A leading telecoms expert Dr Bashir Gwandu the Non-Executive Chair of the Commonwealth ITU Group (CIG) and the Former Commissioner of the NCC who for some period acted as NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman/CEO was invited to give a Keynote speech at the Innovation Africa Digital Summit (IAD) 2019 that held in Addis Ababa last week.
The IAD summit attracted Telecoms Executives from Africa and from around the world, more than any other summit held in Africa in recent times.
Senior Executives from Vodacom Group, MTN Group, Etisalat, Safaricom, France Orange, Vodafone, ZTE, Huawei, Ericsson, Cisco, Airbus, Helios Towers, Oneweb, MasterCard, Intelsat, Thuraya, IBM, IFC, and many others major players attended the summit.
It also attracted Ministers from other parts of Africa, most especially the West and East Africa sub-regions.
The Summit opened by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and some of his Ministers was anchored by Extensia of the UK -the usual co-organiser of the IAD Summit.
The period of the conference coincided with the time a proclamation is being table before the Ethiopian Parliament for debate and consideration to liberalise the country’s telecom sector.
According to Reuters Ethiopia’s Telecoms market is considered to be ‘the big prize’ and the last greenfield site in a push to liberalise, and end a state monopoly as well as open-up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets.
The Ethiopian Government invited telecoms experts from around the world, potential Investors and other market players to partake in the forum that will examine best practices that the country can learn from, in its quest to restructure and open its telecoms market for foreign participation.
Gwandu, the lead keynote speaker, dissected the telecoms market privatisation and liberalisation processes breaking the issues logically from the point of producing succinct legal frameworks for both the privatisation, and that of the telecoms regulation, right down to the market design and to the choices available to the government when it comes to competition planning up to the Spectrum management and eventually service providers regulation.
He stated the need for strong and good regulatory framework, encompassing sensible set of rules that encourage investment and protect the consumer, and requiring, effective, professionally competent and sufficiently empowered as well as sufficiently financed regulatory institution.
He emphasised that enabling laws are not just sufficient but government support must be total and not half-hearted coupled with adequate funding that will attract good manpower to the regulator.
Gwandu said that government’s role should be restricted to policy formulation whilst a strong, independent regulatory authority should provide stable, transparent, fair, and non-discriminatory access to telecommunications resources in a timely manner.
The legal framework apart from guaranteeing independence of the regulator, must enable flexibility of the regulator whist remaining predictable, efficient, effective and accountable.
It should be the role of the regulator to ensure the existence of competition in all segments of the market devoid of market abuse or the exercise of significant market power by the participants.
Gwandu emphasised that liberalisation of the telecom market is essential for rapid network growth as experienced by other countries and private sector participation is essential for attracting investment, innovation and new technology in that telecoms sector is fast moving industry that cannot wait for slow government bureaucracy to be approving investment funding and yet compete effectively.
He stated that in looking holistically at the telecoms market, the international segment should be examined, while the complimentary options of international optical fibre, and satellite links should be made available in a competitive manner.
According to Reuters Ethiopia’s Telecoms market is considered to be ‘the big prize’ and the last greenfield site in a push to liberalise, and end a state monopoly as well as open-up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets
International gateway liberalisation and national back-bone planning should ensure ubiquitous availability, open access, and finally on the last mile the spectrum remains key in view of the lack of sufficient last-mile fixed infrastructure.
He further stated that mobile is the largest technology platform in human history and mobile broadband is the most dynamic segment of the last mile market. Spectrum is a critical resource for mobile broadband but is only valuable if it is effectively deployed to enable appropriate networks and services for socio-economic benefits to citizens.
Gwandu emphasised further that as wired infrastructure is limited in Africa except perhaps in South Africa, and it is expensive to install.
Wireless technology on the other hand is easier and faster to deploy and remains critical to expanding broadband access, and Spectrum access is critical for wireless broadband deployment, and capacity.
Robust wireless broadband requires various bands and appropriate slots size for assignment, the slot size determines how many towers an operator will need to cover the area, or re-use pattern or indeed how soon break-even will happen, how sustainable or profitable the telco will be, among others.
He cited the mistake made by Nigeria in providing just over 3MHz to CDMA telcos and expected them to perform.
At the international level he encouraged Ethiopia to participate actively in the ITU and ATU activities to enhance regulatory harmonisation thereby promoting economies of scale and enhancing cooperation on roaming, interoperability, internet exchange points, and development of backhaul infrastructure.
He posited that Ethiopia should align spectrum release and technology neutrality roadmap to enable flexibility in investment, and In Spectrum auction process, advised the government to set objectives properly and to balance pricing of spectrum with rollout obligations.
Gwandu emphasised further that as wired infrastructure is limited in Africa except perhaps in South Africa, and it is expensive to install
He suggested that for rapid expansion of networks, the Ethiopian government which controls land across the country, should streamline approval for Right of Way, and site acquisition, and to make the process a simple and one-stop shop activity.
He stated that tax holiday has proven to be useful in some markets but even more importantly multiplicity of sector specific taxes should be avoided and that the multiplier effect deferred-taxation will lead to more tax revenue from the sectors that are supported by the telecoms.
Furthermore, Gwandu stated that competition planning should be examine carefully so that resulting companies should remain sustainable – and in selling spectrum regulator should ensure appropriate sizes, and also not to sell out all available spectrum at once, which will reduce chances of corrective measures in respect of future competition corrective – intervention.