Ghana’s wholesale 5G network strategy springs surprises – Mobile Europe

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A consortium of local of entities, plus the government, two major Indian companies, Nokia, Microsoft and others are providing the tech and know-how

Last August, Ghana’s Minister of Communications and Digitalization announced the country would build a single 5G wholesale national network instead of auctioning spectrum to the country’s mobile operators. The plan is to make the network available to service provides using a Network-as-a-Service model in six months’ time, which looks mighty ambitious.

At last year’s announcement, the Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful (pictured) said the “neutral shared infrastructure company” would deliver 4G and 5G services nationwide – fixed wireless access as well as mobile – to consumers and businesses, urban and rural. Ghana’s population is about 33 million. The services will be available to the three public network operators, but also to private companies. The Ministry said only about 15% of Ghanaians have signed up for 4G so far.

Speed up, costs down

The plan is to speed up deployment while keeping costs down. A version of this model was pioneered in Malaysia, with similar motivations. Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) was set up in March 2021 to build the network. It is a special-purpose vehicle company, owned by the country’s Ministry of Finance, working with the country’s six mobile operators. After months of strife, including accusations that DNB was secretive and rows about budget, the scheme ground to a halt in April.

In Ghana, the authorities have awarded a consortium of local firms, the Next-Gen Infrastructure Company (NGIC), a licence to deploy and run the shared 5G infrastructure. It will reportedly invest $145 billion over the next three years.

Telecel Ghana (formerly Vodafone Ghana is the second biggest operator with about 18% market share) and AT Ghana are both NGIC partners. AT Ghana (formerly Airtel Tigo) is the country’s third largest operator with a market share of about 13%. They will also be anchor tenants once the infrastructure is live.

There is no indication that the country’s dominant operator, MTN Ghana (with a market share of about 67%) will be involved in the NGIC at this stage, but it looks like it will be obliged to use the infrastructure as no other 5G spectrum is to be released.

Avoiding friction?

This may or may not prove to be a good move, given the considerable friction between parties inside the Malaysian experience. Clearly the government is keen to avoid further ructions. MTN gained much of its superior market power that the others claim inhibits competition when it ended up with the lion’s share of the 4G market.

The other NGIC partners include Ghana’s government. The African systems integrator Ascend Digital Solutions will own 55%. Its CEO, Harkirit Singh, who is also Executive Director at NGIC, commented, “We intend to gradually expand to other parts of Africa as well. We will tap the capital markets and bring in strategic investors as and when required.”

Replicate, replicate

While there is not a great deal of clarity around who is doing what exactly, there is mention of Microsoft and Nokia’s involvement, along with the local operator of teleport facilities for satellite, K-Net, plus Radisys which is part of the Indian Jio Platforms portfolio – and Jio knows a thing or two about rolling out infrastructure in record time.

Its sister company, operator Jio clocked up 50 million subscribers in less than three months  after launching its 4G network in India in 2016, shattering all previous records. Furthermore, as Jio Platforms said in a press statement, like Ascend Digital, “the goal is to replicate this high-speed mobile data model across Africa, beginning with Ghana.” 

This will be one to watch for its progress in Ghana itself, but also if the partnerships and model can translate easily to other African markets.

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