Thursday 10 June 2021

Mozambique desperately needs better mobile coverage and 4G

Despite delays caused by the long civil war which ended in 1992, Mozambique was one of the first countries in the region to embark upon telecom reform and open the sector to competition. The mobile segment in particular has shown strong growth since the launch of services by Vodacom Mozambique to compete against mCel, the then mobile subsidiary of the national telco Telecomunicações de Moçambique (TdM). Additional competition followed in late 2020 with the launch of services by Movitel.

Following years of poor management and underachievement, TdM and mCel were merged in early 2019, creating a new operator Mozambique Telecom (Tmcel). At the same time, a new licensing regime ensured that by mid-2019 all three operators had been provided with universal licenses, enabling them to offer all types of telephony and data services.

However mobile, fixed-line and broadband penetration rates remain far below the average for the region. In recent years the government has enforced the registration of SIM cards, but with varying success. At the end of 2016 almost five million unregistered SIM cards were deactivated but poor monitoring meant that the process was revisited in mid-2029.

The high cost of international bandwidth had long hampered internet use, though the landing of two international submarine cables (SEACOM and EASSy) has reduced the cost of bandwidth and so led to drastic reductions in broadband retail prices as well as a significant jump in available bandwidth.

There is some cross-platform competition, with DSL, cable, fibre, WiMAX, and mobile broadband options available, though fixed broadband options can be limited to urban areas. Further improvements can be expected from the ongoing rollout of a national fibre backbone networks by Tmcel and of upgrades to mobile infrastructure.

Mozambique currently has three providers: Vodacom Mozambique, mCel (by Mozambique Telecom) and Movitel (by Viettel).

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz up to HSDPA on all three operators. In 2018 frequencies on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz (Band 20, 3 and 7) were auctioned. State-backed Mocambique Telecom (TMCEL) launched LTE-based services by the end of November 2019, joining Vodacom and Movitel which implemented 4G networks in September 2018 and July 2019 respectively. TMCEL initially launched LTE in Maputo and Matola, before commencing a nationwide rollout.

In Mozambique many people have more than one active SIM card, chiefly as a result of cross-network call charges being higher than on-net prices and variable network quality and coverage, which encourages users to acquire the ability to switch between operators.

Vodacom has become the market leader in Mozambique. It's owned by its South African parent company Vodacom, which is majority-owned by UK-based Vodafone. They have 3G in most towns, but only 2G elsewhere and are considered pretty reliable. 

Vodacom has become the first operator in the country to launch 4G/LTE services in October 2018. Their 4G network has been switched on in the cities of Maputo, Matola, Nampula and Beira, and the municipality of Dondo.

Loon and Vodacom had earlier signed a deal to use Loon’s balloon-based internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique so that it can service un-served and under-served parts of the country. Specifically, the internet balloons were to provide a 4G service that supports data, voice, SMS and the GSM messaging protocol USSD to the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces, two regions that have been hard to cover because of a low population density coupled with vast and logistically challenging geographical areas. 

Unfortunately Loon is shutting down as we wrote in another blog earlier here. Plan B is to use AST & Science's SpaceMobile in which Vodafone is an investor. It can be used as a relay or as a backhaul. Details of their satellite network here.

mCel, short for Moçambique Celular, is the incumbent provider in Mozambique. It's owned by the state through Telecomunicações de Moçambique (TDM), which has the monopoly on landlines. In 2019, the mobile and landline businesses were merged under the new name of Mocambique Telecom (Tmcel).

mCel is has fallen to number 2 in terms of customer numbers, but remains cash-stricken. That's why mCel's service is not entirely reliable, especially in rural areas and no 4G/LTE has been started yet.

Movitel is the third operator, which is 70%-owned by Viettel, and thus the army of Vietnam. It entered the market in 2012, but gained 4 million users in the first 2 years of operation alone. A key Movitel strategy has been to build out its network into locations uncovered or poorly covered by the other two operators. That's why there are rural areas where it has a monopoly. Furthermore, Movitel has the lowest rates in the country.

Movitel launched 4G services in summer 2019 Coverage is initially limited to capital city Maputo.

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