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October 3, 2023

NCA introduces Technology Neutrality to cure market imbalance

NCA Director-General, Joe Anokye
NCA Director-General, Joe Anokye

The National Communications Authority (NCA) has introduced technology neutrality in Ghana to create a level playing field and allow all telcos, particularly the non-SMP operators roll out 4G networks without paying the huge licensing fee MTN paid for it.

Technology neutrality in Ghana was initially limited to the all spectrum being used to roll out either GSM or CDMA networks. But this new regime allows the non-SMP telcos – Vodafone and AT Ghana to re-farm their existing spectrum slots in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands to roll out 4G networks and only pay an annual premium to NCA.

A statement on the NCA’s website noted that this form of technology neutrality is one of the remedies to address Significant Market Power (SMP) concerns, adding that “It aims at creating a level playing field and stimulate investment in infrastructure for the deployment of 4G networks by the non-SMP operators.”

“The National Communications Authority (NCA) has taken a significant step towards correcting the market imbalances and boosting consumer choice in the telecommunications sector with the introduction of technology neutrality for non-SMP operators,” its said.

Since June 2020, when the NCA declared MTN an SMP in Ghana’s telecoms market, it has been implementing a number of measures to correct the market imbalance. The measures have include 30% asymmetrical interconnect rate, on-net/offnet parity and indeed a direct order to MTN not to have the lowest call, data and SMS rates on the market.

The NCA Director-General, Joe Anokye recently reported that the 30% asymmetrical rate has, for instance, saved the non-SMP telcos over GHS86 million of moneys they would have paid to MTN for terminating calls on the MTN network.

Technology neutrality is the latest remedial action to correct the market imbalance, and the NCA notes that the benefits include:

  • The opportunity for operators who do not currently have 4G services to deploy it within their current spectrum assignment, levelling the playing field and enhancing their competitiveness.
  • The option for non-SMP operators with 4G services to re-farm portions of their current spectrum assignment to improve the quality of their 4G services.
  • Enhanced consumer choice for 4G services.

The statement said NCA remains committed to fostering an environment that encourages competition, investment, and technological advancement for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Worsening the imbalance

It is however important to note that the factors that led to MTN being declared SMP in 2020, were even worsened after MTN had been declared an SMP.

For instance, in 2019, in spite of the fact that MTN had remained the overwhelming market leader for several year prior and already had a 4G-complaint spectrum in the 800MHz band, MTN was approved by NCA to purchase an addition 4G-compliant spectrum in the 2600MHz band, and that gave MTN a further edge over competition.

Then just this year, three years after MTN had been declared SMP and the NCA had long started implementing measures to correct the market imbalance, MTN was again approved to purchase more 4G-compliant spectrum by acquiring two Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) operators, Blu Telecom and Broadband Home (BBH).

It is not clear if MTN will also be allowed to re-farm part of its existing spectrum to further improve its network quality, but it is obvious that MTN already has access to a great deal of spectrum to sustain and improve the quality of its services.

Botched 5G move

Meanwhile, way back in 2021, MTN started pushing for the license to roll out the first 5G network in Ghana in 2022. MTN Ghana CEO, Selorm Adadevoh even dropped the hint of the planned 5G launch in 2022, saying that the company had actually readied over 1,300 cell sites across the country for 5G.

But the move was jettisoned due to what the CEO described as a question which only the regulator can answer.

MTN Group bosses subsequently visited President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo in New York, where he was attending a conference and discussed 5G in Ghana with him, but till date the 5G plan has still not seen the light of day.

It would appear that the plan now is to allow the non-SMP operators to get an appreciable footing within the 4G space before MTN will be allowed to move forward to 5G.

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