Wednesday 11 November 2020

Ghana gets 4G, 4G+, Open RAN but no 5G

The mobile market of Ghana is one of the most vibrant in Africa, with competing operators including the regional heavyweights MTN Ghana, Vodafone Ghana and AirtelTigo, formed from the merger of Airtel Ghana and Tigo Ghana. Although subscriber growth has remained strong in recent years, with the exception of a dip in 2017 resulting from a redefinition of active subscribers from one of the operators, competition has resulted in lower Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) and pressure on revenue. The country ranks high in BuddeComm’s Telecom Maturity Index, a testament to ongoing developments in network upgrades among operators as well as efforts by the government and regulator to expand services to underserved rural areas.

There remains enormous potential in mobile broadband services, both in terms of subscriber additions and in mobile data ARPU. Mobile internet connections already account for the vast majority of all internet accesses in the country. The launch of LTE services by MTN Ghana in mid-2016 and by Vodafone Ghana in March 2019 has added to the vibrancy of this sector. The regulator has encouraged other operators to refarm 2G spectrum for 3G use in a bid to improve internet access in rural and remote areas.

Overall there are four national operators competing for customers in Ghana: MTN Ghana, Vodafone Ghana, AirtelTigo (merged Airtel and Tigo) and Glo Ghana.

National networks are on 2G/GSM 900 MHz and 1800 MHz and 3G/UMTS 2100 MHz plus 900 MHz from 2017. Coverage and speeds are fairly good compared with regional standards and Ookla speedtests show an average of 9 Mbps for the country. 4G/LTE has been started by MTN and Vodafone on 800 MHz (Band 20).

MTN Ghana from South Africa is the market leader in Ghana with a 48% share and the best coverage and speeds since it took over Arreeba Ghana (Scancom) in 2007.

It's the only major network so far that has rolled out 4G/LTE from mid-2016, now available in every regional capital and some larger towns. For LTE they use spectrum on 800 MHz (B20). In March 2019 they activated its ‘4G+’ service based on LTE-A carrier aggregation technology, disclosing that it currently operated 1,226 4G LTE sites of which 625 were LTE-A enabled.

With 23.9 million voice subscriptions, MTN Ghana controls 57% of the subscriber market share in Ghana, far ahead of Vodafone, AirtelTigo, and Glo at 21.97%, 20.3%, and 1.75% respectively.

Despite the presence of 52 Internet service providers and 3 other operators, MTN enjoys 67% of the country’s data market and currently leads the country’s fast-growing mobile money sector.

Vodafone Ghana used to be the second placed rival, but will be overtaken by the merger of Tigo and Airtel. It was formerly called Ghana Telecom and was the national telecommunications company of Ghana. In 2008 Vodafone agreed to acquire 70% of Ghana Telecom from the Ghanaian government while the Ghanaian government retained a 30% stake.

Vodafone has started with 4G/LTE in a partnership with Surfline Communications to offer 4G services to its own customers in the cities of Accra, Tema and Takoradi. In 2019 Vodafone received spectrum on the 800 MHz (band 20) for LTE services, that have been launched in the springtime.

In 2017 Bharti Airtel has merged with Millicom’s Tigo in Ghana to become the country’s 2nd largest mobile operator called AirtelTigo with a 26% market share.

The regulator granted conditional approval for the merger in 2017. In the following months the two networks were integrated. In December 2018 AirtelTigo has announced that it has completed the network integration it has been carrying out for the past year. The new network is shown as Tigo on most phones.

Bharti Airtel has announced that it plans to end its Ghana operations by selling all of its 100% stake in its Ghana division, AirtelTigo. Airtel owns a 49.95% non-controlling stake.

The government of Ghana is reportedly set to acquire 100% shares of AirtelTigo, its customers and agreed liabilities. The government is expected to temporarily operate the assets and help protect the jobs of employees and the Interests of customers and stakeholders.

GLO for Globacom from Nigeria entered the Ghanaian market some years ago. It's the new 4th ranked operator with a meagre 4% share. Due to its lower coverage, it can't be recommended for travelling through the country.

Glo’s entry into Ghana in 2011, and the merger between Airtel and Tigo in 2017, could not provide sufficient competition for MTN in the telecom market.

Consequently, Ghana’s telecom market is gradually edging fully towards consolidation instead of a competitive one.

The Ghanaian government is working with Huawei Technologies to deploy more than 2,000 Rural Star sites in rural areas of the country. The network project, which is scheduled for completion by September 2021, is expected to provide voice and data services to over 3.4 million people in underserved and unserved communities, thereby extending national mobile coverage from 83% to 95%.

Back in April, the All G Open RAN vendor Parallel Wireless had announced that they have been selected by Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) to provide mobile telephony connectivity to underserved and unserved communities in Ghana. GIFEC is a special Fund set up by the Government of Ghana under the Electronic Communications Act 2008 (Act 775), designed to provide telecommunications and ICT services to unserved, underserved and deprived groups and communities in the country.

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