Regulation, spectrum allocation and digital transition : Amadou Makhtar Fall’s interview for Connecting West Africa 2015
Amadou Makhtar Fall is a Telecoms & Broadcast regulatory affairs specialist with more than ten years’ experience in a major telco in Africa: he is the founder of publication ITMag and is head of Legal & Regulatory Monitoring at Orange-owned Sonatel, Senegal’s leading mobile operator. He is a regular participant at Connecting West Africa and will moderate this year’s keynote session.
We ask Amadou his thoughts on the main trends in the development of broadband networks in West Africa: “The relatively low penetration of xDSL in this area of the continent has somehow called for the development of high speed mobile networks” he says. “The future of broadband in West Africa will inevitably be based on 3G and 4G/LTE networks by taking advantage of the democratization of fixed 3G-4G-LTE / WiFi Set-top Boxes”.
This year may see a gear change in the broadband market, particularly in Senegal : “The appointed date of June 2015 for the transition from analog to digital TV as well as the possible allocation of 4G/LTE licenses can actually make 2015 a special year for the development of digital Senegal.”
Digital transition will potentially have a strong impact on West Africa’s telecoms and media sector. Telecom operators can potentially be more involved in content distribution and perhaps more importantly have strong expectations regarding “the allocation of ‘golden’ frequencies released through the transition, also called digital dividend”. On the media side, the digital transition will, according to Amadou, “completely mess up broadcasters’ business models. Some investments on satellite can be quickly outdated as they are incompatible with the distribution of DTT channels. That is why all broadcasters must be actively involved with the authorities in charge of the deployment of DTT.”
LTE will unquestionably play a major part of broadband development in the region. Several LTE launches have taken place and many operators are in testing phases, but licensing conditions and spectrum allocations are major questions: “several grey areas persist on the conditions of allocation of these scarce resources: will auctions be organized or will they be beauty contests? Will 2G/3G frequency re-farming be allowed? All this remains to be determined by the regulatory authorities” says Amadou. “It would be very deplorable if 4G/LTE license allocations were to be done in a ‘dispersed’ way in some countries in the region, without any call for applications”.
The impact of regulation on access to affordable broadband cannot be underestimated and telecom operators need “improved regulatory visibility on the short/medium term” says Amadou; “As broadband is more and more about wireless infrastructure, which is very intensive in spectrum resources, an improvement on the cost of acquisition of these frequencies could allow operators to make access to broadband more affordable. The redistribution of spectrum resources from the digital dividend is also a big opportunity to boost mobile broadband”.
See the topics Amadou is most interested in at Connecting West Africa 2015 and where to find them in the programme:
• Infrastructure sharing : hear from Wilgon Tsibo, Group CTO of Azure Telecom on the various models, and join the subsequent roundtable debate
• Challenges and obstacles to the development of mobile broadband : follow the keynote sessions on broadband investment, regulation and LTE
• Mobile banking: check out the debate on monetising data in broadband and join the ‘idea generator’ interactive session on service innovation
• The transition to digital TV => digital dividend: check out the debate on Senegal’s market
Visit Connecting Africa Com website to get more information.
We talk to East AfricaCom speaker Delia Dean, Project Manager BMGF-Mobile Money, MTN Uganda, ahead of the event to hear her thoughts on digital financial services in East Africa.
Delia will be speaking at East AfricaCom this coming 6-7 May 2015 at the Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, view the agenda.
Please tell us about your role within MTN Uganda and the interplay with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?
I am the project Manager for the MTN- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Accelerator. Under a matched grant by MTN and the Gates Foundation, objectives of the grant activities are to extend Mobile Financial Service to the rural poor. Increase uses case of Mobile Money among the rural poor and extend and improve the Mobile Money agent footprint and Agent quality.
What are the trends you are seeing in the application of MFS across the region you cover?
In Uganda particularly, thanks to the research and technical assistance work done by Helix institute, Microsave and UNCDF, stakeholders (MFI’s, Commercial Banks, MNO’s etc) have become more aware of the opportunities in rural. There are now more discussions on strategy around making MFS affordable and scale able in the rural communities. I anticipate that starting this year we shall see various stakeholders pilot various models in extending their respective solutions to the rural masses.
How has gender become an issue in the effectiveness of digital financial services in rural areas?
With respect to the MTN –BMGF Accelerator project our key milestones for every objective, have a special focus on improving mobile money activation and usage among rural women. Our product education drives have a component that is specific to women.
One would assume the challenge stems around rural connectivity and education of what MFS can provide – is this a fair assumption or do the challenges run deeper than this?
In addition to connectivity and Education, stakeholders, having identified obstacles hampering the delivery and scaling up of MFS to rural areas, are individually and collectively are working to arrive at solution. Some of the challenges include;
Please share with us what you are looking forward to at East Africacom 2015 and any message would you would like to deliver to the telceoms/ ICT community attending?
I am always looking to learn more about workable solutions that have been piloted elsewhere with regards to DFS in rural communities. Telecoms need to continue investing in R&D to arrive at scalable solutions for the rural poor. Someone has to be willing to be the first to test potential solutions in the market place. •
Visit East Africa Com website to get more information.