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Connectivity in Africa: high broadband and mobile data prices

Yehia El Amine

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Mobile Data

Internet connectivity is the bedrock of any modern economy; it contributes to a nation’s development, attracts investors, grows a startup ecosystem, bolsters banking sectors, and a plethora of other benefits. 

It is literally the fuel that drives nations forward.

Even on a consumer level, smartphones help ease our day-to-day lives from the most mundane of things, to work-related obligations; as soon as we step into our homes, we switch to our Wi-Fi connection to carefully manage our mobile data – which is more often than not, unfairly overcharged. 

However, there are parts of the world where people must carefully balance and decide which one to pay for; while most opt for the more expensive but more practical mobile data. 

This decision must be taken daily by people in countries across Africa, who experience the highest rates for mobile Internet connectivity. 

This is often the case due to difficult banking circumstances and a general lack of physical money, thus reliance on FinTech and mobile payment services is heavily leaned upon. 

Out of the 230 countries, Africa had three countries topping the most expensive mobile data list, according to a survey done by UK-based price comparison website Cable.co.uk who analyzed the cost of 1GB of mobile data in 230 countries.

A rough pattern can be seen when analyzing the numbers that show the African continent having 10 out the 50 countries with the most expensive pricing per 1GB:

Zimbabwe – $75.20

Equatorial Guinea – $65.83

Saint Helena – $55.47

Djibouti – $37.92

Chad – $23.33

Benin – $20.99

Seychelles – $19. 55

Mozambique – $15.82

Botswana – $14.12

Comoros – $12.57

However, there are high levels of saturation between countries on the same continent. 

Countries such as Rwanda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have the cheapest mobile data in Africa; $0.58, $0.68, and $0.88, respectively.

Considering that the DRC and Sudan are recognized as being two of the poorest countries in the world, it comes as no surprise that mobile data in these countries would be affordable to the population.

While in Northern Africa, Egypt has the cheapest average cost of mobile data at $1.49, followed by Morocco and Western Sahara, both at $1.66 for 1GB of data. In Africa’s largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, the average cost of data is still relatively expensive at $2.22 and $7.19, respectively.

Elements of cheaper connectivity

There are several key characteristics that determine whether a country has a cheap broadband access. 

1. Infrastructure

Countries that boast a robust 4G infrastructure tend to have cheaper access to connectivity, mainly due to a telco’s ability to offer bundles that are way beyond 1-10GB per month, as in some countries, telcos have removed data caps. 

Thus, cost per gigabyte would remarkably drop in such countries such as Italy and India. 

2. Heavy reliance

From that, countries with no fixed-line broadband availability heavily lean on mobile data to fill the gap. Due to mobile data being the primary means to go online, coupled with saturated markets, existence of competing providers and low average wages, it allows for data plans to become exceptionally cheap.

3. Bite-sized consumption

According to the report by Cable UK, countries with overburdened infrastructures usually enforce limited internet use culture, regardless if mobile data is widely available and used. Since SIMs are relatively cheap and pre-loaded with bite-sized data amounts. 

Thus, amounts of 2-5MB with one day expiries are the norm. 

“When multiplying such small quantities to figure out the cost of a gigabyte, then, such countries tend to find themselves at the expensive end of the table. Chad and Benin are examples of this archetype,” the report highlighted.

4. Robust economies

Naturally, countries that have strong and wealthy economies are found on the lower side of the pricing spectrum, since infrastructures are strong, consumers have a high purchasing power, which subsequently paves the way for more data usage.

Lack of competition

Currently, African countries that suffer from high broadband and mobile data prices, are mainly due to a monopolized telecoms landscape where only a maximum of three telcos operate, according to a report by the Coalition for Affordable Internet (A4AI), which is a coalition of businesses, governments, and civil society that aims to bring affordable Internet access all over the world. 

The report sites that the primary recommendation is for greater liberalization of markets and measures to increase competitiveness. “Competition is core to successful broadband markets.”

In addition, there must be a move from consolidated markets – monopolies – to a multi-operator ecosystem that would drastically drop the cost of mobile broadband data. 

“Our research estimates that 1GB data in a monopoly mobile market could be as much as USD $7.33 more expensive than if it were a two-operator market,” the report argued.

In addition, for this to happen there needs to be fair rules for market entry and incentives to encourage new competitors such as a liberal and transparent licensing regime.

The government’s role

The public sector needs to step in and intervene where for-profit models fall short.

“Provision of public access options such as free public Wi-Fi and telecentres to fill gaps in the market, which are applicable to rural and remote areas to ensure marginalized demographics can access the economic and social benefits of the Web,” the A4AI stated. 

According to Dhanaraj Thakur, Research Director of The Web Foundation, governments can make better use of universal service funds to provide access in areas that are under served and there should be room for communities and local municipalities to also engage in service provision that they feel is most appropriate for their localities.

“The problem of lobbying governments to improve access when in several cases, such as Cameroon and Egypt, governments have done the opposite by severely restricting citizens’ internet use,” Thakur was quoted as saying. 

He added that in these cases many reiterations have been made regarding the importance and economic benefits of Internet access and conversely the cost of shutting down the internet or specific applications.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

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Deutsche Telekom, Cellnex team up in tower and investment deals

Karim Hussami

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German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom has partnered up with Spanish cell phone mast operator Cellnex to combine their tower business in the Netherlands, laying the ground for investments in a newly established Digital Infrastructure Vehicle (DIV).

Under the agreement, which was announced on Thursday, the companies will become anchor investors in the DIV investment fund focused on European digital infrastructure.

T-Mobile Infra

Deutsche Telekom operates its Dutch towers via an entity known as T-Mobile Infra which will be contributed to the DIV, the operator said in a statement. The investment fund will primarily focus on fiber infrastructure, towers, and data centers, with aims of delivering attractive, risk-adjusted returns.

The German operator will donate $406 million in capital commitments to the fund, while Cellnex has agreed to commit $243 million. “Its investment in Cellnex Netherlands aims to create value by gaining exposure to the growth derived from 5G adoption, as well as by realizing synergies resulting from the merger,” Cellnex said in a statement.

DIV will contribute to the T-Mobile Infra business to Cellnex Netherlands in return for a 38 percent stake, as part two of the transaction.

How many cells will the deal include?

According to the deal, Deutsche Telekom will integrate its 3,150 mobile towers in the Netherlands with Cellnex’s 984 sites.

The tower specialist firm noted that its operation of 4,314 sites – in parallel to having 180 new masts already in the pipeline – will render it to become the largest independent mobile tower company in the country.

“At the same time, DIV opens an innovative way to finance telecom infrastructure in partnership with institutional investors,” Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges said.

As the fifth-generation technology expands in worldwide rollout, telecom towers are increasingly prized by investors navigating a world of low returns thanks to their steady, inflation-linked cash flows, and prospects for more development.

To guarantee the continued investment in the sector, more connections will be needed to link up billions of devices in an Internet of Things (IoT).

Whilst customers enjoy better signals on their smartphones when new sites mushroom up, it also offers faster data and better call quality, especially when working from home.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of stable broadband connections for people to communicate and remain connected, which would lead to strengthening the digital infrastructure in Europe.

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Telecoms

Four European telecom operators deploy OpenRAN solutions to boost technology

Karim Hussami

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Four European telecom operators deploy OpenRAN solutions to boost technology

To better serve its customers, four of Europe’s largest operators– Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange S.A., Telefónica S.A., and Vodafone Group Plc– have committed to supporting and deploying OpenRAN solutions.

In a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the operators said they are interested and committed to the implementation and deployment of Open RAN solutions that take advantage of new open virtualized architectures, software and hardware to build more agile and flexible mobile networks in the 5G era.

Important milestone

This step is considered an important milestone towards a diverse, reinvigorated supplier ecosystem and the availability of carrier-grade Open RAN technology for a timely commercial deployment in Europe.

Enrique Blanco, Chief Technology & Information Officer (CTIO) at Telefónica, said: “Open RAN is the natural evolution of radio access technologies and it will be key for 5G networks. Telefónica believes the whole industry must work together to make it a reality. I am excited to be partnering with major European operators to promote the development of an open technology that will help to enhance the flexibility, efficiency and security of our networks. This is an extraordinary opportunity for the European industry not only to promote the development of 5G but also to participate in its sustainable technological development.”

What is OpenRAN and how does it work?

 It is about network innovation, flexibility and faster rollout.

 This is why operators are committed to its promotion, development and adoption to ensure the best network experience for their customers.

Telcos plan to join forces with their leading European partners to foster a diverse, competitive and secure 4G/5G ecosystem based on open RAN solutions, in order to seize this opportunity.

Impact on telecommunication market

On the other hand, the implementation of Open RAN is expected to have a positive impact on the European Telecommunication market.

Within the traditional RAN, the networks uses fully integrated cell sites, where the radios, hardware and software are provided by a single supplier as a closed proprietary solution.

Mobile operators are re-evaluating the way their networks are deployed.

OpenRAN has the capability to drive European technological innovation through the use of the experience of expanding corporations and expanding governments.

Those RAN solutions open the market to new suppliers, leading to faster deployment of 5G, an economy of network and world-class services.

Moreover, Europe must keep the same pace as other countries in the race for the long-term development of Open RAN, instead of staying behind, especially with the progress of the US and Japan have made in this filed.  

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Telecoms

The gaming industry’s widespread success in the era of Covid-19

Yehia El Amine

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gaming industry

Gaming has changed significantly over the years; and massively so during the novel COVID-19 pandemic.

Not many industries can look back at 2020, wipe the blood, sweat, and tears off their faces and say “okay, the worst is behind us.” Even less so, are the industries that didn’t just survive during a bustling year full of hardships, all while stuck behind the confines of our home.

As if a response to a hail Mary, global lockdowns were exactly what the gaming industry needed to thrive, grow, and propel itself onto new heights among all the chaos surrounding the world.

At the end of 2019, the global gaming market was valued at $151.55 billion, and now it’s currently on track to reach a value of $256.97 billion by 2025, registering a CAGR of 9.17 percent, according to global research firm Mordor Intelligence.

The industry took widespread control of at home entertainment, as cinemas and theatres continued their “closed-doors” policy to prevent the disease.

According to a survey conducted by the Hollywood Reporter, The U.S. saw a gaming growth of 45 percent, with France (38 percent), U.K. (29 percent), and Germany (20 percent). Online play has also increased, with respondents consuming more time spent playing games with others via the internet connection.

Decisions, decisions…

The gaming industry strongly prevailed over the year, accelerating new technological innovations that birthed several new players onto the scene, which permeated a strategical question for the industry, albeit a positive one.

While it is expected that every facet of the market – console, mobile, subscriptions, cloud, AR, VR, and esports – will perform strongly during 2021, the question of “where to play?” renders itself hard to answer when faced with so much variety at the palm of everyone’s fingertips.

“The dilemma game companies must face is how best to monetize their content while juggling the often competing aims of finding the widest possible audience, maintaining goodwill from that audience, and not sacrificing too much control to other platforms,” a report by global research Omdia highlighted.

The console wars of 2021

Every release of new generation gaming console brings with it the beginning of a new console war between the world’s leading tech companies.

According to the Omdia report, Console hardware and software revenue will rise by 5.2 percent to $36.3 billion thanks to the recent launch of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. In parallel, Console games accounted for $45.2 billion of the $159.3 billion global gaming market in 2020, according to market research firm Newzoo.

However, both titans of the gaming world are taking different approaches to attract gamers’ attention toward their respective platforms.

Microsoft’s Xbox are heavily banking on and marketing their subscription service called Xbox Game Pass, which has seen phenomenal growth. While its rival, Sony is touting its marquee lineup of exclusive content and services.

The ongoing health crisis is serving the industry by delivering rapid growth.

“It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic drove a sharp increase in console gaming in 2Q20, which has translated into, in some cases, record-breaking revenue outcomes,” Lewis Ward, research director of gaming and VR/AR for marketing firm IDC, noted in a recent report.

New kid on the block

While the console wars were at each other’s throats over console market share dominance, a new technology surfaced during 2020, which is expected to have its own share of the market: Cloud Gaming.

In cloud gaming, the server, where all the games are stored, does all the computation work, which includes game scene rendering, game logic processing video encoding, and video streaming.

This new sector is seen as a serious competitor for the traditional game market.

According to Omdia, Cloud gaming will have a breakthrough year with vital pieces finally coming together, with spend reaching $4 billion, a 188 percent increase from 2020. “Crucially, cloud gaming services will add to the on-console gaming experience while attracting a slew of new gamers who do not own consoles or PCs,” the report added.

Players such as GeForce Now – developed by U.S.-based computer game company Nvidia – emerged in mid-2020, which is a cloud-based game streaming service, delivering real-time gameplay straight from the cloud to your laptop, desktop, Mac, or Android device, merely requiring a good internet connection to play, without the need for beefy hardware specs.

However, content and ISPs will determine cloud gaming’s future, says Mat Piscatella, Industry Analyst at NPD Group.

“All of the big cloud players are now in market, and the tech has been proven to work. But adoption has lagged many predictions. A lack of compelling exclusive content on the cloud-exclusive services is one barrier. But that can be accounted for with investment and/or time,” Piscatella was quoted as saying to GamesIndutry.com.

He further added that what ISPs decide to do with data caps and high customer costs is another matter. “In 2021, this challenge will not be solved for, and cloud will continue to struggle to gain momentum, particularly in the U.S.” Piscatella highlighted.

No where to go but up

While the gaming industry is expected by experts far and wide to continue growing in the future, other elements are also aiding its climb to the very top of the entertainment food chain: the increase in popularity of eSports viewership.

The report by Mordor Intelligence highlighted that eSports are witnessing substantial market demand in the current market scenario and are thus driving the overall gaming industry across the globe.

Twitch –a live-streaming service owned by Amazon – enjoyed a really good year.

The live-streaming site managed to clock 17 billion hours watched last year, which is a full 83 percent higher than 2019’s 9 billion, according to the latest report from StreamElements and Arsenal.gg. Twitch’s insanely successful rise to power has prompted social media giants to release their own live-streaming services such as Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming.

“Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook all experienced major jumps in viewership traffic, which includes Twitch hitting 3 back-to-back milestones from October to December to end with a record high of 1.7B hours watched in that final month,” writes Doron Nir, CEO of StreamElements.

For YouTube, that meant 10 billion watch hours in 2020; Facebook Gaming hit 3.59 billion, a jump of 166 percent.

Regardless of who will reign supreme during the battle for gamers’ attention and money, the message remains crystal clear: the gaming industry has become even more mainstream than ever before, as options are continuously growing to meet the subsequent increase in demand.

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