Update 2014 Kenya has been held back by politics around the analog shutoff but Rwanda has pressed ahead, allocating 140 MHz of prime spectrum to KT as a single operator.
Rwanda’s Patrick Nyirishema sees major savings
Only the best engineers believe mobile will reach a gigabit (shared) in the next few years, with individual speeds often 100 megabits and caps 50 times as high as today. Ericsson drove around Stockholm connected at 900 megabits/second in this video. Even seeing isn’t believing. Urban areas in the developed world will rarely see those speeds in early years because most spectrum is restricted and only available in 20 MHz bands. But Africa, Pakistan and some in Latin America are seizing the opportunity.
Kenya is the most advanced. They plan to leapfrog Europe to the gigabit by extracting 100 MHz bands from the digital dividend and other empty spectrum. The politics is murky: one regulator was recently displaced, another overruled by the President when he tried to reduce Safaricom’s termination rates. The funding and cost of the analog switchoff are making headlines that suggest some very bad planning or worse.
But the logic of building a single advanced network is so strong that Rwanda is considering following what’s now being called the “Kenyan model.” Jennie Bourne and I spoke with Patrick Nyirishema of the Rwanda Development Board at the Broadband Commission. Nyirishema acknowledged the technical advantages of the single network and pointed to crucial cost advantages as well. Much of the country is too poor or sparsely settled to be attractive to mobile operators. The government will have to find the resources to extend coverage. Building a single network requires less subsidy than helping two or three operators. The network is cheaper to build if it has more spectrum.
The “Kenyan model” selects a single operator to build and manage the 100 MHz network. That operator would have to “unbundle” the offering, allowing other carriers to resell the service and compete on features and at the retail level. France and Britain proved unbundling works well for consumers when backed by a strong regulator that keeps prices down. Building three to five overlapping networks certainly makes competition sharper, but is extremely costly.