MTC claims NAD1bn expansion stalled by spectrum shortage; network sharing on the horizon

4 Feb 2016

Namibia’s dominant cellco Mobile Telecommunications (MTC) says that its plan to invest NAD1 billion (USD62 million) in expanding 3G and 4G networks is currently stalled due to a lack of frequencies, The Namibian reports. Spokesman Tim Ekandjo claimed that the implementation of the project is at risk because the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) has not allocated MTC the necessary spectrum, although an industry source quoted by the newspaper reckoned that the CRAN has not granted MTC’s requests because the company wants additional spectrum before it fully utilises its current allocation.

Last year, MTC announced plans to upgrade its 3G and 4G network in urban areas, but if the CRAN allocates additional frequencies, Ekandjo said that 3G/4G will cover more rural areas and 64% of the population. ‘To successfully implement this project, MTC requires only 5MHz of 900MHz spectrum to roll out 3G in rural areas and 5MHz for expanding 3G in urban areas. If granted to MTC, this will bring MTC’s total spectrum allocation to 73MHz, which will still be lower than that of Telecom Namibia and Paratus,’ he said. MTC currently has a total of 63MHz of frequencies, while Telecom Namibia has a total allocation of 132MHz in various bands and mobile sector newcomer Paratus 80MHz (including the latter’s original WiMAX licence). According to statistics provided by Ekandjo, 1.4 million of MTC’s subscribers or 57% already use data, 21% using the 3G/4G network and 36% using 2G devices. In October last year MTC commissioned eight new 3G sites in the North. In November, another ten 3G sites were commissioned in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. At the end of last year, MTC commissioned ten additional 3G sites in Windhoek. By the end of December 2017, MTC plans to deploy another 127 3G sites and 116 4G sites, Ekandjo added.

In related news, the CRAN last week held public hearings on sharing telecoms and broadcasting infrastructure. CRAN CEO Festus Mbandeka said that the hearings will lead to the completion of a consultation process on establishing an effective regulatory framework on network sharing, under the stipulations of the Communications Act which requires dominant carriers to share infrastructure to promote fair competition. The CEO added that ‘the primary purpose of the proposed legal framework is to provide for an infrastructure sharing regime that would create fair competition and a levelled playing field between and amongst existing and future licensees,’ which he said will lower barriers for new entrants and other industry players and ultimately enable the offering of a wider range of communications services to consumers without unnecessary duplication of infrastructure.