Weekly digest for 11 June 2021


This week’s main story is an overview of the growth of the submarine cable market. Back in 2012, content providers (such as Amazon, Google, Facebook) accounted for 10% of total capacity. By 2020, that number had grown to 66% of total capacity. As a consequence, content providers are driving submarine cable investments. For example, both Google and Facebook have invested in new submarine cables connecting South East Asia to North America. The growth in data usage for content providers also shows how data is driving access. Content providers drive data usage, which in turn, drives data revenues for mobile operators (MNOs). The claim from some MNOs that OTTs undermine their business model is wrong – it might undermine voice and SMS (and evidence of this is sparse in Africa, where operators such as Airtel Africa have seen steady voice and SMS growth) but data is the primary driver of revenue growth.

  • Nigeria: The Nigerian government blocked Twitter after the social media platform deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari for inciting violence. The government doubled down a few days later by claiming that it would prosecute anyone caught using Twitter (though how that would be possible if MNOs have blocked Twitter is unknown).
  • Uganda: The World Bank has allocated $200 million to Uganda for a series of digital inclusion schemes such as building fibre backbone and wifi hotspots as well as connecting government units to mobile broadband.
  • Nigeria: The mess that is SIM registration in Nigeria has resulted in over 19 million subscribers being disconnected between October 2020 and April 2021.
  • South Africa: President Ramaphosa has called for mediation in the on-going saga of South Africa’s high demand spectrum auction. The auction was meant to be held on 31 March, but now seems indefinitely delayed. Pressure to resolve the stand-off is slowly building, but the process is still taking far too long.
  • Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s newest mobile operator has officially accepted its license on June 9. The consortium, made up of Safaricom, Sumitomo, Vodacom, Vodafone and CDC Group, paid $850 million for the license. Bids for a 2nd license are expected to be opened soon.
  • Kenya: Safaricom has launched an e-Sim or embedded SIM. eSIMs are installed directly on the phone’s mother board and are re-writeable. This is the start of the move away from SIM cards.