10 August 2017
| James Pearce
The GSMA has fired a warning shot to countries planning to implement wholesale open access networks (WOAN), claiming they are failing to fulfil promises of better connectivity.
A report issued by the industry
body, made up of some of the world’s largest
mobile operators, found that of five countries originally
looking at proposing a single wholesale network (SWN) or WOAN,
only Rwanda has actually rolled it out.
The other four countries mentioned in the
GSMA’s study – Kenya, Mexico, Russia and
South Africa – have all been plagued by slow
progression and delayed or cancelled launches.
The report is a follow up on a 2014 study that assessed the
potential economic case for implementing the wholesale network
model. The GSMA is opposed to the deployment, preferring a one
operator, one network system.
"Policymakers in countries considering a move to a wholesale
open access network for 4G services may believe they can
achieve greater network coverage compared with models that rely
on network competition. However the research published today
demonstrates that this is not the case," said John Giusti,
chief regulatory officer, GSMA.
"We have found that network competition produces faster and
more extensive network coverage, and the examples highlighted
in the report indicate little evidence that a SWN/WOAN is
likely to achieve this."
In its report, the GSMA said the current model, which sees
policymakers preferring a competitive network structure and
licensing agreements that limit the number of operators, has
"resulted in unprecedented growth and innovation in mobile
services; the industry has already connected more than 5
billion people globally, including 3.8 billion people in
It is important to note that the GSMA does have a vested
interest, given it represents a number of private companies who
would be forced to compete with government backed SWN or WOAN,
a relatively new idea in telecoms that is aimed at boosting
coverage and increasing competition.
The GSMA claims ambitious projects in places like Mexico,
where deployment was supposed to begin in 2014 and be
operational by 2018, has seen grossly escalating costs, leading
to reduced investment targets of $7 billion (down from $10
billion). Altan ultimately won the contract out of an intial 21
bidders, a number of which dropped out.
In Rwanda, the only successful deployment so far according
to the GSMA, its LTE network was launched in 2014 as part of an
agreement between KT and the government. As of last year, it
covered 25 out of 30 districts, with population coverage of
around 30%. The GSMA claims it is unlikely the project will hit
its 95% coverage target by the end of 2017.
The GSMA claims operators are already looking at alternative
solutions to help expand coverage to remote areas, whilst
balancing competition and co-operation. These include
network-sharing agreements, new business models with third
parties, and cost-sharing strategies.
"We are concerned that a move to wholesale networks will
harm consumers, as history has demonstrated that network
monopolies normally result in high prices and lower investment
in infrastructure," added Giusti.
"With this in mind, we call upon governments looking to
implement a SWN or WOAN to instead support the ability of
mobile operators to enter into infrastructure sharing
agreements on a voluntary basis and consider how they can apply
market-friendly spectrum assignment methods to maximise
coverage, using appropriate spectrum license conditions to
extend mobile services to underserved areas."