Africa is the cockpit of change in terms of the global digital transformation. Internet users have gone from a few thousand to millions over the past decade. But it is often easier to see the barriers to digital development – including education, income, and lack of access to electricity – than it is to understand the dramatic nature of these changes.
As result, African telecoms regulation is at a crossroads. A combination of changing business models and a downturn in economies across Africa is impacting the competitive dynamic in all markets. Incumbent mobile operators are slowing down innovation and the transition to digital. So in this article, I want to look at how regulation has to change to deliver Africa’s digital future.
BUSINESS MODELS UNDER PRESSURE
First some background. I visited two African countries in early 2017 – Benin and Kenya – which are at very different ends of the competitive market spectrum. But both serve to illustrate the kind of dilemmas regulators now find themselves in.
In Benin, mobile operators MTN and Etisalat are effectively a duopoly. The problems with the Nigerian economy means that a third operator, Nigerian-owned Glo, has no money to invest and did not bid for the 4G licences that the duopoly players obtained. Benin’s fourth mobile operator Libercom has had a torrid time.
Digital transformation poses great challenges for developing inclusive, affordable services for all Africans - with regulators now under considerable pressure, reports RUSSELL SOUTHWOOD
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