Sub-Saharan African countries club together to speed up mobile rollouts, smooth spectrum use

A new cross-border group will meet regularly to discuss spectrum allocation, digital inclusion and increasing the pace of high-speed mobile network deployments.

A group of countries from sub-Saharan Africa has agreed to a set of common priorities for spectrum allocation, digital inclusion, telecoms policy, and egovernment in a bid to harmonise the development of online services across borders and increase the speed of rolling out higher-speed mobile networks.

Government representatives from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia met in Kasane, Botswana, to agree on a set of principles for accelerating the spread of internet connectivity, which is said to be worth 3.2 million jobs in the region. The representatives signed a communique, drawn up by mobile industry body the GSMA, which makes provision for a 'joint task force' of mobile operators and legislators to address spectrum allocation and regulation issues, and advise on capacity building and egovernment.

John Giusti, head of spectrum at the GSMA, said that by working together on mobile broadband delivery smaller countries could "maximise economies of scale" and increase the number of mobile subscribers on the continent by 300 million subscribers by 2020.

"Africa has the lowest mobile penetration rates in the world but it’s the fastest growing market,” Guisti said. "Everyone is saying that we know we need to improve connectivity, and the way to do that is to provide more spectrum in a way that's consistent with international standards so that both individual subscribers and the economy can benefit."

The GSMA recently opened offices in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Guisti says, to enable it to better understand issues across the continent. As part of the agreement, the organisation will facilitate discussion between private businesses and governments across borders, and will provide examples of best practice from overseas.

"We see that there are big challenges in Africa," he said, "but we also see the importance of mobile data both to the economy and society in Africa and its incredible growth. So we wanted to be part of the discussions around the best way to advance that. The only way to do that in Africa is to make sure you’re facilitating investment and at the same time ensuring affordability."

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