with Kenya telcos - Business Daily
GoogleKenya2018-07-18Bringing Loon to Kenya – Loon Blog – Medium
GoogleKenya2018-07-19BBC News: Google's Loon brings internet-by-balloon to Kenya
GoogleKenya2018-07-19Loon's Balloon-Powered Internet Heads to Africa
GoogleKenya2018-07-20Coming soon: Internet to Kenya's remote villages - Daily Nation
GoogleUganda2018-08-28Google's project loon comes to Uganda to offer 4G-LTE speeds in rural areas -
GoogleUganda2018-08-30Uganda wants Alphabet's Loon to provide balloon-borne internet service - Business Insider
GoogleSouth Africa2018-09-11YouTube Go launches in South Africa, with videos using less data — Quartz Africa
GoogleKenya2018-11-16Google's high-flying balloons to provide Internet in Africa - TechCentral
GoogleKenya2018-11-18Telkom to launch balloon-powered Internet next year - Business Daily
Infrastructure SharingSouth Africa2018-03-07Vodacom and Cell C argue over sharing towers
Infrastructure SharingUganda2018-11-21Uganda to force new telcos share infrastructure - Business Daily
InnovationSouth Africa2018-06-04Connecting mobile audiences #datafree - biNu
InvestmentNigeria2018-02-20MDXi invests $6.58m in Lagos expansion | News | DatacenterDynamics
LicensingUganda2018-01-15MTN licence expires, rivals fight renewal
Low-costRegional2018-06-14NuRAN Selected by Africa Mobile Networks for Multiple African Countries Canadian Stock Exchange:NUR.CN
LTELibya2018-10-18Almadar Aljaded launches 4G+ service in Libya
M&ARwanda2018-01-24Bharti Airtel receives regulatory nod to buy Millicom's Rwanda unit - The Economic Times
M&AUganda2018-02-21Debt Burdened Vodafone Files For Bankruptcy
M&ARegional2018-03-15Telecoms M&A forecast to surge in Africa - TechCentral
M&AKenya2018-04-08Airtel and Telkom to merge in a bid to stem loss making streak :: Kenya - The Standard
M&AMozambique2018-05-08Mozambique: No Redundancies in TDM/Mcel Merger -
M&AZambia2018-08-13Liquid Group snaps up Zambian telecoms company - NewsDay Zimbabwe
M&AMozambique2018-08-28TDM and mCel restructuring already underway
M&AUganda2018-10-30Uganda: Teleology Holdings faces performance, payment pressure - ITWeb Africa
M&AGhana2018-10-31Surfline closed down after failing to pay taxes
M&ARwanda2018-01-24MTN Improves 3G Network, as Competitors Merge  – KT PRESS
OtherNigeria2018-09-14Capacity Media - global telecoms news, events and community
RegulationKenya2018-01-16KISERO: Wangusi’s woes may be about big bucks, giant projects at CA - Daily Nation
RegulationNigeria2018-02-13A call for infrastructure sharing in Africa
RegulationMalawi2018-02-13Govt. orders SIM registration to stop | Malawi 24 - All the latest Malawi news
RegulationTanzania2018-03-02TCRA launches biometric sim card registration
RegulationUganda2018-03-02The Uganda Communications Commission issues new ban on street vendors selling airtime -
RegulationZimbabwe2018-04-30Zimbabwe to merge regulators
RegulationUganda2018-05-24Africell contravening SIM registration guidelines, UCC says
RegulationKenya2018-05-29Communications Authority of Kenya orders operators to deactivate unregistered sim cards :: Kenya - The Standard
RegulationZimbabwe2018-06-04Potraz rakes in over $120m | The Herald
RegulationSouth Africa2018-06-25Vodacom keeps track of all the websites you visit – Updated privacy policy
RegulationUganda2018-07-18Uganda nets Sh188mn from social media, mobile money tax - Daily Nation
RegulationNigeria2018-08-30MTN shares crash 23% to 2009 lows on $8bn demand from Nigeria
RegulationKenya2018-09-04Safaricom faces $4.47 million fine by telecom regulator | IT News Africa – Africa's Technology News Leader
RegulationKenya2018-09-21CA orders disconnection of illegal SIM cards by 23 September
RegulationRegional2018-10-05Internet Taxes Could Stifle Africa's Free and Vibrant Social Media
RegulationMalawi2018-10-05Airtel disconnects million subscribers | Malawi 24 - Malawi news
RegulationUganda2018-11-05URA Reveals UGX103 Billion Collected From Mobile Money Tax Between July & September - PC Tech Magazine
RegulationUganda2018-12-27It’s Illogical to Choose VPNs Over Uganda’s Development, Says Tumwebaze – Online news from Uganda and the East African region – SoftPower News
SatelliteGhana2018-09-04Yahsat launches high speed satellite service in Ghana | Business News 2018-09-04
TowersRegional2018-03-02Helios Towers eyes JSE, London listing | ITWeb
TowersKenya2018-05-08American Tower Grows in Africa, to Buy Telkom Kenya Towers - May 8, 2018 -
TowersNigeria2018-05-24Revenue: IHS battle 3 states
TowersRegional2018-06-18African Telecom Firm Eaton Towers Postpones IPO - Bloomberg
TowersRegional2018-08-15Helios Investing in Congo Towers After Scrapping IPO Plans - Bloomberg
Universal ServiceKenya2018-02-25CA’s Sh85m plan to link remote areas with mobile voice - Business Daily
Universal ServiceTogo2018-04-20Togo adopts universal electronic communications services decree
WholesaleCote D’Ivoire2018-04-23MainOne gains Côte d’Ivoire licence boosting wholesale connectivity
Zero RatingSouth Africa2018-09-22'No longer feasible': MTN pulls plug on free Twitter - TechCentral
South Africa2018-01-31Vodacom Now!: Vodacom Siyakha turns 1!

This work would not have been possible without the support of the Network Startup Resource Center and the Mozilla Foundation

Africa Telecoms Infrastructure in 2017

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Annual Review

Welcome to the 4th annual review of telecommunications infrastructure development in Africa. This is the first year I have managed to get the Africa Telecoms Infrastructure Review out in a truly timely manner, perhaps that bodes well for my taxes too. The review contains links to 140 news articles on telecom development in Africa in 2017.

Undersea Cables

The development of African undersea fibre cables has something in common with American politics in that there are only so many times you can say “I can’t believe this is still happening” before it becomes mundane and annoying.  In the case of undersea cables though, it is great news.  New cables continue be announced.  Announcements included the Pakistan East Africa Cable Express (PEACE) cable which promises to link Pakistan with East Africa; the IOX cable which will connect South Africa with India via Mauritius, Rodrigues, and Reunion; the Australia West Express (AWE) cable which will link Djibouti with Australia; and, the FLY-LION3 cable, announced by Orange which will connect Mayotte with Grand Comore.

In terms of previously announced projects:

  • the AAE-1 cable, which links Europe and Asia with landing points in Egypt and Djibouti, went live in June of 2017;
  • the long-awaited ACE cable extension down to South Africa is finally under construction;
  • both the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS) connecting Angola to Brazil and the Djibouti Africa Regional Express (DARE) cable connecting Djibouti with Kenya via Somalia passed a number of critical milestones in 2017;
  • on the slightly more speculative front, the South Atlantic Inter Link (SAIL) cable linking Cameroon with Brazil also appears to have passed some key milestones and the South Atlantic Express (SAEx) cable apparently signed an MOU with the island of St Helena;
  • notable by their absence in 2017 news are the Africa-1 cable, the LiquidSea cable, and the Gulf to Africa (G2A) cable, all of which featured in 2016 but have not been heard of since.

All of these cables are long-term bets by governments and operators on the growth of demand for data in the regions.  In general this is great news for Internet users in Africa. More cables and landing points mean more competition and lower prices.  Whether or not the investors can sustain them and make a profit from them is a somewhat moot point for the consumer because, once the fibre is laid, someone is likely to continue to operate it.

One trend that is clearly visible in 2017 is the strategic investments by a number of African countries toward becoming regional hubs for Internet traffic.  We have already seen that happen with economic hubs like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana to some degree.  The last year has seen smaller countries looking to shift the focus. Djibouti in particular seems to be making a big play to become a significant East-West nexus point for cables. Already host to the
EASSy, Seacom, EIG, and SEA-ME-WE cables 3 and 5; the news this year of AAE-1 going live and plans for the DARE and PEACE cables landing makes the tiny country of Djibouti a massive nexus point for the Internet.  On the east coast of Africa, Cameroon seems to be making a similar move.  Currently the WACS, SAT3, and the NCSCS cable land there but with the proposed ACE landing and the planned link to Brazil through the SAIL cable, Cameroon clearly intends to position itself as a hub although the relatively low state of telecommunications network development and competition in the country makes this a bit of a surprising play.  Angola too seems to be strategically positioning itself with the SACS cable link to Brazil.

African Undersea Cables in 2017

NewsUndersea CableDate
Djibouti Telecom and TESubCom DARE contract comes into forceDARE21-12-2017
Survey starts on Chinese-backed Peace cable from Pakistan to Kenya, Egypt and South AfricaPEACE10-11-2017
South Atlantic Cable System begins the deep-water installationSACS06-11-2017
New subsea route between US, India via Brazil, South AfricaIOX06-11-2017
New submarine cable to connect to SA in 2019 - TechCentralIOX26-10-2017
St Helena signs MoU for link to South Atlantic Express cable, set to receive submarine cable by early 2020SAEx27-10-2017
Funding settled for PEACE submarine cable project - LightwavePEACE17-10-2017
Cable Compendium: a guide to the week’s submarine and terrestrial developmentsACE, ELLALINK13-10-2017
IOX Cable signs up Mauritius Telecom as subsea anchor tenantIOX25-09-2017
AAE-1 submarine cable enters serviceAAE-127-06-2017
Djibouti and Somalia to share submarine optic fibreDARE24-08-2017
Ceiba 2CEIBA-231-05-2017
Guinea Bissau reaches $47 million deal on submarine cableACE19-07-2017
Orange signe un accord pour la construction d’un nouveau câble sous-marin très haut débit entre Mayotte et Grande ComoreFLY-LION312-07-2017
Advancing Digitalisation In AfricaSACS11-07-2017
China Breakthroughs: SAIL ahead on South Atlantic cable networkSAIL07-05-2017
The AAE-1 subsea cable system enters serviceAAE-129-06-2017
Huawei signs South Atlantic Inter Link subsea cable contractSAIL28-06-2017
IOX Cable and ASN to build 8,850km subsea systemIOX01-06-2017
Africa-Americas Undersea Cable Nears CompletionSACS19-04-2017
Brazil-Africa fiber cable project makes progressSACS03-03-2017
Djibouti Telecom Announces it will Invest in Australia West Express (AWE) Submarine Cable SystemAWE12-01-2017

Terrestrial Backbone Fibre

The development of terrestrial fibre optic infrastructure on the continent continues apace with the Chinese government, the World Bank and the African Development Bank leading as the principal financiers of these networks.  Huawei continues to dominate the terrestrial fibre business in Africa. No other name is seen remotely as often as theirs linked to the construction of a terrestrial fibre network on the continent.  Power grid operators continued to get into the game with Kenya’s KETRACO and Malawi’s ESCOM featuring in 2017.

Perhaps what is most notable in 2017 are moves by both Google and Facebook on the terrestrial fibre front.  Google spun off its Project Link initiative into a fully-fledged independent company called CSquared, with joint investment from Google, IFC, South Africa’s Convergence Partners, and Mitsui & Co.  The creation of a regional wholesale fibre optic operator focused on metro network development is great news. CSquared operates metro fibre networks in Kampala, Uganda and Accra, Ghana and are about to break ground in Monrovia, Liberia.  There are rumours that Maputo, Mozambique might be a fourth destination.  This should be good news for both broadband speeds and competition wherever they land.  More surprising news was Facebook’s announcement that they are investing in a fibre optic cable in Northern Uganda along with BCS and Airtel.  BCS and Airtel already operate significant fibre networks in Uganda but what Facebook is doing with this investment is something that they have yet to reveal.  My best guess is that this represents an exploratory move into the terrestrial fibre market in Africa but does not (yet) have any sort of strategy behind it.

Trying to accurately map the development of terrestrial fibre is a challenge.  A single cable can have multiple owners making it difficult to be sure whether there is one cable or multiple cables in a given region.  Worse, operators often engage in “capacity swaps” in which they trade some of their capacity on a cable they own or partly own with another operator’s cable capacity.  This is great for operators in terms of extending their network and building resiliency through multiple routes but is a real conundrum when trying to figure out who owns a particular physical stretch of cable.

In the last two years I have attempted to sum up the amount of investment and kilometres of fibre announced in the preceding year.  This year I have found the news too vague on both fronts to make it worth doing.

African Terrestrial Fibre Projects in 2017

CountryKilometresInvestment ($M)DateFinancingContractor/Operator
West & Central Africa19-12-2017Angola Cables
Burkina Faso (rel rel)20019111-12-2017Bank of China, BNP ParibasHuawei
Gabon5202701-12-2017World BankHuawei
Pan African200,00010,00009-03-2017China Communications Service Corp. Ltd
Nigeria18,00009-11-2017Gov't of Nigeria
Burkina Faso18013-11-2017World Bank
Kenya5.807-11-2017Telkom Kenya
Kenya (rel rel)11,0003,50023-10-2017Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco)Liquid Telecom Kenya
Malawi (rel rel)2317-07-2017Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom)Huawei
Kenyacapacity upgrade05-09-2017Liquid Telecom
Uganda, TanzaniaAfrican Development Bank
South Africa10030-05-2017Dark Fibre Africa
Cameroon, CAR, Congo, Nigeria
Uganda77008-03-2017Facebook, Airtel, BCSAirtel,BCS
Zimbabwe04-04-2017China Exim BankTelOne
South Africa
Uganda76520-09-2017Government of ChinaHuawei
Cameroon: Optical fiber was extended by 4,000 km in 2017, to reach 12,000 km 400011-12-2017
Hurricane Electric expands global network to East Africa Data Centre in Nairobi12-10-2017

Fibre To The Home and Video on Demand (VoD)

Demand for video streaming services like Netflix (and an increasing number of African competitors) grew significantly in 2017.  This has spurred demand for Fibre To The Home (FTTH) services capable of handling multiple media streams.  Or perhaps it is the other way around.  FTTH is growing faster than anyone imagined.  A number of factors are contributing to this:

  • the growth of undersea and terrestrial fibre optic networks is bringing vast capacity to metro centres;
  • streaming services like Netflix are a growing phenomenon globally;
  • the digital switchover which should have seen a transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting is incomplete in most African countries and doesn’t appear to be building the expected market for terrestrial broadcast services;
  • cost of deployment of FTTH networks is dropping; and,
  • there are a host of devices from tablets to phones to set-top boxes that can host streaming content once it is in the home.

That alone might be enough to be a perfect storm for digital terrestrial broadcasting but satellite broadcasting services are growing and offering more competition in this space as well.  At the pace streaming services are growing, the fortunate countries might turn out to be those who still haven’t gotten around to the digital switchover.

African FTTH and VoD Announcements in 2017

Zeop covers 60% of Reunion with FTTHReunion29-11-2017
Sénégal: Lancement officiel de la fibre optique - Sonatel/Orange rend visite à sa 1ére cliente fibrée - allAfrica.comSenegal22-11-2017
Safaricom kicks off FTTH regional roll-out | Internet News in KenyaKenya11-10-2017
Zuku TV set to launch Unlimited home internet in Uganda : Check out pricing details and more -Uganda02-10-2017
High speed fibre Internet connections double to 54,700 - Business DailyKenya02-10-2017
Safaricom says 81,000 homes linked to its fibre - Business DailyKenya03-09-2017
Vumatel to offer 100Mbit/s uncapped home fibre in townships for R89/month - TechCentralSouth Africa01-09-2017
Safaricom to adopt Huawei’s E2E FTTH solutionKenya25-08-2017
Seacom acquires MacroLan to extend fibre reach - ITWeb AfricaSouth Africa07-08-2017
KETRACO seeks telecoms operator partners for fibre network rolloutKenya31-03-2017
CST doubles fibre network speeds to 200MbpsSão Tomé & Príncipe05-04-2017
Afrihost claims to have tripled fibre coverageSouth Africa14-02-2017
Vodafone Ghana launches Fibre Broadband - BusinessGhana News | BusinessGhana11-02-2017
Vivendi granted Gabonese FTTH licenceGabon25-01-2017
Kwese TV partners with Liquid Telecom to roll-out Kwese Play and Roku Internet TV in UgandaUganda20-09-2017

Cell C Black – The future of entertainment
South Africa01-11-2017

Licensed Spectrum

Making licensed spectrum available has proven an ongoing challenge for regulators on the continent.  In April I wrote about the results of recent  of spectrum auctions on the continent, outlining the challenges they have faced.  Conventional wisdom is that auctions are the fairest mechanism for making high-demand spectrum available to the market.  This may be true, at least in theory, but the reserve prices being set  by governments are directly undermining that aim.  The lure of a quick hit to the treasury is eclipsing the more strategic, but longer term, agenda of making access more pervasive and affordable.

Ghana auctioned 800MHz spectrum in 2016 but only MTN was willing to pay the reserve price and spent $64M acquiring that spectrum.  The regulator has since announced their intention to re-auction the rest of the spectrum but MTN have insisted (and the regulator has acquiesced) that anyone acquiring 800MHz spectrum must match the price that they paid.  Vodafone has spent much of 2017 trying to negotiate some sort of compromise with no success to date.  A similar situation exists in Nigeria with MTN and 2.6GHz spectrum.

The one country making real progress in the assignment of new spectrum is Kenya.  They have avoided auctions entirely.  The Kenyan regulator has assigned several spectrum licences in both the 800MHz and 700MHz bands in the last two years.  The downside of this approach is a lack of transparency on how the winners are chosen which has provoked complaints from operators.  The upside is that the spectrum is being used, now.

Angola announced an auction of 800MHz spectrum which was to have taken place in August of 2017.  Since the announcement there has been no news of either progress or outcomes of the auction.

South Africa remains mired in acrimonious debate over the government’s plan to create a Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).  Using new and existing spectrum bands, the WOAN is envisage to be a wholesale wireless network that operators would be expected to use to deliver service.  The idea behind the WOAN is to have operators compete on services not infrastructure.  National wholesale wireless networks are a relatively untested strategy with only Rwanda and Mexico having implemented them.  The jury is still out on Mexico but Rwanda’s network cannot be declared a success as prices remain high and usage limited.  This doesn’t mean that WOANs are a bad strategy but South Africa’s “all-in” approach may not be the best way of finding out.

I find myself very sympathetic to the strategies being pursued by both Kenya and South Africa because it seems clear to me that auctions create perverse incentives for governments, especially cash-strapped ones.  The chair of the Australian regulator, Rod Sims, hits the nail on the head when he says:

the value of spectrum lies in the economic and social benefits it can provide to citizens and consumers, not in financial returns to the Budget.

Countries stand to benefit far more both economically and socially from more pervasive and more affordable communication than from any treasury windfall from a spectrum auction but that takes a longer term view that most politicians seem willing to embrace.

African Spectrum Auction News in 2017

Kenya11-05-2017Kenya's CA Awards JTL 4G Frequency Spectrum on Questionable Terms700MHz
Kenya07-12-2017Kenya, Chinese firms partner to launch faster, cheaper internet700MHz
Nigeria15-11-20172018: NCC Targets 30% Broadband Penetration With New Spectrum Auctions700MHz, 2.5GHz, 2.6GHz
Ghana07-09-2017NCA Gives Opportunity to Telcos to Deploy 3G Coverage to Rural Areas » National Communications Authority900MHz
Tanzania09-11-2017Airtel sets for massive network transformation900MHz
Nigeria12-11-2017NCC plans new spectrum auctions700MHz
Ghana11-09-2017Rural areas to receive improved 3G through 900MHz rollout900MHz
Ghana05-09-2017Vodafone in 'constant' talks with NCA over 4G licence – CEO800MHz
Kenya31-08-2017Heavy debt load leaves Airtel in Sh8 billion loss800MHz
Angola26-07-2017Inacom anuncia as datas para o seu primeiro leilão de frequencias800MHz
Angola25-07-2017Inacom marks the first auction800MHz
Angola28-07-2017Angola launching open frequency auction for the first time; 800MHz applications due in August800MHz
Ghana20-07-2017Ghana's govt rejects calls for 4G license price slash800MHz
South Africa14-07-2017Gigaba's action plan for spectrum700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz
Ghana10-07-2017Cost of 4G spectrum won’t be reduced – Ursula to telcos800MHz
Kenya10-05-2017CA gives company multibillion-shilling licence700MHz
Nigeria10-05-2017Nigeria's tech regulator takes on unlicensed spectrum users5GHz
South Africa12-02-2017Icasa defers spectrum auction indefinitely800MHz, 2.6GHz
South Africa09-02-2017Cell C wants Vodacom and MTN to give back spectrum2.1GHz, 2.3GHz
Kenya06-01-2017Safaricom pays USD25m for 4G licence800MHz
Kenya04-01-2017Safaricom pays Sh2.5bn fees for high-speed Internet band800MHz
Nigeria03-01-2017Why telcos may shun spectrum auction2.6GHz

LTE networks continue to spread as operators upgrade their infrastructure.  Network announcements this year have been notable in their failure to mention what spectrum bands are being used by the operators.  I can only imagine that this is being treated as technical information that is not of interest to readers as opposed to the strategic information that it represents.  Knowing whether new bands are being utilised or existing bands re-purposed is essential to understanding the evolution of the market and competition yet it rarely seems to get reported.  Unlike previous years I am unable to give a breakdown of which frequencies have proven most popular.

African LTE Network Launches & Expansions in 2017

KenyaJamii Telecom (rel rel)Launch07-12-2017LTE
Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, DRCSmileUpgrade16-11-2017VoLTE
EgyptVodafone, Orange (rel)Launch25-09-2017LTE
ReunionTelco OIExpansion13-09-2017LTE
ZimbabweTelecel (rel)Launch24-08-2017LTE
BurundiEconet LeoExpansion08-01-2017LTE

Unlicensed and Dynamic Spectrum

WiFi networks, whether commercial, government, or community, have continued to grow at a rapid pace on the continent.  Both governments and network operators are realising that wherever they have high-speed backhaul networks, it is a small marginal cost to add WiFi access points at key points on those networks.  The fact that WiFi is unlicensed (but not unregulated) combined with its performance and low-cost have made this an obvious access technology choice in countries where gaining access to licensed spectrum remains a challenge.  What remains to be seen is what business models prove to be most successful for WiFi networks.  In South Africa, Project Isizwe is evolving from a government-funded non-profit to an advertisement-driven model.  Ad-driven revenue appears to be the principal alternative to straight pay-for-access models although some networks, like Surf WiFi in Kenya are doing both.  In the Eastern Cape in South Africa, Zenzeleni Networks have established the first telecommunications cooperative in the country.   In Rwanda, African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED) are attempting to combining solar-power energy services and WiFi.

Facebook have also gotten into the WiFi space on the continent in a big way with their Express WiFi program.  Both Tizeti in Nigeria and Surf WiFi in Kenya announced partnerships with Facebook in 2017 to roll out Express WiFi hotspots.  You may be wondering just what is Express WiFi.  Their website is remarkably parsimonious with information about it.  In short, it is an agent platform for WiFi operators that manages sign-up, revenue generation and sharing for Express WiFi agents.  ExpressWiFi relies on an existing Wireless ISP (WISP)’s network but it also brings investment to help the WISP expand its network.  For example, Surf WiFi operate their own agent network as well as an Express WiFi network in Kenya.  It may not sound that exciting but this is where the battleground for WiFi will be fought with the management platforms and agent networks that enable WiFi networks to scale.  Microsoft, too, have been busy with their Airband Initiative which provides seed funding to promising energy and connectivity startups.  Both C3 in Malawi and ARED in Rwanda have received support through this program.

There are signs of consolidation as well as Project Isizwe’s parent organisation HeroTel acquired its 25th WISP in November.  As more proven successful business models emerge, expect more consolidation to happen.

With TV White Space (Dynamic Spectrum) technologies, things are more frustrating.  Dynamic spectrum remains an extremely promising technology, especially for rural service delivery in African countries where the spectrum is relatively unoccupied.  But regulators have been reluctant to take the bold step of formally establishing regulations allowing dynamic spectrum deployments.  This uncertainty sends the wrong signals to manufacturers who should be churning out dynamic spectrum devices in the hundreds of thousands by now.   Bright spots this year include Malawi where the regulator, while stopping short of formal regulations, has allowed startup C3 to use TVWS spectrum and Rwanda, where the regulator has carried out a successful pilot and made positive noises about introducing regulation.  Also, Microsoft, a tireless supporter of dynamic spectrum has partnered with UK domain name registrar, Nominet, to deploy more TVWS networks on the continent.

African WiFi & Dynamic Spectrum News in 2017

NigeriaWiFi21-12-2017Tizeti Network Limited selects Cambium Networks wireless broadband connectivity solutions | total telecom
NigeriaWiFi11-12-2017MainOne links with Facebook, Tizeti on internet connectivity project
South AfricaWiFi23-11-2017Holding out for a hero: HeroTel acquires another regional ISP
South AfricaWiFitoomuchwifi
RegionalWiFi10-11-2017Konnect Africa brings Wi-Fi to rural African communities
NigeriaWiFi08-11-2017AfricaCom 2017: Tizeti and Facebook to expand Wi-Fi express in Nigeria
SouthAfricaWiFi28-07-2017Low-cost comms co-op Zenzeleni Networks provides cheaper voice and data for village community
NigeriaWiFi26-06-2017Nigerian Tech Startup Tizeti Secures $2.1M To Bring Affordable Wireless Internet To Africa
RegionalWiFi30-05-2017Liquid Telecom's Wi-Fi Roaming Hub Aims to Connect African Telcos and Reduce Roaming Charges
NigeriaWiFi10-05-2017Nigeria's tech regulator takes on unlicensed spectrum users
NigeriaWiFi15-05-2017Free Wi-Fi in Lagos Now Available
SouthAfricaWiFi26-04-2017South Africa: Over 1 million township residents to get Wifi
KenyaWiFi29-03-2017Facebook launches low-cost internet service, Express Wifi, in Kenya
MauritiusWiFi10-04-2017Mauritius government launches 350 new Wi-Fi zones in 20 locations nationwide
KenyaWiFi29-03-2017Facebook takes on Telcos with low-cost internet
RwandaWiFi10-02-2017Rwandan solar-powered kiosk company wants to create Africa’s biggest wifi network
SouthAfricaWiFiIkeja | Unlimited Wireless Internet at your House
KenyaWiFi02-01-2017AccessKenya returns to low-cost home Internet with US partner
KenyaWiFi04-01-2017Race for Internet subscribers goes to small towns as firms boost
RegionalDynamic Spectrum06-01-2017Nominet and Microsoft bringing broadband to Africa via TV white spaces
RwandaDynamic Spectrum07-01-2017Test for affordable internet shows promise, say officials
South AfricaWiFi13-12-2017Tshwane wi-fi talks stall
South AfricaWiFi09-12-2017How a remote South African rural community, with barely any electricity, built its own ISP
MalawiDynamic Spectrum28-04-2017C3 to launch a nationwide wireless data network using Mimosa, TV White Spaces and Wi-Fi – Targeting Corporates, SMEs and NGOs


Intelsat launched Intelsat 37e in 2017 offering Ku-band and C-band services over Africa.  What is significant about 37e is that it is one of a new generation of High Throughput Satellites (HTS) that represent a leap forward in terms of broadband capacity for satellite services at prices that (hopefully) are competitive with terrestrial offerings.  Algeria launched Alcomsat-1 which will offer Ka-band services to the country and Ku-band services to Tunisia, Northern Chad and Northern Sudan.


Undersea cables are a bellwether of network development on the continent.  The expansion and upgrading of existing cables as well as announcements of new initiatives bodes extremely well for the continued rapid growth of access.  Increased international capacity is a trigger for investment in terrestrial fibre network capacity so expect that trend to continue upward as well.  As demand for broadband grows, fibre networks become ever more strategic elements of the Internet ecosystem.  Making sure that fibre backbones are available equitably and affordably to all players will become an increasingly strategic question.  I written about how that might be achieved with state-owned fibre networks but sometimes it just takes the arrival of a company with a different business model to shake things up.  One of the most significant but least reported African telecom news items of 2017 was the arrival of global IP backbone company, Hurricane Electric (HE), in Kenya.  By establishing a Point of Presence (PoP) in Nairobi, customers can connect directly in to HE’s massive global Internet network at prices that are shaking up the East African market.

Beyond affordable and accessible backhaul networks, the key to network growth on the continent is access to wireless spectrum.  Spectrum auctions are notoriously hard to run well and often don’t run at all if the reserve price is set too high.  Where they do work, they tend to benefit the incumbents who have the deepest pockets.  The lack of progress across the continent in 2017 in making spectrum available is a sign that new strategies should be explored.  Whether a WOAN or dynamic spectrum or something new, regulators need to diversify their regulatory strategies in the same way that investors diversify their portfolios to mitigate risk.  The continued rapid growth of WiFi networks across the continent are a very positive sign of the pent-up energy that is ready to invest in network development if affordable backhaul and wireless spectrum is available.  Unlicensed spectrum has a very high upside but represents very little downside risk for regulators.  Worth thinking about.

This work would not have been possible without the support of the Network Startup Resource Center

[n.b. the Satellite section was added two days after the first publication of review]

Africa Telecoms Infrastructure in 2016

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Annual Review

Welcome to the 3rd annual review of telecommunications infrastructure development in Africa.  A bit like my taxes this year, this review is coming a bit late but is still relevant, especially in the context of the previous reviews helping to frame the arc of change of the last three years.  The review contains links to over 120 news articles on telecom development in Africa in 2016.

Undersea Cables

There was more boom and bust (mostly boom really) in the undersea cable industry around Africa.

  • Of the LiquidSea cable announced in 2015, it was still in the news in March 2016 but nothing concrete appears to have happened.
  • In the same month, OmanTel announced the Gulf to Africa (G2A) consortium, consisting of Omantel, Ethio Telecom, Golis Telecom and Telesom.  G2A is planned to connect Oman to both Somalia and Ethiopia.  It will consist of a 1,500km undersea segment and a 1,500km terrestrial segment offering a capacity 20Tbps.  The initial announcement dated completion by Q4 2016 but it appears to still be a work in progress.
  • The ACE cable extension from Sao Tomé & Principe to South Africa announced in 2015 also still seems to be a work in progress.
  • Construction began in April 2016 on the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS) which promises to be the first direct undersea link between Africa and the Americas.
  • April also saw the announcement of the Africa-1 undersea cable, yet another consortium, made up of MTN, PCCW Global, Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Telecom Egypt (TE) and Telkom South Africa.  Africa-1 is planned to run 12,000km along the east coast of Africa towards Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and finally Pakistan.
  • Cameroon’s announcement in 2015, of the Cameroon-Brazil Cable System (CBCS) linking Cameroon and Brazil has changed names and become the South Atlantic Inter Link (SAIL) cable. This project seems to have solidified with a Construction and Maintenance Agreement having been signed in August 2016.
  • Mauritius also has plans for expanding undersea capacity through a partnership between Seacom and Indoi to build a new telecommunications cable system to connect Mauritius to Africa. An MOU was signed in Nov 2016 and the cable is slated for completion in late 2019.
  • The NCSCS cable announced in 2015 linking Nigeria and Cameroon went live in January of 2016
  • Globalcom announced plans for new landing stations for their GLO1 cable in Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, and Senegal.
  • DAREAlmost unbelievably, another East Africa undersea cable was announced.  The Djibouti Africa Regional Express (DARE) cable is a 5,500km cable which will connect Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen, and Djibouti.
  • The Africa Africa Europe (AAE-1) undersea cable completed its first phase of construction in October of 2016.
  • Last but not least, EulaLink cable, announced in 2015, is now the EllaLink cable and will connect  Brazil with Spain and Portugal, connecting up Cape Verde and the Canary Islands along the way.  This project still appears to be active although no formal announcements have been forthcoming.

Compared to the previous two years, this is a staggering amount of new, planned capacity.  It is hard to imagine demand that will grow to match this investment but with the rise of streaming media and video on demand services on the continent, it is not impossible.  One thing is certain, it is good news for the consumer.  More undersea capacity will continue to stimulate investment in terrestrial networks and create more competition.

Terrestrial Backbone Fibre

Investment in terrestrial fibre networks has also grown on the continent.  Last year I tracked 19 fibre project announcements referencing a total of 730 million dollars of investment in over 22,000km of fibre.  In 2016, those numbers increased to 26 announcements totalling 5.3 billion dollars of investment covering a proposed 60,000km of fibre.  You have to interpret those numbers with a grain of salt as fibre projects are sometimes re-announced after each phase of development and sometimes announcements do not always match reality.  The totals are derived from news announcements in 2016.

What we can interpret is that investment in terrestrial fibre infrastructure in African countries is still on the rise and shows no sign of slowing down.  As in previous years, the World Bank, African Development Bank, the Chinese feature heavily as investors.  Huawei seems to win a large proportion of the contracts to deploy fibre networks.  The significant exception to this is in West Africa where French firms seem to be having some success.  Liquid Telecom continues to expand across the continent, forming a joint venture in 2016 with the Botswana power utility.

Another trend in 2016 was the increased entry of power utilities into the broadband market.  Not just the Botswana power utility but utilities in Kenya and Uganda as well.  An interesting potentially large terrestrial fibre network was mooted in August of 2016 by the ministers of Algeria, Mali, Niger and Chad.  They discussed the possibility of building a Trans-Saharan fibre optic cable.

African Terrestrial Fibre Projects in 2016

CountryKilometresInvestment ($M)DateInvestmentContractor/Operator
Cote D’Ivoire5,013170.012-10-2016Bouygues Telecom,Sagemcom, Cegelec
West Africa5,00022-07-2016Vivendi
Kenya4,200200.017-03-2016Liquid Telecom
Algeria28-03-2016African Development Bank
Cameroon9164200.016-05-2016African Development Bank
Niger2,27599.522-12-2015Exim BankChina International Telecommunication Construction Corporation
Burkina Faso3078.418-10-2016World Bank
Kenya120.511-08-2016Liquid TelecomLiquid Telecom
Zimbabwe10,60016-09-2016Liquid TelecomLiquid Telecom
Gabon1,075109.013-12-2016World BankChina Communication Services International
Burkina Faso5,400170.016-04-2016HuaweiHuawei

Metro Fibre, Fibre To The Home (FTTH), and Video on Demand (VoD)

Somewhat surprisingly, I did not see a single announcement in 2016 of a new metropolitan fibre optic network.  This is probably because a lot of metro fibre build out is being done by network operators in course of their network investments.  Still I expected to see more dedicated Open Access metropolitan fibre networks.  On the other hand, there were plenty of FTTH announcements with South Africa and Kenya leading the way.

African FTTH Announcements in 2016

Liquid Telecom reaches 3,933 Nairobi homes on fibre Internet - Corporate NewsKenya2016-12-14
Kenya Power to offer FTTH connections by year-endKenya2016-12-01
Gabon Telecom unveils FTTH, FTTB connectivity in LibrevilleGabon2016-07-21
Zambia: Iwayafrica Launches Fibre Services in ZambiaZambia2016-06-28
Vodacom SA extends FTTH networkSouth Africa2016-06-28
Telkom pumps R757m into FTTH South Africa2016-06-07
Vumatel earmarks R3bn for FTTH South Africa2016-04-25
Safaricom, Kenya Power team up for FTTH pilotKenya2016-04-08
12,000 Kenyan homes will benefit from Kenya Power and Safaricom’s internet connectivity projectKenya2016-04-08
Cell C launches trial FTTH serviceSouth Africa2016-02-24
Liquid Telecom goes after ZukuKenya2016-02-05
Somcable partners Alepo, Airspan for Somaliland LTE launchSomaliland2016-01-07
CEC Liquid Telecom Zambia announces US$16m investment Zambia2016-01-06

Much of the FTTH investment is intended to serve the growing Video on Demand market.  The biggest news in 2016 was the launch in January of Netflix across the continent.  The arrival of Netflix has meant that African streaming and VoD services now have to offer a clear value-add whether in differentiated content or price or quality of service.  Nigeria’s iROKOtv followed up the Netflix announcement only a few weeks later with news that they had secured 19 million dollars in funding to expand their services.  Liquid Telecom launch VoD services in Zambia and Asian streaming media giant iFlix announced plans to expand into Africa.  There is a sense of a land rush to gain pole position in offering OTT services on the continent but many of these companies may be challenged to grow fast enough given the twin challenges of availability of broadband and ability to pay.

Licensed Spectrum

LTE networks continue to expand across the continent with roughly the same number of new network announcements as last year as well as announcements of LTE network expansions.  1800MHz and 800MHz continues to be the dominant choice for LTE networks: 1800MHz because this is spectrum that most mobile network operators already have a license for so they don’t have to wait for new spectrum to be released by the operator; and, 800MHz because this spectrum is either being re-purposed by former CDMA operators with licenses in this spectrum or because the spectrum was empty to begin with.  The one big change that can be see this year is the increasing diversity of frequencies that are being used to deliver LTE services.  2016 saw launches in no less than eight different LTE bands.  This becomes a challenge for smartphone manufacturers.  Expensive, high-end smartphones are designed to support a wide range of LTE frequencies but for inexpensive smartphones that sell at $50 or less, the range of support is much smaller.  This may amount to a kind of network lock-in for the poor who may not able to afford a new phone in order to switch networks.

LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) networks saw their first deployments at scale in South Africa and Gabon offering speeds two to three times faster than regular LTE networks.

African LTE Network Launches & Expansions in 2016

GhanaBusy InternetLaunch2016-01-21LTE230040TDD
South AfricaCellCExpansion2016-04-26LTE-A21001FDD

Another feature of 2016 is that, for better or worse, spectrum auctions seem to be taking hold on the continent as the dominant means of assigning high-demand spectrum frequencies.  I have written more extensively about recent spectrum auctions in Africa so won’t go into detail here.  It is enough to say that I am far from convinced that spectrum auctions are a great idea in general but especially in Africa.  They are difficult to organise effectively and expensive to run both in time and money and often don’t turn out the way they are planned.  Certainly Ghana’s experience with 800MHz spectrum in 2016 in which MTN was the only successful bidder cannot be considered a success.  Kenya managed to assign 800MHz spectrum without an auction.  South Africa continues to be mired in a three-way battle between the telecommunications ministry, the regulator and the operators with no end in sight.  Finally, Egypt appears to have effectively forced all the operators to buy spectrum at an egregious price.  Extracting too much value from spectrum licenses may end up killing the golden telecom goose.

African Spectrum Auction News in 2016

Egypt22 Oct 2016Vodafone loses most after redistribution of 4G frequencies among companies.
Egypt26 Sep 2016Egypt considers international 4G auction after telcos reject licence terms.
Egypt16 Oct 2016Egypt completes long-Delayed 4G mobile license deals.
Ghana18 Mar 2016Ghana looks to spectrum sales to fund digital migration.
Kenya27 Mar 2016Major telcos to share 4G frequencies with smaller firms.
Kenya26 Jun 2016Top three mobile operators to pay Sh2.5bn each for 4G licence.
Kenya11 Aug 2016Safaricom to slap State with Sh9bn bill for security network.
Nigeria21 Apr 2016Bitflux Begins Commercial Rollout of 2.3GHz Services.
Nigeria20 Oct 2016The Untold Story of NCC’s 2.6GHz Spectrum Auction.
Senegal19 Aug 2016Sénégal : Les détails de la nouvelle convention de concession d’Orange sur Sonatel dévoilés.
Senegal19 Jan 2016Sénégal : l’appel à candidature pour la 4G est ouvert à de nouveaux opérateurs.
South Africa9 Oct 2016ICT white paper under fire.
South Africa6 Sept 2016Spectrum meltdown.

Unlicensed and Dynamic Spectrum

Perhaps the most profound impact of the spread of terrestrial fibre on the continent is the manner in which it is enabling alternative last mile access in an environment where the last mile has been controlled by those with access to licensed spectrum.  Unlicensed (WiFi) and dynamic spectrum (also known as television white spaces spectrum) are now coming into their own as terrestrial fibre networks offer the enabling backhaul infrastructure.

Of the two, dynamic spectrum has moved more slowly in 2015 as we wait for manufacturers to scale up manufacturing of dynamic spectrum chipsets.  There is an unfortunate Catch-22 where communication regulators are waiting for signs of large-scale manufacturing to move forward with dynamic spectrum regulation and manufacturers are waiting for clear signals from regulators before scaling up manufacturing.  I had hopes that South Africa or Malawi might have formalised dynamic spectrum regulation in 2015 but it seems that this will likely happen in 2016.

Progress in the form of new dynamic spectrum pilots took place in Mozambique where a new startup has been given permission to deploy TVWS infrastructure and Morocco where a pilot was launched to connect schools in rural areas.

African WiFi & Dynamic Spectrum News in 2016

ZambiaWiFi28 Jul 2016Zambia : Lusaka City Council signs MOU for project to provide Free Wifi in Lusaka
KenyaWiFi30 Nov 2016Poa Internet and Liquid Telecom brings free solar internet to Kibera
TogoWiFi03 Nov 2016Après Lomé, Togo Telecom lance le Wifi public à Kpalimé
TanzaniaWiFi03 Oct 2016Dar residents to enjoy free Wi-Fi in public, recreational areas
TanzaniaWiFi06 Oct 2016Tanzanie : Dar es Salaam arrosée en Internet Wi-Fi gratuit, comme Kampala en Ouganda
KenyaWiFi05 Nov 2016Liquid Telecom's BilaWaya Wi-Fi project wins global telecoms award
BotswanaWiFi27 Sep 2016
Botswana: Bofinet Avails Wi-Fi At Gaborone, Francistown Stadia
KenyaWiFi03 Jul 2016Government of Kenya to rollout free internet across the counties
KenyaWiFi16 Sep 2016Kenya’s low cost data operator poa! Internet moves from soft launch in Kibera to hard launch and will roll out nationally and in East Africa
UgandaWiFi12 Dec 2015RokeSpot Wi-Fi: First impressions with Google's and Roke Telkom's Kampala Wi-Fi network
KenyaWiFi2 Sep 2016After Nakuru, Liquid Telecom seeks to connect nine more Counties to free Wi-Fi
South AfricaWiFi22 Aug 2016South Africa: Joburg Promises Free Wi-Fi for 'All Residents'
SenegalWiFi04 Aug 2016Sénégal: Sonatel teste le Wi-Fi public gratuit à Rufisque, aux Parcelles Assainies et à Sacré-Cœur/Mermoz
RwandaWiFi13 Jul 2016Rwanda: la société Vanu Inc veut déployer le Wi-fi à travers les zones rurales
ZimbabweWiFi18 Jul 2016Telone Targets 600 Wi-Fi Hotspots By 2018
ZimbabweWiFi19 Jul 2016NetOne extends broadband services introduces a public WiFi option
South AfricaWiFi22 Jun 2016WiFi comes to Gauteng townships
South AfricaWiFi13 Jun 2016Cape Town MyCiTi buses to get free Wi-Fi
KenyaWiFi30 May 2016Kenya: Libraries to offer free Internet to public
MawinguWiFi15 Apr 2016Mawingu Network’s Tim Nderitu rolls out low-cost, regional Wi-Fi hot-spots, adding new Counties – “Nothing holding back further expansion”
ZimbabweWiFi31 Jan 2016TelOne launches public WiFi promo, offers 1GB for $1
South AfricaDynamic Spectrum11 Jul 2016CSIR's dynamic spectrum tool gets UK certification
MalawiDynamic Spectrum1 Nov 2016Rural Malawians About to Go Online
GhanaDynamic Spectrum19 Aug 2016NCA Holds Workshop On TV White Space Spectrum Regulatory Framework


What stands out in 2016 is the ongoing investment in fibre optic infrastructure both undersea and terrestrial.  Clearly investors envisage a massive uptick in broadband demand on the continent, which is likely to be driven by the uptake of streaming media services.  There is a kind of scramble for Africa feeling about  fibre infrastructure and streaming media where companies are rushing to stake their claims.  But this scramble is more diverse with both international and African investors looking to achieve first mover advantage in markets across the continent.  Fibre is also changing how we think about spectrum.  It has the potential to democratise the last mile by allowing multiple last mile service providers using various access technologies to compete for customers.  This seems like a very good thing but spectrum regulation will have to catch up to these changes in order for that to be fully realised.

LTE networks continue to grow but are still generally limited to urban areas where both people and wealth are concentrated.  The high spectrum fees we are seeing for new spectrum through spectrum auctions or otherwise are unlikely to encourage operators to deploy networks into rural areas where delivering a return on investment is likely to be slow.

Finally, 2016 also seems to be the year that WiFi really came into its own as a legitimate access technology on the continent.  Demand for broadband, the spread of fibre, and the proliferation of WiFi-enabled devices from smartphones to tablets have all contributed to this.  Back in 2012, I lamented the lack of attention that WiFi received, especially from the UN Broadband Commission.  That’s all changed now.

This work would not have been possible without the support of the Network Startup Resource Center


Google, Facebook, and frickin’ Laser Beams

I have such a complicated relationship with Google and Facebook that I sometimes find it hard to write about them.  I don’t mean complicated in the sense of conflict of interest although it is true that one of the organisations I do work for now receives funding from Google, so there is that, but what I am really talking about is complicated in terms of how I feel about their strategies for connecting the unconnected.

From an access perspective, Google and Facebook are digital organisations built on the economics of abundance.  More and cheaper access to the Internet is great for their business.  This puts them largely in opposition to traditional telecommunications companies built on scarcity models that seek to extract the maximum possible value for access.  This has historically been known as the “netheads vs. bellheads” war and honestly if you had asked me in 1996 whether that battle would still be going on in 2014, I would have laughed.  Yet carry on it does and Google and Facebook represent a very positive force for change in the telecommunications industry as all communication becomes digital in nature.  This is very good news in emerging markets where competition often struggles to flourish and what constitutes “affordable” access is much lower than in the industrialised world.

Google and Facebook also care about connecting the unconnected.  Both companies are exploring various options for lowering the cost of access and reaching the unconnected.  Whether you see that as altruistic or as corporate self-interest or (far more likely) some combination is moot.  They are directly engaged in trying to create cheaper and more pervasive access and that is a whole lot more than can be said of the likes of Apple, Amazon, and a host of their wealthy Silicon Valley peers.

Google and Facebook have billions of dollars and rafts of very smart people, many of whom really care about the problem of access.  This puts them in a unique position to be disruptive, innovative, and to conceivably bring about a tectonic shift in affordable access to communication for the poor.

The challenge that organisations like Google and Facebook face is that they are used to being disruptive, innovative, and shifting tectonics all over the place.  Neither of them existed before 1999 and they both now represent corporate and individual wealth that dwarfs the imagination.  Even more significantly they directly affect the daily lives of billions of people around the world.  And they did it with… technology.  So, if you’ve already done six impossible things before breakfast, it is hard to imagine that any problem can withstand some of the very smartest and most innovative people in the world armed with apparently unlimited resources.

And on one level, that’s amazing.  I love the sense of seeing any problem as solvable and the willingness to look way outside the box for solutions.  It is a huge antidote to the apathy of previous generations to whom large-scale change seemed impossible.  I also love the sense of simply not being willing to settle for incremental change, of looking for big answers.

The downside of this approach is that it brings an inevitable level of hubris.  If you’ve created a product that is on the phone or desktop of half the world’s population, it cannot help but give you a sense of the power of technology as well as a sense of being able to make almost anything happen.  And that can lead to a certain myopia about the nature of the problem that you are trying to solve.

Take for example Google and Facebook’s investments in high-flying solutions to connectivity.  Google has invested in O3B, the Loon Project, and now they have purchased Titan Aerospace a manufacturer of high-altitude drones.  Facebook have announced their plans to explore satellites, drones, and, yes, laser beams to expand connectivity to the unconnected.  If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend watching this video from that features Facebook/ employee Yael Maguire talking about the challenge of connectivity and how to solve it.  It is worth watching even just for the simple but extremely articulate manner in which the technological challenges to access are articulated. Yael represents what excites me most about initiatives like  He is smart, passionate about the problem,  and has access to the means to do something about it.

Unfortunately he also represents the downside.  What barely gets mentioned in his talk are people, the people who represent the ecosystem of access: the system operators, service providers, regulators, policy-makers, technicians, and small business people who ultimately build the landscape of improved access.  There is an implicit assumption that once the technological solution has been found, everything else will fall into place.

Part of the appeal of a satellite/balloon/drone approach to connectivity is the opportunity to perhaps bypass all of that and deliver connectivity directly to the consumer without having to address the messy problems of capacity-building, regulatory reform, and development in general.  It is both literally and metaphorically problematic.  The fifteen thousand metre view inevitably occludes the details and complexities of what is happening on the ground.  It is the same kind of thinking that is directly critiqued in Bill Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts in which he argues against silver-bullet technological solutions to development challenges.

To both Google and Facebook’s credit, high-flying solutions are not their only approach to increasing affordable access.  Google, in particular, is doing remarkable work on the ground ranging from helping pioneer TV White Spaces trials in Cape Town, South Africa, to setting up a metropolitan fibre network in Kampala, Uganda.  And here’s the difference.  In Cape Town and Kampala, Google works hand-in-hand with local organisations, building capacity and engagement.  The projects are models that can be emulated and improved on in neighbouring countries.  They are examples, ultimately, of Africans building next generation solutions to access problems with the help of Google.

And that’s the issue really.  Africa is a continent that is tired to the point of nausea of being done unto.  If you want to connect the unconnected in Africa, then be prepared to spend the  time marching hand-in-hand with Africans into a more connected future, don’t imagine you can just beam it down from a satellite.  Real access is a partnership between the connector and the connectee.

And purely from a technological standpoint, I think there is a broad underestimation of the speed of growth of terrestrial fibre networks and the role that they will play in access in the future.  A side project I have had for a couple of years is trying to map the growth of terrestrial fibre networks at AfTerFibre.  So far, I have only captured a fraction of the actual fibre projects on the ground and what I am seeing is the same kind of explosive growth in terrestrial fibre that we have seen in undersea cables.  This opens up new possibilities for terrestrial wireless solutions that may change the access landscape dramatically.

Fair use of Dr. Evil image courtesy Wikipedia

African Undersea Cable Map Goes Non-Linear

I try not to be shocked any more at new announcements of undersea cable projects that are destined for African shores.  But it’s no good.  I am gobstopped again with the announcement of the BRICs cable. I struggle now to find ways to represent all the impending capacity on a single map without it looking like a dog’s breakfast.   What I thought was a clever innovation, using the width of the cable as an indicator of design capacity, has turned out to be a nightmare as cables like the SAEx cable announced a design capacity of 12.8 terabits/s, 10 times that of the Seacom cable which launched in 2009.  Then things got worse with the WASACE cable announcing a planned design capacity of 40 terabits/s.  Trying to implement that in terms of varying width cables made it look like someone had taken big graffiti marker to the map.

It was clearly time to go non-linear.  Now the width of the cables still scale with capacity but they do so logarithmically.  Something else I would never have guessed I would need to do.  The new version of the map now has both WASACE and BRICS.  There is also the new cable announced by Telebras and Angola Cables but I am holding off adding that one until they have a name for the cable or a website or a map.  Click here to view the latest version.