Weekly digest for 1 Oct 2021

KEY READING FOR THE WEEK

This week’s main story is a report from the GSMA on Mobile Internet Connectivity in 2021, though we’ll focus on the key trends for sub-Saharan Africa. The main statistic in the report is that half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa are living within an area covered by mobile broadband but do not use the Internet. The GSMA considers mobile broadband to be either 3G or 4G. 3G coverage in sub-Saharan Africa is 81% in 2020 compared to 51% for 4G. Another factor that the GSMA identified as an obstacle to Internet usage was affordability, both in terms of data prices and handsets. The average price of 1GB of data is reported as 4% of monthly GDP per capita.  Handset prices (defined as an internet-enabled device) were 26.5% of monthly GDP per capita. The GSMA’s report would benefit from making its underlying data freely available in a usable format so that its claims can be verified. For example:

  • The GSMA’s coverage stats are reported by operators without any oversight and the stats  are probably significantly overstated: for example, 3G networks are often unusable because data download is too slow (Uganda is one example). In another example, the only operator in Kenya to show realistic coverage is Safaricom – other operators assume 4G coverage radius’ of over 40km for a single antenna.
  • It’s not clear when the affordability data was collected. It seems that the data was collected some time in 2021, but the time period, whether all products were collected and precisely how the baskets were calculated is not explained (even in the GSMA’s methodology report).

This kind of report is always useful in terms of identifying the scale of the problem, but the unwillingness of the GSMA to publicly share their data undermines the benefits of the report. A more useful approach can be found in the collaboration between the ITU and the Data Science for Social Good Fellowship at the University of Warwick, where the underlying code and data is made publicly available for researchers to interrogate.

Other stories from around Africa
  • Undersea cables: 2Africa is the world’s longest subsea cable system at over 45,000 km’s and connects Africa, Europe and Asia terrestrially through Egypt.
  • Ethiopia: The invitation to apply for a second mobile operator has been issued. The license will allow the winner to offer mobile financial services and will also offer additional spectrum.
  • Guinea-Bissau: The Government has decided to revive Guinea Telecom and its mobile unit Guinetel, which was declared bankrupt in 2013. This seems crazy when the track record for government-owned mobile operators is so shocking.
  • South Africa: ICASA has set a new timeline for the auction of high demand spectrum by March 2022. The Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) is back on the table. This timeline seems very optimistic given the last 16 years of failed attempts.