Eight major multi-national mobile operator groups active across Africa and the Middle East have agreed to cooperate on future network infrastructure sharing initiatives aimed at driving down costs of providing mobile voice and internet access, with the knock-on goals of expanding services to underserved rural communities and reducing costs for all end-users in both regions. Following a meeting at the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress event last month, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) pledging support to the initiative was signed by CEOs and other senior figures of the eight groups who collectively operate 79 mobile networks across 47 countries in Africa and the Middle East, namely:
Christian de Faria, CEO Africa, Bharti Airtel;
Ahmad Julfar, Group CEO, Etisalat Group;
Sifiso Dabengwa, CEO and President, MTN Group;
Dr. Nasser Marafih, Group CEO, Ooredoo Group;
Marc Rennard, Senior Executive Vice President, Africa, Middle East and Asia, Orange Group;
Abdulaziz A. Alsugair, Chairman and Managing Director, STC Group;
Serpil Timuray, CEO, Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific Region, Vodafone Group; and
Scott Gegenheimer, CEO, Zain Group.
Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA, said: ‘We are greatly encouraged by the shared vision of mobile operators and the common urgency to find solutions that will drive down the cost of mobile and Internet services and help connect the unconnected. Unique mobile subscriber penetration is only 40% in Africa and the Middle East, lower than the global average of 47%, so we need to work together to expand the reach of mobile.’ Manoj Kohli, managing director of Bharti Enterprises and chair of the Public Policy Committee of the GSMA board, added: ‘This cooperation demonstrates that the industry is committed to innovating in order to serve the billions living in the rural areas. We call on governments to support and encourage the commercial infrastructure sharing arrangements that we aim to propose.’ The GSMA’s position is that telecom regulatory frameworks should encourage flexible commercial sharing arrangements and facilitate access to government-owned assets at preferential rates to help speed up the rollout of new networks and support the business case to extend mobile networks into rural areas.