A mature approach to African telecoms: service providers and consumers are becoming more sophisticated in the products they offer and use.

Author:Ford, Neil

As the mobile telecoms market begins to mature, African service providers are beginning to offer new products. The focus has switched away from securing ever more subscribers, towards boosting their average revenue per user (ARPU) rates through encouraging greater data consumption and mobile banking.

Yet although technology is paving the way for the sale of more products, regulators sometimes struggle to keep up, while some governments fear that competition is proving inadequate to drive down prices.

Although South Africa is at the forefront of the African 4G revolution, the government believes that data prices are far too high and are deterring poorer people from accessing the technology. In September, South Africa's minister of telecommunications and postal services, Siyabonga Cwele, announced: "I strongly believe in the near future they will come down because innovation and the demand in Africa and South Africa in particular for social media is very high and increasing exponentially."

He added: "All these dictate that those data costs should come down, but also as government we are putting measures to make sure that there is competition in this broadband market." The sector regulator will launch an investigation into the lack of competition amid fears that leading players in the market are preventing smaller companies from offering cheaper access.

As ever, East Africa is proving an innovative test bed for the telecoms industry. The East African Community (EAC) has enabled the region to make the most progress on reducing cross-border roaming charges by implementing its "roam like home" policy.

Although operators feared that revenues would be greatly reduced, much lower costs have encouraged people to make far more calls, thereby maintaining revenues. In addition, the Tanzanian government now requires mobile money operators to have banking as well as mobile operating licences, in a trend that could become more common across the continent.

The availability of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) services in Africa has been limited but is starting to take off. The technology offers speeds similar to fixed line broadband and lower costs for operators. Uptake has been greatest in South Africa, parts of the rest of Southern Africa and Nigeria but is now starting to spread to cities in the rest of the continent. For instance, in late September Vodafone and Afrimax announced plans to launch 4G LTE data services for Vodafone Cameroon customers in Douala...

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