MTN Ghana, the leading mobile network operator in Ghana has reminded stakeholders that the core of any discussion about LTE must be the subscriber and the potential benefits the entire country could reap from affordable, easily accessible ultra-high-speed data services.
The availability and accessibility of modern Communications Technology impact all aspects of business, social and economic life. It is a major ingredient in the measurement of country competitiveness and in attracting the desired investments in all sectors of a country.
Technology is a driver of efficiency and productivity. Results of an often quoted research study from the World Bank indicate that a 10% increase in broadband could result in 1.4% increase in GDP growth.
With that in mind, bold steps must be taken to ensure that Ghanaians also gain the immeasurable benefits most of the world is already enjoying from LTE, and not be left behind in the fast growing data revolution.
What is 4G and why does it matter to you?
Not too long ago, the only services we used our mobile phones for were voice conversations and text messaging.
Today, as different types of mobile devices become available and our lives become more connected, some of the activities we utilise our mobile phones and other mobile devices for include sending and receiving documents, audios and photos, downloading and uploading music, streaming and watching videos, video conferences, online games, research, distance learning, and buying and selling items, among many other things.
Mobile telecommunications technology is what supports all these activities on our mobile devices, with 4G being the latest advanced data communication technology available today.
4G is the collective term for the fourth generation of cellular communications; the next step in the evolution of mobile networks, following 2G and 3G.
In the mobile world, 2G technology is most suitable for making calls and sending text messages, while 3G makes it possible to access the internet more effectively.
4G offers download and upload speeds several times faster than 3G. It is designed to deliver five to 10 times the speed of 3G data speed, and 2 enables subscribers to access data up to 10 times faster on devices such as phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.
For subscribers, using 4G means websites load much quicker, and provides the ability to stream videos and podcasts without first waiting for them to buffer. Using 4G also means users can download large email attachments or other content from the Internet faster.
Applications that need to download data, such as Yahoo maps, YouTube and Netflix, will work more smoothly and quickly. It means a music file that would have taken 20 minutes to download on a 3G phone could take about three minutes, and a 10-minute video clip that might have taken several minutes to download on 3G could take about 35 seconds to download on 4G.
4G technology comes in various formats, including LTE (short for Long-Term Evolution). LTE is being deployed by mobile operators in the GSM/WCDMA and CDMA technology paths, and its compatibility with existing 2G and 3G networks enables mobile operators to continue to provide seamless service across LTE and existing deployed operational networks.
To be able to deploy these services, providers need the license and spectrum (frequency allocation) from the Regulator, National Communications Authority (NCA). NCA has commenced the process to auction two spectrum (2x10MHz FDD) licenses in the 800 MHz band, to add to three 2600 MHz spectrum licenses issued to indigenous Ghanaian companies three years ago.
Why 4G matters
Today there are more mobile phones on the planet than automobiles, PC’s and laptops combined. The demand for data has climbed dramatically as more data intensive applications become available.
Ultra-high-speed, rock solid, ubiquitous connectivity, millisecond download times and an enhanced customer experience are why 4G matters. With data services now being central to our daily lives, delivery of data services at the fastest speeds opens new possibilities for individuals, groups and businesses.
Speedier web browsing, faster downloads, the ability to upload large files such as high-resolution images, spreadsheets or high-definition (HD) video more quickly than one could with a slower 2G or 3G connection, quicker video 3 downloading and streaming and better quality video calling are some of the ways 4G enhances the customer experience.
This means that when consumers and businesses get creative, 4G technology can be used to enhance the way they do business, get entertained and stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues.
Workers on the move can download and upload large documents from and to the office, businesses can reduce travel and hotel costs by engaging in video conferencing instead of traveling, businesses can better broaden their target markets through the Internet, and distance learning becomes a truly satisfying experience; the list goes on and on.
When businesses become more efficient and more productive through the use of technology, sustainability is enhanced and the socio-economic circumstances of the country as whole are greatly improved!
Why Spectrum is important to wireless providers and to you
It has been said that wireless connectivity is the platform for innovation in the 21st century, and spectrum is what fuels the wirelessly connected lives we lead.
Wireless communications signals travel over invisible airwaves, called radio frequency or spectrum, and this is used by all wireless communications companies, radio and TV stations, mobile companies, etc.
Companies that use radio frequency are assigned unique frequencies because if they were to transmit wireless signals over the same frequencies in the same markets at the same time their signals would interfere with one another; and so in the same way that radio stations are assigned different frequencies (for example, 99.7 for Joy in Accra, 104.3 for Peace FM, etc.), mobile companies are also assigned different frequencies. Specifically the “sweet spot” of the radio spectrum has been established as the band range within which wireless connectivity is most ideal (300MHz – 3GHz).
Needless to say, because wireless companies need spectrum to transmit voice and data signals, spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless industry. As consumers and businesses become more and more connected, using their mobile devices for more activities, the need for spectrum increases.
Customer phones, tablets and all the other wireless devices depend on spectrum. When 4 mobile operators have more spectrum, wireless networks used by subscribers are faster and better.
The more spectrums an operator has, the more data it can carry to subscribers; the bigger the highway used to deliver data to subscribers, the better the experience.
In Ghana, the NCA decides which frequencies of spectrum can be used for which purposes, and is the governmental institution responsible for granting licences to companies for spectrum use in Ghana.
NCA assigns spectrum in specific band ranges to specific operators, so interference is avoided. For mobile phones, NCA has allocated spectrum generally in bands 800, 900, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz, with frequency bands 900 and 1800 assigned to GSM operators for 2G, 2100 for 3G, and 2500-2600 MHz for LTE.
Has Ghana reaped the benefits of 4G so far?
In late 2011, the NCA embarked on a procedure to license spectrum in the 2500 MHz-2690 MHz band, stating some of the key reasons as follows:
To enhance competition in the broadband space which would result in: · o Improved Product & Service Development and Diversity
o Greater national/regional access and affordability o Improved quality of service and value for money for the consuming public; o Competitive pricing and associated increased penetration, which will contribute to bridging the digital divide and attainment of socioeconomic balance Facilitate increase in Internet/Broadband penetration in the country;
- Accelerate attainment of Universal Service/Access for Internet/broadband access; ·Meet Government and Parliamentary Mandates per National; · Telecommunications Policy 2005 (NTP ‘05) Mitigate urban/rural digital divide; and · Expand rural economic opportunities due to the collateral effects of affordable communication access.
In 2012, the NCA awarded the licenses to three indigenous companies to develop and operate broadband networks to provide nationwide broadband wireless access (BWA) services.
Ghanaians held their collective breath for the promise of 4G LTE and its benefits to be provided by the BWA companies.
5 Per the conditions stated in the bid documents, the BWA providers were to commence operations not later than 24 months from the effective dates of their licences, and rollout obligations were defined in zones, based on population density, and generally required coverage of 22 districts within 18 months, 77 districts within 36 months, 114 districts within 48 months, 126 districts within 60 months and all districts across Ghana within 72 months.
More than three years after the BWA licenses were awarded, it is important to ask if Ghana has achieved the objectives of the 2600 MHz allocations.
How many districts can access 4G services? What is the 4G LTE penetration in Ghana? Has 4G visibly expanded economic opportunities due to collateral effects of affordable communication access?
Indeed, are 4G services affordable for the broad cross-section of Ghanaians? Has the current 4G offer contributed to bridging the digital divide and attainment of socio-economic balance?
How many Ghanaians are able to access and reap the benefits of 4G? Has 4G revolutionised the way Ghanaian businesses work?
Underlying all the above questions is whether the entire country must be held hostage to the constraints of a few companies and their inability to roll out 4G in a way that satisfies the NCA’s objectives and allows the cross-section of Ghanaians to enjoy the kind of growth and advancement that could be realised from a proper implementation of 4G rollout.
With 2G and 3G, Ghana’s telecommunications industry is growing rapidly with mobile voice phone penetration approaching 120% and data penetration exceeding 62%. This amazing growth is expected to increase in the coming years as consumers and businesses move towards increased use of smartphones and other smart devices.
With the growth of smart devices, the demand for bandwidth and high speed capabilities will also increase as subscribers exchange, download and upload more videos, music and documents and use mobile applications that are bandwidth intensive.
Access to affordable 4G technology will enhance the experience of these subscribers. Ghana’s economy must also reap the benefits engendered by the increased efficiencies, expanded productivity and improved global access resulting from 6 the proper use of evolving mobile services; this will be expedited with 4G technology accessibility for a broader spectrum of subscribers.
Perhaps in seeking to trigger more rapid rollout of 4G services and reap attendant benefits for Ghana, the NCA, in its ongoing process to license 800 MHz spectrum which has the ability to support 4G services, appears to be serious about including companies who have demonstrated focus and ability to implement nationwide coverage.
We applaud the NCA for this bold decision, for we believe that healthy competition inures to the benefit of subscribers. Healthy competition is the catalyst that drives strategy for customer loyalty, and in Ghana a key driver of customer loyalty is network expansion and enhancement.
To this end, it is worth noting that network investments have been at the core of MTN Ghana’s operations, as evidenced by its successful ongoing 3G deployments.
After successfully deploying 2G voice services as part of a strategy to make mobile phone services available to the majority of Ghanaians, MTN began to deploy enhanced data services when it was granted a 3G licence in 2009.
Given the successful widest-coverage strategy for voice with 2G, MTN followed a similar strategy for 3G and was the first mobile operator to fulfill its licence condition to cover 170 district capitals within five years.
By December 2013, MTN subscribers in 170 districts were enjoying fast, reliable data services, ahead of the January 2014 deadline for the rollout condition to cover 170 districts with 3G services within five years, with some MTN subscribers in some metropolitan districts enjoying speeds up to 42 Mbps.
Beyond using 2100 MHz spectrum for 3G services, MTN has embarked on using 900 MHz within technological innovations to provide 3G services to more locations in Ghana. This demonstrates MTN’s preparedness to bridge the digital divide.
Customers are enjoying the benefits of these investments, and Table 1 demonstrates the rapid increase of data usage on MTN’s network. Taking advantage of MTN’s investments in 3G technology, data use has grown above 7 10,000% from 2011-2015; as of October 2015 alone, 3G growth over 2014 was over 250%.
Table 1: 3G Data penetration over the last decade
To accommodate huge data traffic and generate excellent quality of service for various services in LTE, efficient all-IP (Internet Protocol) backhaul connectivity to the LTE Packet Core Network is a key requirement.
MTN today has extensive fibre deployment to sites in key metropolitan areas. With this investment in fibre, guaranteed bandwidth and speeds to users on LTE is assured at higher data rates.
MTN Ghana is ready to roll out the fourth generation of mobile technology to provide faster and more reliable mobile connectivity in a world where data usage is increasing on a yearly basis.
MTN also needs the spectrum to sustain the quality of services being currently offered. Against the backdrop of these investments being made by MTN Ghana in ensuring the delivery of a bold new digital world to Ghanaians with the latest technology available, MTN Ghana remains committed to good corporate citizenship and a continued focus on making significant contributions to the development of Ghana.
As an African multinational that firmly believes that thinking globally and acting locally is a key driver of success, MTN embraces local content.
Indeed, one of 8 our fundamental beliefs is that creating value for our host nation stakeholder drives mutual success; and so a key consideration in the way we do business is the value we bring to Ghanaian individuals and businesses.
This goes beyond the communications services we provide. The value chain of diverse local companies dependent on MTN for sustainability, the services they provide to Ghanaians, the people they employ and the people MTN itself employs directly are a fundamental part of Ghana’s economy and demonstration of MTN’s local perspective.
Beyond that direct and indirect responsibility for keeping 500,000 Ghanaians employed, MTN is conceivably the biggest corporate contributor to Ghana’s development, with over 80% of the company’s revenues feeding back into the Ghanaian economy through capital investments, cost of sales expenditure, regulatory fees, maintenance costs, rent and utilities, salaries, marketing costs, corporate social investments and taxes.
Beyond all of this, we welcome the opportunity to compete directly with local companies in the communications industry. We believe that in embracing local content, we must encourage competition in order to drive affordable innovative growth.
Anything short of that will be too costly a protection route for the average subscriber and the tax payer to bear. This is what the NCA and Government of Ghana are seeking to avoid by encouraging telcos that can satisfy a local content threshold to also participate in the 4G auction.
MTN intends to take full advantage of that for the benefit of our numerous subscribers and national development.
In 2015 MTN was adjudged the Overall Best Taxpayer for the year 2014 by the Ghana Revenue Authority. In a citation presented to MTN, the GRA stated: “Your contribution towards tax revenues over the years has been tremendous, especially in 2014. You were not only the biggest contributor to our tax revenue, but you were the most compliant in filing of returns and making payments by statutory due dates. We are happy doing business with you.”
Beyond fulfilling all tax obligations set for the company, MTN Ghana is compliant to all regulatory dictates of the industry regulator.
MTN’s support for national development goes far beyond tax contributions and creation of jobs. Through the MTN Ghana Foundation, MTN Ghana invests a percentage of profits after tax into sustainable Corporate Social Investment projects that have made healthcare and education accessible to thousands of Ghanaians, and economically empowered hundreds of deprived households.
Such contributions and investments make MTN an integral part of Ghana’s growth and development.
4G is an important technology in today’s data hungry world. Since the first 4G LTE network was launched in 2009 by TeliaSonera in Sweden and Norway, 4G network coverage has been expanding globally. According to mobile industry association GSMA, 4G coverage reached 90% of the population across developed markets in December 2014, with adoption rapidly increasing.
South Korea is one of the most advanced 4G markets with 100% population coverage and over twothirds 4G adoption. In Africa, a number of Mobile Network Operators in African countries have deployed LTE leveraging on their existing 2G/3G networks from 2012 till date.
Operators like Movicel (Angola), MTC (Namibia), Orange (Mauritius), Vodacom (South Africa), and MTN (South Africa) amongst others have deployed unified network to provide 2G/3G/4G mobile services. Ghana is already far behind in 4G implementation at a time when the world is already talking about 5G and the Internet of Things.
It is a known fact that the rate of obsolescence for technology is rapid, hence timely innovations in 4G will be key for the country to reap the benefits and also maximise value from the spectrum as a “perishable” national resource.
With scale comes affordability; this is true of mobile operator services that are accessible and affordable for many Ghanaians today as a result of wide coverage, increased subscribership and economies of scale.
Ghana must take bold steps to enable companies with the capacity and skill to implement the kind of deployment that would allow the country to make up for lost time and lost opportunities.
The investment requirements for such deployment are massive and we must encourage all players 10 on merit to participate, rather than to make it the preserve of a few with limited industry understanding and limited capacity to innovate.
Spectrum is a scarce national resource whose use Ghanaians should benefit from; those benefits cannot be suspended or reserved for the ultimate gain of a few businessmen. Welcome to the new world.