Ghana awards exclusive 5G license to Reliance-backed consortium – Light Reading

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Ghana’s government has awarded a 5G license to a new “shared infrastructure” operator backed by India’s Reliance Industries and companies including Microsoft and Nokia.

Next-Gen InfraCo (NGIC), as it is branded, will be 55% owned by Ascent Digital Solutions, a digital marketing agency, and K-NET, a consulting firm, with another 10% held by the government of Ghana, according to media reports. Others involved in the project include Reliance’s Radisys unit, Indian systems integrator Tech Mahindra and Ghanaian service providers AT Ghana and Telecel Ghana.

Having secured a license with an exclusive right to offer 5G services in Ghana for the next decade, it is targeting a service in the next six months and has a stated goal of making 5G mobile broadband services affordable.

“Next-Gen Infrastructure Company (NGIC) will be the first 5G Mobile Broadband Shared Infrastructure Entity to build a nationwide 4G/5G network,” said the company in a press release. “The company will also work with MNO [mobile network operator] partners to launch affordable 4G/5G-enabled FWA [fixed wireless access] CPEs [customer premises equipment] and smartphones in Ghana within this calendar year.” NGIC is to invest $145 billion in capital expenditure over the next three years, according to reports.

The shared infrastructure model looks similar to that of Malaysia’s Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), which was formed by the government in 2021. As part of this model, operators providers can form an agreement with DNB to provide 5G services to their subscribers. Ghana currently has three major telcos – AirtelTigo, Vodafone Ghana and MTN Ghana.

“The creation of NGIC as a neutral, shared platform, accessible to all mobile network operators and tower companies, will help to expand 5G services rapidly across the country,” said Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Ghana’s minister for communications and digitalization. “We are inspired by India’s digital infrastructure and low-cost mobile data usage and keen to replicate it in Ghana.”

Who is doing what? 

What remains unclear are the roles some of the various companies are playing in the venture. “Ghana holds immense potential for mobile broadband growth on the back of an unmet demand for connectivity,” said Mikko Lavanti, Nokia’s senior vice president for the Middle East and Africa, in a press note.

NGIC will launch its wholesale 4G/5G network-as-a-service platform over the next six months, before making this available to MNOs. “We intend to gradually expand to other parts of Africa as well,” said Harkirit Singh, Ascend Digital’s CEO and an executive director at NGIC. “We will tap the capital markets and bring in strategic investors as and when required.”

“Telecel encourages initiatives like NGIC neutral and ‘Network as a Service’ model, which will help create diverse network options for all telecom operators in Ghana,” said Mohamad Ghaddar, Telecel Ghana’s chief operating officer.

“This partnership will enable us to leverage a neutral, shared platform and scale up our services across Ghana,” said Leo Skarlatos, AT Ghana’s CEO. “We are confident that our customers will experience enhanced network quality and affordable services that they deserve.”

Jio’s African sojourn 

The initiative marks Reliance’s entry into the global telecom vendor market and comes several years after Mukesh Ambani, its chairman, said the company planned to sell its 5G stack in other markets after deploying it in India at scale. 

“By bringing fixed wireless access alongside 4G and 5G cellular services to help drive economic growth and digital inclusion, Radisys looks forward to helping Ascend and NGIC build a disruptive and affordable shared broadband infrastructure across Ghana,” said Arun Bhikshesvaran, the CEO of Radisys. 

With a population of just 33 million, Ghana is not a major market for Jio. However, it is a significant first step in its ambition to become a global telecom vendor.

Interestingly, the initiative does not include any Chinese vendor, despite the market share Chinese vendors hold in Africa. Its announcement comes after senior officials from India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) recently visited several countries in Africa to push Indian telecom gear as an alternative to Chinese equipment.

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