Spectrum: Africa’s hope

The GSM Association (GSMA) has urged greater allocation of spectrum for mobile broadband, saying it is vital for the economic and social development of sub-Saharan Africa.

New findings from a report by the GSMA and Plum Consulting reveal that, across the region, the release of mobile broadband spectrum in the Digital Dividend and the 2.6GHz bands by 2015 in sub-Saharan Africa could create up to 27 million new jobs and increase GDP per capita by 5.2%, which will directly lift 40 million people out of poverty by 2025. It could also increase GDP and government tax revenues by USD82 billion and USD18 billion per year respectively by 2025.

GSMA said mobile voice and SMS services have made major economic contributions to sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade and accounted for 3.5% of regional GDP by 2010. While the effects of broadband internet access are just beginning to be felt across the region, its importance has been recognised by the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which has set a global broadband challenge “to ensure that 40% of households in developing countries are using broadband internet by 2015.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of fixed line telecom infrastructure means that Mobile Broadband services will be essential in achieving this target.

The GSMA expects that there will be 240 million mobile broadband connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015, compared to just 4 million fixed broadband connections. The GSMA is therefore calling on countries across the region, including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, to urgently release harmonised spectrum for Mobile Broadband. This will expand the reach and availability of affordable broadband services and help realise significant economic and human development gains for sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, just 80MHz of spectrum is available for delivering Mobile Broadband service in a typical African market. In contrast, mobile operators in many middle and high-income markets have access up to 400MHz of spectrum for delivering Mobile Broadband.

“African governments must act now to release much-needed spectrum for Mobile Broadband services if they are to meet the UN’s 40% broadband target,” said Peter Lyons, Director of Spectrum Policy, Africa and Middle East, GSMA. “Increased spectrum will lower the cost of mobile devices, improve speed of data communication, and ultimately help nearly 40 million Africans escape poverty.”

By licensing spectrum in the Digital Dividend and the 2.5GHz bands for Mobile Broadband, governments in the region have the opportunity to increase total spectrum available by approximately 70%. In particular, the Digital Dividend band, which is currently used for analogue television broadcasting, offers widespread mobile broadband coverage in rural areas and improved indoor penetration in urban areas. In rural areas alone, the Digital Dividend band could deliver Mobile Broadband service to between 40 to 80% of the population.

Lyons continued: “If governments in sub-Saharan Africa allocate more spectrum for mobile broadband over a 10-year period from 2015, this would result in USD235 billion of additional GDP and US$50 billion in additional tax revenues. However, if the release of spectrum is delayed by five years, then these benefits would fall to US$50 billion in additional GDP, and USD10 billion in additional tax revenue. Action is required now to secure the future connectivity and economic empowerment of Africa’s citizens.”

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