African telcos insist LTE is vital to the region

Day two of AfricaCom 2014 saw a group of the continent’s most influential telecoms companies engaged in a panel discussion around the importance of LTE to Africa’s digital economy. With fixed broadband infrastructure still relatively thin on the ground, mobile broadband represents the only opportunity many Africans have to get online. While 3G may be the entry point for this, LTE offers many advantages, including simplicity, speed and data-optimization.

The panel featured representatives from YooMee, Surfline, Smile Communications, Vodacom SA and Unitel. The discussion focused mainly on the advantages LTE offers to the region, stressing that bandwidth leads to services, and that mobile broadband is the only internet access most consumers are likely to get.

But even if you leave aside the small matter of building the infrastructure, there are a number of other obstacles to be overcome, such as a shortage of low-frequency spectrum for rural coverage, and the need to lower prices and simplify tariffs to prevent ‘bill shock’. The panel also stressed the importance of mobile banking to the region, and observed that their customer relationships are often stronger than those of banks, which can help overcome any trust issues consumers might have. caught up with one of the panellists – Dov Bar-Gera, CEO of YooMee – to get his take on the importance of LTE to his company and to Africa. “The voice market is totally well-served – the big players have shared these markets among themselves for many years, keeping the price high and the quality low, so we don’t even what to be part of this game,” he said.

“Everyone on the panel is focused on one thing: giving internet access to the end customer. 95% of the homes in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have internet access, so there is huge market potential. For example there is no entertainment in sub-Saharan Africa, so having such a platform that is dedicated to a large quantity of data means we’re bringing entertainment to the home of the consumer.

“If we want to bring internet to the region we have to make access very low cost, so that people can start to make their own content. Everybody is making their own apps in Europe and that’s something that must happen here.”

There was a great sense of expectation and optimism at the show regarding the positive impact LTE can have on the region, and companies such as those on the panel discussion are working hard to bring as many African people as possible into the digital economy, which can only benefit all concerned.

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