Mobile Internet Is Dominant
Ghana’s internet service penetration has increased over the past years. Whereas two of the first three Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were domestic companies , nowadays the market leaders are all from abroad. The market appears to be a vibrant branch of the economy: according to recent market reports, the annual growth rate for the telecom service revenue is expected to increase in the next five years at 5.4% while the mobile data market might grow at 16.3%. But while the mobile internet market is skyrocketing, the fixed-line market stagnates.
Customers benefit from the competition within the mobile internet market: costs for internet are one of the lowest in whole Africa and as competitors strive to secure their position on the market, they are eager to transform the sector and innovate on services. The focus on mobile bears risks as it is for example more vulnerable to cybercrime due to the lack of advanced firewalls on mobile devices.
Mobile vs. fixed line internet
An ISP provides customers with any kind of internet access, using technologies, including dial-up, DSL, cable modem, wireless or dedicated high-speed interconnects. In Ghana, there is a discrepancy between the popularity for mobile and fixed line internet: Ghanaians are primarily using their smartphone to access the internet or they use access dongles, i.e. a USB modem that is working with a SIM card and is plugged into the computer. Not surprising that from 2013 to 2017, the subscriptions for mobile data services doubled to 20 million subscriptions and the mobile data penetration rose from 33% in 2013 to 70% in 2017. At the same time, fixed(wired)-broadband internet stagnated at 0.3% penetration.
Foreign telcos dominate the mobile internet market
Those consumption habits also coin the market power of ISPs. The mobile internet market is thriving and dominated by five telecommunication companies - MTN, Vodafone Ghana, Tigo, Airtel and Glo. Those ISPs are now all foreign-owned - since Vodafone, a British-based company, bought up 70% stake in Ghana Telecom in 2008 . MTN (Mobile Telecom Networks) from South Africa and Vodafone are the most dominant actors and almost form a duopoly: 40% of the mobile data traffic goes back to MTN customers and around 25% to Vodafone Ghana customers. If we consider the market share based on subscriptions, MTN covers 50% percent of the whole market, whereas Vodafone Ghana only reaches 17%.
Competition is expected to intensify further as operators focus on competitive pricing plans and service innovation to further increase their market share – this is why we see prices of mobile data constantly decreasing. A recent study from the Alliance for Affordable Internet says that 1 GB costs around 4% of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, so it is comparatively cheap to the average price in Africa of 18% of the GNI per capita .
Government plans to close the digital gap
But still, rural areas are not connected to the internet via fixed line, which the Ghanaian state is about change. In 2015, the Ghana Government, in collaboration with the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and Alcatel-Lucent, facilitated for example the development of the fibre optic backbone infrastructure on the country’s Eastern Corridor to support the deployment of the national e-Government Network. Another project for the Western corridor is planned. Furthermore, the National Communication Authority under the Electronic Communication Act, (Act 775) is to ensure that all license holders provide telecommunications access to all remote and less populated areas.
Free internet – at what expense?
Next to Alcatel-Lucent, also other corporates stepped into the game to supply Ghanaians with internet: MTN customers benefit from free access to Wikipedia with the objective “to let them be part of the digital revolution through the access to information” and to turn the digital divide into digital inclusion. The Ministry of Education is paying the cost for internet consumption while MTN is providing the network. This concept was initiated by Wikimedia Foundation that works with different companies and state institutions to implement ‘Wikipedia Zero’ in several countries. Also Facebook expanded his Free Basics initiative, in which mobile users are able to access the site free of data charge, to 42 countries of which Ghana happens to be one.
Internet freedom advocates, however, argue that such expansions are not acts of goodwill but marketing measures that could end up counterproductive s to get people connected and more media literate. They consider it as problematic to give people only part access to the internet, especially if the public still might believe what they have is full access.
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