11 August 2017

Namibia: Cran Opens Doors to New Mobile Operators

Windhoek — The Namibian communication regulator has thrown open the competition doors, effectively granting permission to new entrants to set up shop and compete with MTC and TN Mobile, while sharpening its regulatory teeth.

Competition in the mobile market could come from South Africa's much-touted MTN that together with two other entities have licences to compete with MTC and TN Mobile in mobile voice and data services.

MTN South Africa was, as expected, very much guarded on its immediate plans for Namibia, only opting to say: "As MTN Business Namibia we are always exploring new opportunities, and mobile services are part of these considerations."

The Communication Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) granted new licences recently, which expands the number of those being regulated to 57 licensees. These comprise of 34 broadcasting service licensees and 23 telecommunication services licensees.

MTN has held its licence, through its Namibian subsidiary MTN Business Solutions, for the past 20 years. However, the new licence has now been issued to MTN Business Solutions that is 30 percent owned by Namibian shareholders, as per CRAN regulations. The shareholding is owned by Profile Technologies, a company owned by businessman Vaino Nghipondoka.

The other two entities with licences for mobile voice and data are Demshi Investment Holdings and Paratus Telecommunications. These are the licensees who may compete with MTC and Telecom Namibia in fixed and mobile voice and data services nationally and internationally, and who hold the required number licences, spectrum licences, or have entered into an infrastructure sharing agreement that allows for the operation as a virtual operator.

In addition to the 10 commercial radio broadcasting licences renewed for a further five years, CRAN awarded three new commercial radio broadcasting and two new commercial TV broadcasting licences as of June 2017.

However, with an increase in the number of licensees comes the need for tighter regulation. And CRAN's chief executive officer Festus Mbandeka points at a host of regulations and policies that CRAN has ushered into place.

"The operation of electronic communications networks are subject to licensing requirements and conditions of which CRAN has established monitoring techniques to ensure that they are safe," says Mbandeka.

He points at the implementation of 'infrastructure sharing regulation', as of October 2016, which creates a framework for all licensees to share passive infrastructure, such as tower space and wireless and fibre transmission networks, and active infrastructure such as central databases and platforms.

"Enforcement of these regulations will make provision for sharing of infrastructure between licensees on a non-discriminatory basis, ensure that cost are reasonable and lower the barrier of entry to the market for new entrants," says Mbandeka.

He also says CRAN has imposed obligations on licensees applying for additional 3G spectrum allocation, "to accelerate coverage to under and unserved areas and to improve the quality of service, in order to meet the objectives of the Harambee Prosperity Plan and ministerial targets."

He further says CRAN has ensured fair competition through the implementation of the objects and other sections of the Communications Act that deal with competition.

As part of this the National Numbering Plan for Namibia was finalised in April 2016. "This plan is a pre-requisite for number portability, which allows fixed and mobile numbers to move from one licensee to another without losing their number, most importantly to create competition by levelling the playing field between operators," says Mbandeka.

CRAN has also commenced with the enforcement of 'Type Approval Regulations' after allowing the industry a grace period of 22 months to adhere to these regulations published in January 2015.

"These regulations ensure the importation of telecommunications equipment to meet international standards and curb the influx of outdated, counterfeit and grey products into the market," he said.

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