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When Africans are Charged More Than 3.5 Times The “Affordable” Rate For Mobile Data, South Africa Suffers More Than Most

According to a new report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Africans are charged on average 7.1% of their monthly salary for a gigabyte of mobile data, more than 3.5 times the threshold considered “affordable” (2% of monthly income). The report finds that progress towards competition is stalling across low- and middle-income countries amid consolidation between mobile and internet operators. The trend threatens to jeopardize the push towards affordable internet access for all, with half the world’s population still unable to connect. Even though the 50% mark was reached at the end of last year, that is still far short of the UN’s goal of universal access. Meanwhile, according to ICASA, SA’s Telcoms regulator,  Vodacom and MTN groups could face prosecution if they do not agree with the Competition Commission to lower their data prices within the next 2 months. The data services inquiry was launched in August 2017 in response to a request from the Minister of Economic Development and following complaints from consumers about high data costs. In its final report, the Commission recommended that the 2 mobile operators must independently reach an agreement with the Competition Commission on substantial reductions on tariff levels, especially prepaid monthly bundles. It said the preliminary evidence suggests that there could be price reductions in the region of 30% – 50%. This must be set against the continuing questions of (1) whether the 3rd mobile operator, Cell-C will be bought by Telkom (presently Cell-C is playing hard to get), (2) when the final move from analogue to digital TV will be completed, as that will free up much-needed spectrum for mobile operators, and, finally, whether the new telecoms regulatory structure proposed by government back in 2017 will be implemented. This policy proposed a partial break-up of the present oligopoly.

However, there is some good news, MTN Nigeria has begun the trial of the fifth-generation (5G) technology as part of the 2020 initial target in Nigeria. The company said it is a historic moment as it opens new possibilities.  The 5G tests will run for 3 months on the trial spectrum allocated to the MTN by the Regulator, the NCC. This is to ensure that it is efficient and sustained. The 5G trial with MTN achieved a throughput of more than 2Gb with less than 5ms latency, which is the highest achieved on a mobile network in Africa. The 5G trial is based on commercially available baseband hardware and 5G mobility is supported. Rwanda has already rolled out 5G. In the USA and Europe, however, partly due to the ongoing argument about Huawei, 5G is not progressing as fast as expected.

Meanwhile, in Europe Vodacom’s parent company, Vodafone unveiled a partnership with Google, aimed at generating network insights with a cloud-based AI system. Together, the companies have developed an AI platform called Neuron, built on top of Google Cloud. Neuron will aggregate and draw insights from Vodafone’s global network data. Vodafone operates in 25 countries and has 625 million customers. The project helps achieve Vodafone’s goal of decreasing operations costs by at least €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) per year by the 2021 fiscal year. Before turning to Google, Vodafone used an outdated network management system that could not easily be scaled.  The Neuron system has centralized access to network data stored on the cloud, enabling it to analyze the troves of network data, with flexible storage according to demand.


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Alastair Tempest

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