Thursday 17 June 2021

Malawi wants Cheaper Data and 4G

Malawi remains one of the world’s least developed countries, with few resources to build efficient fixed-line telecom infrastructure. As a result, the country’s two mobile networks provide the vast majority of connections for voice and data services. Mobile penetration remains low in comparison to the regional average and so there are considerable opportunities for further growth, particularly in the mobile broadband sector.

Malawi has two major operators Airtel and TNM. Both have invested in LTE to improve data services, and by September 2019 TMN’s entire network had been upgraded to LTE. Nevertheless, this market duopoly has resulted in relatively high prices for services, prompting the government in late 2020 to call for a new license to be issued in a bid to improve market competition.

For Airtel and TNM, 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has started on TNM and Airtel. Speed and coverage are pretty modest even for African standards. TNM and Airtel actually form a duopoly in the country. This led to public protest and even demonstrations on the streets against the two companies in 2015. The national regulator is under pressure to lower prices, improve service or release another license. Because of high cross-network rates, many Malawians have two SIM cards, yet the general mobile penetration rate remains very low at 20% only.

The BBC published a report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2015. Malawians use more than 5,000 K or $12 per month on average for mobile phones. That's 56% of the average monthly income making it one of the most expensive countries in the world for local people to use mobile phones.

Airtel Malawi (formerly Zain) by Indian Bharti Airtel is still the market leader in the country with slightly more than 50% of the nation's subscribers. Its coverage is unreliable and similar to TNM's (coverage map).

In 2017 Airtel announced a major upgrade to its network and adding 900 MHz 3G. In 2018 4G/LTE services were started in the towns of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

TNM (for Telekom Networks Malawi) is a private local company. They were the first to offer 3G in the country and are considered to be the better choice for data. Together with Airtel they share the market in the country at slightly lower rates.

4G/LTE started in 2016 as first operator in the 4 major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. TNM is on track to expand the service to the rest of the country and has been expanded to other locations including Limbe, Mangochi, Kasungu, Salima, Mzimba, Balaka, Dwangwa and Thyolo. This service is initially only offered with the TNM Hotspot for subscribers, not for prepaid yet.

The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has released a statement saying that following complaints from consumers, it has engaged with the country’s mobile operators with a view to lowering the cost of data services. In August 2020 operators including Airtel Malawi and Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) reduced their pre-paid or ‘out of bundle’ rates from an average of MWK20 (USD0.02) to MWK5 per MB following intervention from the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. Since then, the MACRA says it has been engaging with operators to further revise the standard volume bundles offered to consumers to align to the cost of providing services in the country. As such, cellcos have agreed to reduce the price of 1GB data bundles by 30%, while the cost of tariffs up to 4GB will be lowered by between 10% and 31%. The price changes became effective on 22 April. The MACRA concluded that it ‘is committed to ensuring that services delivered are affordable and of good quality.’

No comments:

Post a Comment