Speaking at a forum with members of the Network of Communication Reporters to give an overview of MTN’s readiness for 4G, he said “Ghanaians cannot wait any longer to have access to affordable 4G LTE because technology is not waiting for anybody and very soon 4G might lose its place of pride to 5G.”
Ebenezer Asante therefore commended the National Communications Authority (NCA) for opening up the opportunity for all telcos to have access to the two spectra blocks with the 800MHz Spectrum band about to be auctioned next month. The two 2x10MHz spectra blocks are within the digital dividend harvested from the digital migration (transition from analogue to digital television systems).
The harvested spectrum is good for 4G and also promises significant improvement in the quality of 3G services. In 2012, the NCA sidelined the telcos from having access to three Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) licenses in the 2600MHz band, which is also very good for 4G. The spectra were awarded to three local companies in pursuant of a local content policy. The three BWA licensees were Surfline Communications, Blu Communications and Goldkey Telecoms, which are all wholly-Ghanaian owned.
Surfline has since taken off in earnest but provides coverage in Accra and is now moving to Kumasi and Takoradi. Blu covers just pockets of Accra while Goldkey is simply dormant. While, the three are moving at a relatively snail pace, the NCA has found it necessary to open up the new 4G spectra to the existing telcos who have wider coverage and millions of customers. The BWA licenses have however constituted themselves into an ICT Chamber and are opposed to the open auction for the new spectra, calling for protection.
But MTN Ghana Boss believes sidelining telcos from the 2600MHz spectra auction four years ago is a model that has caused Ghana to be behind time in the mass implementation of 4G. He said there is need for Ghana to move at a faster pace and make up for the time lost, and that required the involvement of industry players with the financial and infrastructural muscle and the subscriber base to reach a wider population.
On that score, Ebenezer Asante said he believes the NCA acted in the interest of the greater majority of Ghanaians by opening up the auction for all telcos to bid. He noted that whereas the three local 4G players have not been able to deploy the service on a wide scale to benefit more Ghanaian, MTN is more than ready to make 4G and improved 3G available to its 15 million plus customers when given the license.
“Our network is ready for 4G and our customers have been ready with their 4G devices but because we do not have the license and spectrum we cannot offer them the convenience they want,” he said. “We can assure our customers and the NCA that if we got the license today we will deploy 4G on a wider scale in just six month,” he added. Ebenezer Asante noted that the spectrum, selling at a minimum of US$67.5million, is expensive, and deploying it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but that is an investment MTN is ready to make to ensure Ghanaians did not lose out of the global technology boom.
He noted that 4G offers up to 10 times the speeds 3G offer, and greater experience, which something MTN cannot wait to give to its customers as it falls in line with its goal of leading the delivery of a bold new digital world. Ebenezer Asante said there could not have been any better time for the opportunity to implement 4G on a mass scale in Ghana as data usage between 2011 and now, has grown 10,000% mainly on the back of MTN network.
Between 2014 and October this year alone 3G data usage has grown by 250% in Ghana, and that is a clear sign that Ghanaians are hungry for data. Indeed Ghana is recording over 60% overall data customers as per for NCA data market share report; and they number keep growing as subscribers keep adopting more smart devices. Smart devices manufacturers have also started designing affordable 4G devices, and some affordable devices on the local market, like Tecno. Phantom 5, Alcatel Idol3 and others, are already 4G compliant, not to talk of the high end devices.
Ebenezer Asante noted they the current GSMA Economic Report indicate there would be 3.1billion data connections in the developing world by 2020, and it is important for a Ghana to have a fair share of they boom, which is just four years away, hence the need for the country to move faster. Local content MTN is a 100% owned by a multinational but the conditions on the new spectra requires that 35% shares should be in the hands of Ghana.
The MTN Ghana CEO said the company intends to meet that requirement but he stopped short of saying whether they will offer shares on the stock exchange or in a private placement. Speaking of local content, Ebenezer Asante noted that whereas MTN is a multinational African company, it has showed that it is Ghana for the long haul as it currently employs over 500,000 Ghana directly and indirectly, and is on record as being the best taxpayer in 2014.
He said MTN’s distributors and suppliers value chains are about 80% in the hands of local business; it main content providers are also largely local value added service companies and all the owners of its 2,400 mast sites are Ghanaians who get paid for hosting the sites.
MTN is the only 3G telco in Ghana bidding for the new spectra. The other telcos expressed interest by as of the November 9, 2015 deadline for the submission of applications, only MTN, Surfline, Goldkey and Migson Communications have done so. The date for the auction is set for December 2 – 8, 2015 and winners will be announced on December 9. 2015.