While the process has taken longer than expected in early 2015, after repeated delays, the National Agency for Telecommunications Regulations (Agence Nationale de Réglementation des Telecommunications, ANRT), Morocco’s telecommunications watchdog, allocated 4G broadband network licences to Morocco’s three operators. The process for the launching of the 4G licence auction has taken time to come to fruition, but it marks a new step forward for the sector, which has been stifled by price competition between operators.
Above all, the new technology is expected to open new opportunities for revenue through more data services. As noted by the Ministry of Economy and Finance study, the introduction of 4G services in developing economies has the potential to multiply the average revenue per user (ARPU) by seven to 20 times that of 3G mobile services.
The ANRT launched the tender for the 4G licensing offers in November 2014, and the operators were expected to respond by the end of January 2015. However, the country’s telecommunications regulator decided to extend the limit for the operators to bid, claiming that the operators needed more time to prepare their proposals. A new date was set for mid-March 2015. A short time later, on March 18, 2015, ANRT announced that 4G licences had been allocated to all three telecommunications operators Maroc Telecom, Méditel and Inwi.
The auction for the 4G licences brought in over Dh2bn (€217.6m) for the Moroccan state, with Maroc Telecom paying Dh1bn (€108.8m) for its licence, and Méditel and Inwi each paying around Dh500m (€54.4m), according to a report published by the ANRT. Maroc Telecom’s higher price for its license was due to the company’s larger national coverage compared to the operators. In addition to the price paid for the actual licences, the three operators will have to pay a combined Dh860m (€93.6m) to clean up the frequencies to be used for the 4G, which the ANRT has detailed will be the 800-MHz, 1800-MHz and 2.6-GHz bands.
The licences are set for 20 years, with the possibility for extension in the future, and operators have the obligation to extend 4G coverage to 65% of the population within the first five years of their licence agreement. The ANRT has made it a condition of the licence allocation that operators commit to a minimum internet speed of 2 MB per second for at least 90% of the customers under coverage.
Recouping the Investment
The introduction of 3G services in 2006 opened up a new era for telecommunications in Morocco, accelerating the expansion of mobile internet services across the kingdom. As of the third quarter of 2014, according to figures by the ANRT, 89% of Morocco’s 8.5m internet subscribers were accessing the internet through 3G services. This has allowed for the rapid expansion of data services. Whether that same sort of jump will be mirrored by the rollout of 4G is unclear, at least in the near term. “The impact of the 4G licences for the operators will be marginal in the short term. At present maybe only about 10% of the customer base will use 4G services, but maybe in 10 years, more people will use it,” Yousra Acherqui, a telecommunications analyst at CFG Group, told OBG. “So the main thing is for the operators to be technology-ready, and prepare to recoup their investments in the future,” she added.
Although market players will have to apply a medium-term perspective to the expected earnings that are likely to come from 4G services, one thing is certain: 4G is a good opportunity for mobile operators to reverse the negative trend that has affected sector revenues in recent years. Indeed, the increase in competition with the rise in operators and related drop in revenues, as well as the decline of the fixed-line sector and saturation of the mobile segment has meant that providers are now looking for new ways to boost ARPU and growth.