Infrastructure sharing: Africa’s best bet to speed up market dev’t

telecoms-mast-1-770x285Infrastructure sharing could prove to be Africa’s best bet to speed telecom access. This has been impeded by bureaucracy and high cost of doing business. This was stated by the expert panelists at the just ended international symposium on telecom regulations in Accra.

What is Infrastructure Sharing?

Infrastructure sharing or co-location, is when an independent tower company provides physical infrastructure to be shared by mobile network operators. This has taken root in the telecom space in Africa. This is due to what many operators see as a good business model that has to be nurtured. It serves as a way to reduce cost.

The tower companies therefore provide mobile network operators with specialized, value added cost-sharing infrastructure solutions. This allows them to focus on their core business. This will be better than depending on proprietary network infrastructure built by mobile companies. These were built to deliver voice services and therefore have thin pipes.

The expert panel believe strongly that adopting new business and regulatory models for shared infrastructure will foster the pervasive digital explosion that is needed on the African continent.

Benefits of Co-Location

Francois van Zyl, the CEO of American Towers Corporation (ATC), said there are opportunities in the infrastructure market that need to be used by regulators to attract investors.

Citing Ghana as an example of how to make infrastructure sharing work, Mr. van Zyl said,

“Ghana is very progressive and it is seen as a professional environment. The regulators need to promote this and get investment from infrastructure companies. It is a good business model.”

Currently, the infrastructure market is experiencing significant growth. Nearly two-thirds of the estimated 3.4 million telecom towers in the world are shared infrastructure.

In Ghana, figures show that as of the end of 2015, there were 5,700 co-locations. This is due to the decision of a number of mobile network operators to reduce their investment in physical infrastructure like cell sites and masts. Responsible for this is the heightened competition in the telecom environment and the need for funding to further invest in their networks.

Mr. van Zyl added that infrastructure sharing promotes a more sustainable business case for network roll-out and services to rural or under-served communities.

“Low usage areas generally lead to unprofitable investments for mobile network operators. Shared infrastructure can introduce cost savings, allowing viable network expansions to these areas.”

The CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunication, Kwaku Sakyi Addo, noted that infrastructure sharing helps to develop markets. This will help to promote universal telecommunication access.

He, however, observed the need for each player to clearly identify the path most suitable to their needs. This will help to avoid pitfalls and realize the potential benefits.