Mobile communications markets in Southern Africa are experiencing high growth, particularly in Zambia. However, operators face challenges such as rising operational costs, declining interconnection charges and capital-intensive infrastructure investments.

The deployment of cost-effective mobile technologies such as HSxPA, EDGE, HSPA+ as well as WiMax in the near future will help operators to overcome such challenges and achieve economies of scale. South Africa is the leading market in the region in terms of subscribers and revenues, and the market growth is expected to be driven by data services, as well as enterprise solutions.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that the Southern African mobile communications market (covering South Africa, Zambia and other countries) earned revenues of $18,58-billion in 2010 and estimates this to reach $25,43-billion in 2017.
Mobile broadband internet services paralleled by WiMax technology will boost market prospects.
“Mobile broadband is an effective means to improve the connectivity of Internet services in the rural area due to the lack of fixed-line (copper and fibre) infrastructure,” explains Frost & Sullivan’s ICT research analyst Jiaqi Sun. “The maturing standards of WiMax technology may help operators achieve a cost-efficient deployment of next generation mobile technologies since it allows an increasing coverage for the limited amount of spectrum available for each operator and supports high-speed mobile data services.”
However, the market continues to confront a range of challenges. These include slow regulatory reform and low network coverage in the rural mass market. At the same time, low literacy levels are restraining the demand for data services.
“Regulations in the Southern African region have not yet kept pace with technological advancements such as the WiMax spectrum allocation,” says Sun. “For instance, a new regulatory framework covering unified/converged licensing has not yet been set up in many countries in the region.”
Another potential threat to market momentum is that the mobile network coverage remains very limited in the rural area, where over 60% of the mass market resides.
“Literacy levels in the Southern African region are low,” adds Sun. “This constrains the uptake of data services as most data services are not yet offered in a user-friendly mode on mobile devices.”
Promisingly, efforts are being made to address these challenges. Before WiMAX regulations are finalised, operators have developed the strategy to deploy similar technologies such as HSxPA and HSPA+, which will be compatible with the other 4G technologies, such as long term evolution (LTE), for migration in the future when the converged licensing framework is in place.
“Fixed-wireless and fibre-optic technologies are alternatives to improve the access to telecommunications in the rural area,” advises Sun. “Leading operators in the region have engaged in offering community phones which are seen as a substitute for mobile handsets at present.”
Strategies to improve literacy levels include training offered by operators to educate mobile subscribers on how to use handsets to access data services, such as mobile money transfer services.