Emma Okonji in Abidjan, Côte d Ivoire
The GSMA, which represents the interests of global mobile operators, uniting more than 750 operators and nearly 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, has called on governments across the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to invest massively in digital transformation, in order to empower their citizens in achieving the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution.
Established in 1975, ECOWAS members include Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
GSMA stressed the need for investments among ECOWAS member countries, during its paper presenting titled Digital ECOWAS: Pathways to Investment, Innovation and Inclusion, at the 2019 GSMA Mobile 360 Conference in Abidjan, Côte d Ivoire.
Senior Director, Policy Engagement, Government and Regulatory Affairs at GSMA, Mr. Fraser Graham, said statistics revealed the continual increases in the number of mobile internet users in West Africa, but explained that there were still large numbers of people who remain unconnected and are classified as digitally excluded.
“Addressing and reducing digital exclusion requires
a significant amount of investment because the unconnected are typically in rural areas where the subscriber acquisition costs are higher than in urban areas.
“Furthermore, the unconnected typically have lower disposable incomes, making the economics of network rollout even more challenging for service providers,” Graham said.
Head of sub-Saharan Africa at the GSMA, Mr. Akinwale Goodluck, said GSMA would continually engage governments across the ECOWAS region to help speed up infrastructure development through collaboration between governments and industry players.
“A key component to encouraging investment is to remove unnecessary barriers to such investment that may reside in the legal and regulatory frameworks,” Goodluck said.
GSMA therefore recommended the reduction of spectrum costs and the consideration of coverage obligations on sub-1GHz assignments, insisting that the licences for all spectrum should be technology neutral to allow the service providers to maximise on mobile broadband capacity while still catering for 2G and 3G customers.
GSMA also called for the removal of additional taxes on telecommunications to enhance service quality.
The Chief Regulatory Officer at GSMA, John Giusti, in his opening remarks, said the mobile industry would continue to drive digital, financial and social inclusion in countries throughout West, Central and North Africa, and stressed the need for the encouragement the rise of digital citizens across West Africa.
The Minister of Digital Economy in Côte d Ivoire, Claude Isaac, who declared the conference open, said the theme of the conference: Rise of Digital Citizens was apt, as it translates the will of the public sector to use technology in achieving the benefits of digital transformation.
He Stressed the need for the promotion of digital education and collaboration to protect the cyberspace as well as the training of youths across ECOWAS communities to assist them in becoming tech savvy youths.
The GSMA had launched a report, which focused on ‘Spotlight on Nigeria: Delivering a Digital Future.’
According to the report, modernising regulation and policy reform will be crucial to boosting Nigeria’s digital economy and accelerating internet access for millions through increased mobile broadband penetration.
The GSMA research had shown that the mobile market in Nigeria makes an important contribution to the economy. The mobile industry contributed $21 billion to GDP in 2017, representing 5.5 per cent of Nigeria’s total GDP.
In addition, the growth of Nigeria’s digital economy resulted in the creation of nearly 500,000 direct and indirect jobs, the report said.
Addressing the issue of spectrum to drive 5G rollout, GSMA had identified support for and release of harmonised spectrum and a modernised licensing framework as fundamental building blocks for Nigeria’s digital future.
The harmonisation of 1427-1518 MHz and 3.3–3.6 GHz makes them critically important bands for mobile operators seeking to offer new mobile services to consumers and businesses. Making these bands available for assignment to mobile operators will be a core component in reinforcing Nigeria’s position as Africa’s leading mobile market, according to GSMA report.
Speaking on connectivity, Goodluck said, “Mobile connectivity has already improved the welfare of millions of Nigerians, opening the door to new digital possibilities and powering the country’s economic development.”