The quick adoption of mobile communication services in Morocco has been supported by the deployment of 4G services across the country, allowing for the provision of high-quality services and setting the stage for the transition from a telecoms sector dominated by voice to data. Since it was first launched in the kingdom in 2015, the 4G network expanded quickly as the three operators – Maroc Telecom, Orange Morocco and Wana Corporate’s Inwi – made access and data delivery cornerstones of their strategies. These efforts, coupled with policies prioritising growth in the ICT sector, have allowed Morocco to rank among the highest in Africa in terms of 4G availability.
In December 2016 up to 93% of mobile phone subscribers were covered by either 3G or 4G access. According to a February 2018 report published by wireless coverage firm Open Signal, over 69% of Morocco’s mobile phone users had access to 4G services, which put the country first in Africa in terms of 4G coverage, followed by Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa and Tunisia. Globally, Morocco ranked 60th after Italy in 4G availability, and 63rd for average 4G speed at 15.8 Mbps, but placed fourth in Africa, below Tunisia (17.8 Mbps) but above Algeria (8.6 Mbps).
High penetration rates of 4G services will be critical for the sector’s development over the coming years. As of September 2018 there were over 46m mobile subscriptions in the kingdom and a mobile penetration level of over 130%, according to figures from the National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency. In September 2018 around 22.3m users, about half of all mobile subscribers, had mobile internet access, while 9m of these had access to 4G. As use of voice services decreases, adequate mobile data access will be essential to maintain a competitive mobile offer. “The price of data has come down because operators saw that with the collapse of voice prices, we needed to democratise the use of data to get sufficient volume,” Brahim Sbai, vice-president of business-to-business and wholesale at Orange, told OBG. “This is an extraordinary shift because you have a decrease in the use of voice, but also a fast increase in the use of data,” he said.
All three operators acquired 4G licences in 2015 – which are valid for a 20-year period – purchasing frequency allocations as part of the deal: Market leader Maroc Telecom paid approximately Dh1bn (€89.9m), while Orange Morocco and Wana Corporate acquired their licences for around Dh500.4m (€45m) and Dh503m (€45.2m), respectively. Along with meeting a series of legal requirements to acquire the licences, the firms also needed to assist efforts to reorganise the country’s spectrum by contributing a combined Dh860m (€77.3m), as well as agree to meet future 4G standards, which include covering 65% of the population and meeting a minimum average download speed of 2 Mbps for at least 90% of the population by 2020.
In order to adequately compete in the market, telecoms operators are continuing to invest in 4G infrastructure. In August 2018 Inwi announced upgrades to its 4G network using Chinese manufacturer Huawei’s 4x4 MIMO technology that would allow the company to reach speeds of 1 Gbps and, according to company officials, was the first step towards 5G technology. Orange introduced LTE-A in early 2018, branded by the operator as 4G+ services, an improvement on its existing network.
Competition between the operators has led to the establishment of modern telecoms infrastructure across the country. These efforts have created the necessary base for the coming phase of sector growth, linked to rising volumes of data consumption. However, ensuring that infrastructure investments are maintained over the coming years will also depend on keeping in place the necessary regulatory environment, as well as promoting an effective mechanism for the sharing of infrastructure between operators.
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