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(Special Report) From Nigeria to Ghana, MTN now spectrum warehouse of W’Africa

Since its outward investment from South Africa to Nigeria in 2001 and later in Ghana, MTN group has stepped up telecoms revolution in the West African economies starting with voice and lately, data.
Recall that after rounds of stakeholders’ fears over data segment domination and regulator’s delayed decision, MTN Nigeria was awarded additional broadband spectrum related to its 2015 acquisition of Visafone Communications and its 800-megahertz spectrum by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). MTN had bought Visafone from Jim Ovia, the former CEO of Zenith Bank, four years ago.
However, whereas industry analysts are upbeat that the transfer of 800-megahertz spectrum is expected to boost MTN’s market-leading position in the country, the same telecoms giant in Ghana, was recently given approval to acquire the two remaining 2x5MHz spectrum lots in the 800MHz band that were left after Vodafone Ghana bought one for $30 million December last year.
Corporate Services Executive at MTN Ghana, Robert Kuzoe had written to Adom News in response to a questionnaire, saying “MTN intends to acquire this remaining spectrum to enable it to continue to give its customers an increasingly better experience on the network”.
It would be recalled that when National Communications Authority (NCA) auctioned three separate 2x5MHz spectrum lots in the 800MHz band, it excluded MTN from the tender process because MTN had already acquired a 2x10MHz lot in the same band in December 2015.
Though the NCA did indicate that other 800MHz spectrum holders would have the opportunity to buy the spectrum in case it was not allocated at the end of the process, at the close of the bid process, only Vodafone Ghana won one of the three spectrum lots and the two were left which are now in MTN Ghana’s pocket.
Experts in Ghana say now MTN has both 2x20MHz in the 800MHz band and 2x15MHz in the 2600MHz, it now makes Vodafone’s 2x5MHz relatively and completely insignificant in terms of speed and capacity after all, thus leaving MTN as the lord of data segment in Ghana.
Business Hilights Ghana Bureau chief reports that this was coming from an application made by MTN Ghana in January this year, officially expressing its interest in acquiring the remaining unallocated two (2) lots 2x5MHz spectrum in the 800MHz band.
Also in Ghana, MTN in first quarter, announced that it had acquired the 2x15MHz spectrum lot in the 2600MHz band from Goldkey Telecoms, on the back of which it launched its 4G+ network with a stated download speed of up to 300 megabits/second.
Here in Nigeria, industry pundits have started assessing MTN’s data revolution expansion agenda, saying in few years to come, the telecom giant may be over and above data competition in the West African region having the widest reach and most strategic data driving spectrum.
Business Hilights gathered that as part of build up to its observable lead in West Africa’s data championship, in April 2016, MTN and four other telecommunications flagged off the building of a new 12,000 kilometer submarine cable system, called Africa-1 which is expected to be the fastest and most reliable connectivity between Africa, the Middle East and South Central Asia.
Other operators in the consortium include Telkom, Saudi Telecom Company, Telecom Egypt and PCCW Global, based in Hong Kong while other carriers are expected to join at later stages. The cable construction is expected to begin later this year and be ready for service by late 2017. The consortium had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU on the cable system to extend to more than 1200km along Africa’s east coast towards Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, with up to an additional 500km for branches.
Also in 2011, the West African Cable System (WACS), being managed from Europe to Africa by MTN, landed on the shores of Nigeria and is designed to spread data services across the West African region.
According to the president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr Olusola Teniola, MTN no doubt, is tactically extending its data network reach in Africa’s most populous country, potentially to rural and unconnected areas more than other networks.
Currently, MTN, Africa’s biggest by sales — has 67-million active customers in Nigeria, more than half of whom use data services.
Teniola told Bloomberg by phone that “MTN is a dominant player in the voice segment and obviously they would like to ensure that they hold a leadership position in the data space,” noting that “Any operator that has the kind of spectrum that MTN holds is in a good position to lead the market.”
Recall that during the bidding process for Nigeria’s 2.6MHz frequency that powers 4G LTE rollout in 2016, only MTN Nigeria won six out of the 14 slots as other prospective bidders pulled out on grounds of high reserved price.
Since 2016 till date, the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had assured that it will, without delay review the entire process and re-conduct another bidding to sell off remaining eight slots, but NCC has continued to be mute on that process.
Latest checks by Business Hilights Intelligence Unit (BHIU) weekend, showed that the agency may have dumped the process as it has not given any reason whatsoever on why the auctioning process suddenly went off its radar more than two years after the assurance.
Efforts to get the views of top officials of the NCC within the week failed as nobody was willing to comment on the delays in auctioning both the 2.6MHz spectrum and other hanging frequencies in custody of the Commission till date contrary to earlier promises by the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof Umar Danbatta in far away 2016.
Many of the senior officers at NCC said the Commission is yet to officially appoint a substantive Director, Corporate Affairs following recent retirement wind in the Commission which swept away Dr. Nnamdi Nwokike erstwhile Director of Corporate Affairs and other officers at managerial level.