The IDC Market Perspective released in early 2022 analyses the Sub-Saharan Africa ICT regulatory developments and outlook. It unpicked the multiple threads that influence ongoing development, digital regulations, emerging technologies, future spectrum, and cloud. It is a landscape that is currently in flux as regulations are re-examined to address the new technological and economic realities. This, as they shift away from rigid and overly complex policies that limit ICT growth, towards more collaborative approaches that bring more players into the ICT game. Regulations in Africa are gradually evolving to allow for improvements in growth, innovation, and scale. The report also highlights issues that operators should be aware of and outlines some engagements that they can consider.
The future regulatory landscape is increasingly focused on the 5G spectrum and establishing clear guidelines for emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics. In addition, it is also looking into expanding the potential growth and use cases of technologies such as TV whitespace for rural connectivity – a critical factor in overcoming legacy challenges in infrastructure, education, and communication in the region.
Outside of mainstream ICT regulation, there are discussions taking place around the taxation of digital services. These peripheral conversations are becoming increasingly common and have, where they have been implemented, increased the cost of services. This is an important consideration for organisations as they need to stay ahead of such changes and how they will impact businesses and customers in future.
Discussions around future regulation, when not resolved in a timely fashion, can potentially introduce risks around service delivery and to equipment providers. For example, 5G rollouts could be delayed because spectrum issues and type approvals are still pending. This would mean companies operating within this space could potentially lose out on market opportunities.
Another area of concern would be how levies and taxes would invariably make an organisation’s services more expensive, and this cost would then pass on to the consumer. This would have the knock-on impact of customer attrition, market losses, and the cost impact around future investments. Companies would have tighter budgets and limited spending and this would impact their ability to invest in network expansion and quality.
To move ahead without being caught out by these obstacles, expected or unexpected, there has to be greater collaboration. Service providers need to collaborate amongst themselves to gain an in-depth understanding of common issues so they can collectively engage with policymakers. It would be also worth investing in research-based positions that would then be able to intelligently make the case for or against certain types of market regulations or policies. This would then ensure organisations within the sector have more engagement with relevant officials and policymakers. Something which could positively influence the growth of the sector and access to ICTs.
This also ensures companies can catch hold of the tail of unexpected legislation and leverage it to their advantage. For example, the ITU recently issued digital regulation guidelines that should be reviewed by ecosystem players, including regulators and service providers, and then adapted to suit local market conditions. This would span the different elements of market maturity, disposable income, current coverage et al, and ensure that both business and customer benefit in the end.
The policy and regulatory landscape within the sub-Saharan region are constantly in flux. As these policies and regulations change, so do their impact on enterprise and customers, and it is essential that organisations remain engaged, and that they work with one another to find intelligent and relevant ways through the complexity that can inhabit this space. With collaborative transparency and focused research intensity, organisations can stay ahead of the unexpected and collectively plan for a future that benefits both government and business.
Written by Francis Hook, Regional Consulting and Research Manager at IDC East Africa