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Ghana to Establish a Neutral Shared Infrastructure for 5G and 4G

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Minister of Communications and Digitalization, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has announced that Ghana will not be auctioning 5G spectrum but will rather establish a “neutral shared infrastructure company” to deliver nationwide 4G and 5G services.

She made the announcement at the twelfth edition of the African Peering and Interconnection forum in Accra this week, saying that the Ministry has already granted approval to a consortium to set up the neutral shared infrastructure.

“We’ll be working with network operators and private investors to set up a 4G and 5G network as well, so we are not going to be auctioning 5G, we are giving it to these networks so that all operators can use it and extend it to about 80% of the population,” the Minister stated.

Ursula Owusu-Ekuful told journalists that the strategy will help service providers extend their services to rural areas and support the country’s digital transformation agenda, adding that the government has also given approval for the landing of two new submarine cables to improve affordable internet access.

Lessons learnt

It would be recalled that in 2015 when, spectrum was auctioned for 4G in Ghana for a minimum of US$67.5 million, only MTN Ghana was able to afford it. None of the other telcos could come into the space simply because the spectrum was too expense.

This was part of the reasons MTN Ghana stretched it lead in the market and had to eventually be declared a significant market power (SMP) in June 2020.

A year before the SMP declaration, MTN was allowed to acquire extra spectrum for 4G, while other telcos still had none. The two years after the being an SMP, MTN was again allowed to acquire even two more spectrum lots for 4G from some failed entities.

Back in 2021, MTN Ghana announced that it has readied over 1,300 cell sites in preparation for 5G launch in 2022. But later, the CEO, Selorm Adadevoh had to retract that promise because government simply refused to grant them the license owing to the SMP status.

Selorm Adadevoh had since stated that MTN has constantly been provisioning its network and channelling all of its strategies towards 5G in spite of the botched 2022 launch. Indeed, MTN has since acquired even more super spectrum from some failed players in the 4G space in readiness the future.

But as the Minister has stated, government does not intend to auction spectrum for 5G, because that may have the potential of denying smaller operators and their customers the opportunity to also launch 5G networks.

The new strategy to use a consortium of network operators and private investors for a shared 5G network, is therefore part of in government’s bid to correct the market imbalance and ensure that no Ghanaian is shortchanged just because they are not MTN Ghana customers. It is also to ensure that no Ghanaian is forced to migrate to MTN because their service provider cannot afford 5G network.

Already, the National Communications Authority (NCA) had recently introduced technology neutrality, which allows the smaller operators to re-farm their existing spectrum to deploy 4G networks so their customers could also have access to better network experience.

Ghana late in in 5G rollout 

Around 14 countries in Africa have already rolled out 5G services, but Ghana is not one of them, in spite of the fact that Ghana is highly reputed on the continent for its digital transformation.

Meanwhile, Ghana still has a lot of space for 4G growth with only about 15% of mobile users taking advantage of the technology in mid-2023. In comparison, 3G users make up 71% of all mobile users and almost 14% are still using 2G.

MTN Ghana is the country’s leading 4G operator with about 5.7 million active 4G subscriptions at the end of June 2023, out of its 27.8 million total mobile users. Vodafone Ghana only had around 341,600 4G subscriptions out of its 7.3 million mobile base. AT Ghana still has no 4G network.

Currently, MTN is by far the biggest mobile operator in Ghana with almost 67.5% market share at the end of June 2023, while Vodafone Ghana is in second place with 18.5% market share followed by AT Ghana, which holds 13% of the market. Glo Mobile has migrated all of its customers to AT Ghana.

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