Weekly digest for 15 Oct 2021

KEY READING FOR THE WEEK

There are two main stories for this week: the launch of free public wifi in Malawi and the upcoming auction of 3500MHz spectrum in Nigeria.

Free public wifi in Malawi

The first story is about the launch of free public wifi in Malawi. The government has launched 32 sites across the country. The wifi sites are available in schools, hospitals, libraries and marketplaces. The funding comes from the Digital Malawi project, funded by the World Bank. A total of 481 sites have been identified for funding. For the Digital Malawi project, USD28.3 million of the total commitment USD72.4 million has been spent, as of September 2021. Reducing the cost barrier to internet access is crucial to encouraging people – especially the poor – to use the Internet. What’s a bit disappointing is that the daily cap on free use is 120MB. That’s essentially enough to browse a few web pages and send some messages before the cap runs out. Such a low data cap effectively means that there is no free wifi and it’s a bit of a tease – a nice initiative, but not one that is going to make much difference. A better approach would have been to negotiate unlimited data packages with the operators so that users can meaningfully use the internet. Hopefully, the remaining funding will be used to expand both the data cap and to quickly rollout wifi to the 449 sites that don’t currently have access.

3500MHz spectrum auction in Nigeria

The second story is the upcoming 3500MHz auction in Nigeria. The NCC issued its Information Memorandum last week, which contains the details of how the auction will be conducted as well as the reserve price for the spectrum. 2 lots of 100MHz will be issued in 3500MHz and 3700MHz bands. The reserve price for each lot is USD197.4 million. The rollout obligations are service in at least one state in each zone (there are 6 zones in Nigeria) by the end of year 2; 6 additional states by year 5. Since there are a total of 36 states in Nigeria, this would represent 12 states or 33% of the total of Nigeria after 5 years. Download speed must be a minimum of 100Mbps. It’s not clear whether this is a minimum speed per site or per user (and this makes a big difference!). The cost of the spectrum is on the low end compared to recent spectrum auctions: Tanzania’s auction of 20MHz of 700MHz spectrum cost USD500k per MHZ; Ghana’s auction of 20MHz of 800MHz spectrum cost USD3.4 million per MHz. Nigeria’s spectrum will cost just under USD1million per MHz. While Nigeria is ready to auction the spectrum by early December, South Africa is still negotiating with operators on how to move forward…..