Rolling out: The launch of 4G is likely to transform mobile services

In 2015 Morocco provided a new impetus for the development of telecoms by launching the rollout of its 4G network, a technology which is expected to generate new revenue streams for operators and drive growth in the knowledge economy.

4G BID: In mid-March 2015 Morocco’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (Agence Nationale de Réglementation des Télé communications, ANRT) awarded three 20-year long-term evolution (LTE) licences to the country’s mobile operators for a cumulative amount of Dh2bn (€183.4m). The incumbent operator, Maroc Telecom, paid the highest price at Dh1bn (€91.7m) for Licence B, which includes the most-sought-after radio frequencies on the 800-MHz, 1800-MHz and 2. (Lorazepam) 6-GHz bands, while Médi Telecom and Wana paid Dh500m (€45.9m) each for Licences A and C, respectively, also for space on the same bands. In return for the licences, the regulator imposed specific obligations on operators, requiring them to cover 65% of the Moroccan population by 2020 and to provide a minimum download speed of 2 Mbps for 90% of the population.

IMPLEMENTATION: The award of 4G licences led to a quick turnaround for the launch of 4G services. In June 2015 Médi Telecom launched its offerings in Casablanca and then Rabat, adopting a city-by-city-approach. The company had embarked on a two-year programme of progressive 4G rollout using Huawei networks, with upcoming developments for new infrastructure in the pipeline with Alcatel, Ericsson and ZTE.

Médi Telecom’s move was followed by Inwi, which that same month rolled out a network in partnership with Ericsson, and in July by Maroc Telecom, which contracted out to Nokia Networks, Ericsson and Huawei. Around 60% of Morocco’s population was covered by March 2016, suggesting that operators are confident in the market’s evolution.

SHARING: According to a 2014 report from the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s Directorate for Studies and Financial Forecasting, upgrading networks to 4G will require operators to share their transmission infrastructure as a means to reduce costs and ensure wider coverage. However, tower sharing has not yet become a reality as operators have already been stumbling over limited access to Maroc Telecom’s dominant terrestrial network, despite the introduction of local loop unbundling regulations set by the regulator in 2008.

PERFORMANCE: According to UK-based mobile research firm OpenSignal, Morocco has the most complete 4G coverage in Africa, along with South Africa, in terms of geographical coverage. In terms of average download speed, Morocco ranks 26th worldwide and first in Africa at 16 Mbps, above the global average for LTE download speed, which is 13.5 Mbps. Morocco also stands out for the attractiveness of its 4G tariffs. According to an international study conducted by the ANRT, Morocco was the most affordable country in terms of 4G tariffs in the Arab world in 2015, based on downloading 1 GB, and stands well below European rates.

IMPACT: In a sector that is nearing subscriber saturation, the authorities expect operators’ turnover to climb quickly, as 4G subscribers can generate an average revenue per user seven to 20 times higher than those using 3G. This is also expected to have a positive knock-on effect on Morocco’s economic and social situation.

A Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Investment and Digital Economy-led study notably indicates that 4G will contribute to the improvement of companies’ productivity via machine-to-machine solutions, as well as stimulating private consumption through the development of mobile commerce platforms and fostering e-government initiatives, especially in the education and health care sectors.