MACRA moves to give another mobile licence

By Gregory Gondwe, Blantyre, Malawi

Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has taken the first steps towards awarding a mobile telecommunication service provider licence to Lacell Private Limited, which failed in its bid for a similar licence in 2008 as they did not meet the criteria.

It is not clear whether this is a third or a fifth mobile telecommunication licence and at the moment four licences have been given to four firms but only two - Airtel Malawi and Telecom Networks Malawi (TNM) – are operational, while G-Mobile and Celcom have failed to roll out.

The whole of this week Macra Director General Andrew Kumbatira and the body’s board chairperson Alessa Makawa have been putting a notice in the local media calling for public representations on proposed licence to be issued to Lacell Private Limited.

“Notice is hereby given under 18(4) of the Communication Act of the laws of Malawi that the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) intends to issue a licence to Lacell Private Limited to provide public Telecommunications Services in the Republic of Malawi,” reads part of the notice dated 24 April 2015.

It further states that a complete draft licence to be issued is hereby published together with this Notice.

“The General public and all interested persons are invited to make any written representation on the draft licence which should reach the address below within 10 days from the date of publication of this notice,” it says.

The two and only major players in mobile phone services, Airtel and TNM together command a mobile teledensity of 18 percent.

The two operate 3G mobile services based on UMTS/HSPA technology.

A third mobile operator, G-Mobile, was licensed in 2008 but the rollout of the new network experienced delays Macra revoked their licence at the moment the matter is still in court.

In 2011 Macra issued a fourth license that was awarded to Celcom in 2011, and although the launch of its services was expected in 2013, it asked the regulator in September 2013 to extend its rollout period for another three years. Macra has

In March this year Macra warned wireless licensee Celcom that it faces losing its concession if it fails to roll out services within the next four months, meaning it now only remains with two months until July to do so.

Celcom has a licence awarded under the terms of dual fixed and mobile telephony provision, which when it was awarded in May 2011 it was required to launch services within 18 months.

The rollout deadline was subsequently postponed twice, with the latest extension due to expire on 28 July 2015; if Celcom fails to launch its network by that date, then it will face the revocation of its operating licence.

Besides Airtel and TNM which uses Global System for Mobiles (GSM), Malawi has two fixed-line operators, Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) and Access Communications Limited which both also offer Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) mobile services.

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