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Wednesday, 11 May 2005

3G/UMTS promises win/win for Africa's mobile operators and customers

At an international workshop organised by mobile industry trade association The UMTS Forum (www.umts-forum.org) under the aegis of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU), African administrations have this week resolved to work closely to reduce the 'digital divide' and build an Information Society that includes the whole of Africa.

Titled 'Improving Coverage of Mobile Communications in Africa', the workshop has coincided with a regional seminar held by the International Telecommunication Union (www.itu.int) on the evolution of mobile networks for developing countries of the African Region*.

At the closing of the workshop, the participants representing National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) from Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Cte d'Ivoire, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Rwanda and Togo made a common statement. Acknowledging the importance of providing good quality, cost effective mobile coverage in areas of population low density, the document supports initiatives aiming to fulfil this goal at the ITU in a harmonised framework to provide access for all to the Information Society. The participants noted that a solution appropriate for developing countries, studied under WRC-07 agenda item 1.4, could consist in identifying frequency bands below 600 MHz for the purpose of deploying IMT-2000 systems.

Speaking at the workshop, UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaim urged African administrations to unite and provide an active voice in supporting the work of the ITU:

"Mobile systems - particularly 'Third Generation' UMTS networks - will serve as a vital means of allowing developing countries to enter in the Information Society. By participating actively in the work of the ITU, Africa can ensure it does not miss out on this opportunity to offer its citizens affordable multimedia communications."

With more than 23 million customers subscribing to around 70 networks in Europe, Asia Pacific and North America, the deployment of 3G/UMTS systems has already started successfully around the world. Bienaim underlined the importance of other African states in joining South Africa and Mauritius that have already implemented their own third-generation networks.

"As a first step forward, administrations in the region should allocate to 3G/UMTS the globally harmonised spectrum identified by ITU for UMTS/IMT-2000", noted Bienaim. "Furthermore, administrations should work to identify and allocate harmonised radio spectrum for 3G services in the bands between 470-600 MHz. It should be noted that this spectrum could be identified for IMT-2000 by ITU WRC-07."

Bienaim continues: "The frequency band 470-600 MHz provides clear opportunities for coverage to reduce the 'digital divide' between dense and sparsely populated areas but also between developing and developed countries. It will also provide a stable, economically viable platform for manufacturers to develop network equipment and handsets at realistic prices to drive uptake in the region."

The use of frequencies in the band 470-600 MHz to provide mobile services in regions of low population density has recently been explored in Report No. 38 published by The UMTS Forum. Further details can be found at:

UMTS Forum Report 38, January 2005

Bienaim also pointed out that 3G/UMTS mobile systems provided an opportunity for Africa's mobile operators to enjoy international roaming revenues from business travellers visiting the region.

"We have already seen that mobile standardisation generates benefits for operators as well as end users - as demonstrated by the success of GSM: the open mobile system that is used by more than 1.3 billion customers globally. As an open, standardised system, 3G/UMTS offers these same benefits, providing economies of scale for equipment makers, increased utility for subscribers who can use their phone wherever they travel, and greater revenues for operators from international roaming charges. Africa's timely adoption of 3G/UMTS represents a win/win for the region's economy, its industry and its citizens."

*For more information on the ITU Regional Seminar for Africa on Fixed Mobile Convergence and Guidelines on the smooth transition of existing mobile networks to IMT-2000 for Developing Countries (Nairobi, Kenya, 9-12 May 2005), please see:

http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/imt-2000/documents/Nairobi2005/NairobiDraftProgram.html

 
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