THE ROAD TO PROSPERITY

Mozambique 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: INTERNET ACCESS

Mozambique's complex and rich ICT industry is still in its infancy, but both the private and public sectors are determined to further develop the sector and leverage it to solve a variety of challenges on the ground.

Ever since the end of the 16-year civil war in 1992, Mozambique's economy has grown at a steady pace. The country has been a leader in southern Africa in terms of developing a national ICT policy and implementation strategy with dedicated programs such as SchoolNet Mozambique and the Mozambican ICT Institute (MICTI), which serve as flagship projects in the use of ICT to facilitate and support learning and skill development and promote financial inclusion. As a result, Mozambique's education system has also improved markedly over the years.

Still, despite overall success, Mozambique has a challenging path ahead if it is to realize the full potential of the ICT sector to develop its economy, make progress on the government's ICT targets, and achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. While internet access in the country has more than tripled between 2007 and 2019, it is still low at 10%. On the other hand, mobile phone ownership has increased to 40% on the back of licensing and regulatory achievements in telecommunications, which have stimulated competition and helped the government meet several national objectives. In particular, Vietnamese-based Movitel has shaken up the Mozambican market with its high-investment, low-cost business model, creating the largest 2G/3G network in the country and capturing 29% of the subscriber-based market in its first year of operation. Early entrants Vodacom and MCel have faced intense competition from the late entrant, with MCel being close to exiting the market. That said, Vodacom has a giant share of the market (41%) whereas MCel's share has moved down to 30%. The latter was the first market entrant and enjoyed the largest number of early subscribers, but was the most affected by the introduction of SIM registration requirements, which removed unregistered users from the network.

Notably, prices for data have fallen dramatically with the introduction of the third competitor, and Mozambique now ranks 24th out of 49 countries on RIA's African Mobile Pricing (RAMP) Index. On the other hand, effective regulation of open and competitive markets by Instituto Nacional das Comunicações de Moçambique (INCM) is driving affordable access to broadband networks. It is no doubt that the government's efforts are commendable, but the majority of citizens, especially those in rural areas, are unable to afford internet-enabled devices. In order to fix that, steps must to be taken to remove any excise duties on entry-level devices. At the same time, Mozambique needs to develop user skills through e-schools and e-literacy programs as well as relevant local content in domestic languages. Another major issue is the urban-rural gap, which is currently hovering around 80%. Around 66% of rural households do not have access to electricity, and only a handful enjoy access to telecommunications services. Despite the rural strategy of Movitel, the penetration of ICT services remains low nationally. On the bright side, private-sector players are taking matters into their own hands and are having noticeable impacts.

Fenix International, a next-generation energy company and subsidiary of ENGIE, is the first PAYGO solar company in Mozambique to use IoT technologies to reduce costs and bring high-quality, affordable technology to rural, last-mile customers.

The company has partnered with Vodacom and Vodafone M-Pesa SA to tackle the challenges of distribution, connectivity, and mobile payments that have left rural Mozambicans underserved. Its latest product, Fenix Power, is a GSM-enabled power system that enables the company to determine product usage and potential technical issues remotely. Elsewhere, Loon, a unit of Google's owner Alphabet, has signed a deal with Vodacom to use high-altitude balloons to provide mobile internet to remote areas, such as the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces. This initiative is even more pertinent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will allow more Mozambicans to have access to up-to-date healthcare information. With such initiatives driving internet penetration and usage and bridging the ever-present urban-rural gap, many in Mozambique are hopeful that similar technological advances from both the private and public sectors will help the country overcome challenges and carve a new path.