LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 SERIES – AFRICA: Sifiso Dabengwa, CEO of African operator group MTN, said that while the idea of providing universal access to telecoms services is “a great objective”, this has to be accompanied by regulatory moves “to make sure that can actually happen”.
“I think that in our region, across our continent, the relationship between operators, regulators and policy makers has probably not been optimal. In nearly every market there is a policy drive to get universal internet access, but then the availability of spectrum is probably the biggest issue,” he said.
Dabengwa was confident in his belief that operators are prepared to invest heavily, but that this is a long-term effort which needs to be accompanied by “clear regulation that is predictable”.
“It’s going to be quite expensive, a lot of capital expenditure has to be made, but I think that if you look at it in the longer term, it’s a worthwhile investment. I don’t believe that from an operator point of view there are a lot of issues, the big issue is that we need a predictable environment, knowing that we will not be limited in terms of growth from a spectrum point of view.”
The MTN CEO pointed to the strong growth of basic voice services in Africa, where “the costs of getting into the business from a regulatory point of view were very reasonable. There weren’t extensive up-front costs”.
“All we are asking is that the same regulatory framework that we saw in the basic voice service has to be applied in the more data-intensive environment. But the key issue is that we have to have the spectrum available, and it has to be available much ahead of time, so that we can always meet the demand as it grows,” he added.
Dabengwa also said that consolidation may be required in some markets in order to enable the necessary levels of investment in infrastructure. “I think if one averages out most markets on the continent, probably the population is between 30 million and 60 million. If you have four or five operators that are trying to compete, and invest, and be profitable, I think that’s quite difficult,” he said.
“In data-intensive markets, we have to consider consolidation, to the extent that there is still competition, but also so the markets and the business are sustainable.”