John S. Nkoma is the Director General of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA). As CEO his responsibilities include the regulation of telecommunications, broadcasting, postal services; licensing; management of the radio frequency spectrum, numbering, electronic and other ICTs. Prior to joining TCRA he has held posts as Professor of Physics, Dean of Science, Head of Department at the University of Botswana and Head of Physics at the University of Dar es Salaam. John S. Nkoma holds BSc (UDSM), MSc (Essex) and PhD (Essex) degrees and certificates in Telecommunications Regulation, Numbering, Spectrum Management and Strategic Management. He has also published several research papers and university level textbooks.
The growth of the African, of the Tanzanian, telecommunications sector is due to many factors. Technology and falling prices are of course among the reasons, but the liberalisation of the sector in Tanzania and the rest of Africa has been just as important. In this respect, the policies, legislation, regulations and the licensing framework have been as important as the enabling technologies, especially mobile telephony, broadband wireless and the ambitious submarine cable projects to affordably connect Africa to the world.
Africa has experienced unprecedented growth in the ICT sector (mobile and fixed telephony, radio, television, Internet, postal) in the last decade. This is in terms of number of operators, products, services, number of subscribers (see Figure 1 showing growth of voice subscribers during 2000-2008 in Tanzania - from 300,237 subscribers in 2000 to 13, 130, 602 subscribers in 2008) and applications. The big question is, will this growth in voice subscriptions be replicated in Internet and broadband? Figure 1: Growth of subscriber base in telecommunications for the period 2000-2008 in Tanzania. We believe that exponential growth in broadband will be the next surprise, just as voice growth has taken many experts by surprise. This has several explanations, but the four major reasons are: policies, legislation, regulations and the licensing framework. Let us review these, with particular reference to the situation in Tanzania. First, the communications policies articulated in the following communication policy documents; National Telecommunications Policy of 1997; National ICT Policy of 2003; National Information and Broadcasting Policy of 2003 and National Postal policy of 2003, which can be downloaded from the TCRA website. Second, the legislation which includes: Tanzania Broadcasting Services Act No 6 of 1993; Tanzania Communications Act No 18 of 1993; Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority Act No 12 of 2003; and the Universal Communications Service Access Fund Act of 2006. Tanzania is in the process of harmonising these legislations by repealing them and establishing the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (EPOCA) which is in the process of establishment. Third, there are fourteen regulations governing the communications sector. These are: The Tanzania Communications (Broadband Service) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Consumer Protection) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Broadcasting Services (Content ) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Licensing) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Importation and Distribution) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Installations and Maintenance) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Interconnection) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Telecommunication Numbering and Electronic address) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Postal Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Radio Communications and Frequency Spectrum) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Tariff) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Type Approval of Electronic Communications Equipment) Regulations 2005; The Tanzania Communications (Quality of Service) Regulations 2005; and The Tanzania Communications (Access and Facilities) Regulations 2005. Fourth, there is a licensing framework which includes the Converged Licensing Framework and other licenses. The Converged Licensing Framework (CLF) was introduced on 23rd February 2005 and consists of four licenses, namely: Network Facilities License (NFL), Network Services License (NSL), Applications Service License (ASL) and Contents Services License (CSL). The Converged Licensing Framework is Technology Neutral and Service Neutral. There are four market segments: International, National, Regional and District. Other licenses include Public Postal License; Courier Service License; Frequency User License; Installation and Maintenance License; Importation and Distribution License; Type Approval; and Numbering Resources. Now, let us examine the facts and address the question as to whether the growth in voice subscriptions will be replicated in Internet and broadband. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), by 2008, Africa had eight times as many Internet users as it had in 2000, with the highest penetration in Seychelles at 38 per cent, South Africa at 8.6 per cent, Nigeria at 7.3, Tanzania at 1.3 per cent, with the world’s average penetration rate at 23 per cent, and Africa’s average at 4.2 per cent. Broadband can be provided through fixed services or mobile wireless services. Unlike Europe and the USA, fixed line penetration in Africa has been very low, and by 2008 Africa had only 635,000 fixed broadband subscribers. According to the ITU, the average fixed broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants in 2008 was 6.0 for the world, and only 0.1 for Africa. However, there is hope for Africa in mobile broadband. This is hardly surprising considering that the voice growth that has occurred in Africa uses wireless networks. Apart from mobile broadband, there are now several infrastructure projects for submarine cables and terrestrial optical fibre cables, for example SEACOM, TEAMS and EASSY projects along the East African Coast and SAT3 along the West African Coast. Also notable is the analogue to digital broadcasting migration which is occurring in African countries. The SEACOM cable, a submarine fibre-optic with a length of approximately 15,000 km, was launched on 23rd July 2009 and has an enormous capacity of 1.28Tb/s (terabits per second). This will enable high speed Internet downloads, cheaper prices in comparison to current satellite pricing, peer-to-peer networks, high definition TV, IPTV. The overall impact on broadband growth into services such as e-learning, e-health, e-government and e-commerce will be unprecedented. In conclusion, one can say that there has been a great deal of growth in the ICT sector, first in the voice services where there has been exponential growth during the past decade. However, with the advent of the coming of submarine cables and terrestrial cables, there will be unprecedented growth in the use of the Internet and broadband services, video over and above voice and SMS.