Interview: Selorm Adadevoh

To what extent has the Covid-19 pandemic affected Ghana’s telecoms sector?

SELORM ADADEVOH: The Covid-19 pandemic forced telecoms providers to fundamentally change the way we operate to minimise the adverse impact on both our consumers and our employees. Personal protective equipment was provided at customer interaction points, namely physical stores throughout the country, and capacity limits were introduced to facilitate social distancing. Management put additional initiatives in place to educate employees and customers on health measures. The changes that were rapidly implemented at the start of the health crisis have been maintained into 2021.

Network-expansion plans were simultaneously put on hold, as many components are not manufactured domestically and the pandemic led to barriers when it came to importing equipment for upgrading and expanding infrastructure. This raised awareness of the need to grow capacity in the domestic telecoms manufacturing industry to strengthen the country’s ICT sector, rather than depending on foreign suppliers.

Regarding demand for ICT services, there has been a huge shift to students and workers completing their tasks from home. The distribution of demand has changed as a result, and home broadband became a critical element of the pandemic response. This was one of the biggest challenges for the sector, as the country does not have a widespread fibre-optic network. Less than 6% of homes have high-speed internet connections, so most people use their smartphones to access the internet while at home. The strength of mobile network infrastructure was therefore really tested during the early stages of the pandemic, as it supported the economic productivity of many Ghanaians.

What challenges pertain to boosting digitalisation and increasing internet penetration?

ADADEVOH: We have seen an acceleration of digitalisation around the world due to the pandemic. However, this process has been slow for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially in emerging markets such as Ghana. There is now significant opportunity in this area. If you talked to the owners of SMEs about digitalising their business in the past, the concept was not taken too seriously. Today SMEs are competing with larger companies that can digitalise faster, putting pressure on SMEs to adapt more urgently.

At the same time, a renewed emphasis on health care and how health relates to work has come to the fore. It has become more apparent how society can leverage technology to understand and manage health care, especially with internet-of-things (IoT) tools and data services. The country could benefit from regulatory evolution in this space to enable more cost-effective service delivery. Consumer demand plays a role in this as well. If more Ghanaians shift to online work or school, more homes adopt IoT services, and more businesses call for 4G or even 5G connectivity, then the current technology base is inadequate. By 2023-24 we can expect to see initiatives such as spectrum sharing drive improved efficiency and widespread connectivity to meet the needs of all Ghanaians.

How do you expect the unified licensing regime to change the telecoms sector?

ADADEVOH: A unified licensing regime is key for telecoms enterprises to maximise return on assets. We are witnessing a large-scale migration of customers from 2G to 3G, and a similar migration from 3G to 4G; however, the current licensing regime prevents providers from using 3G spectrum for 4G services to support this shift. Allowing universal access licences makes the sector more efficient, and this is just one operational tactic that policy evolution will enable. We are confident that universal access licences will be approved by the end of 2021, allowing providers to leverage their existing assets more efficiently, while benefitting individual customers and businesses.