Low-cost rural internet could soon become widespread across Africa and the Middle East following an infrastructure sharing agreement between eight major operator groups.
Bharti Airtel, Etisalat Group, MTN Group, Ooredoo Group, Orange, STC, Vodafone Group and Zain Group will all share infrastructure, with the ultimate aim of offering more affordable mobile services and providing internet access to rural communities.
A GSMA statement read: "Senior leaders from seven major mobile operator groups, serving 506 million customers across Africa and the Middle East, plan to cooperate on network infrastructure sharing initiatives.”
The association’s Director General Anne Bouverot said: "Unique mobile subscriber penetration is only 40% in Africa and the Middle East, lower than the global average of 47%, so we need to work together to expand the reach of mobile.”
“We are greatly encouraged by the shared vision of mobile operators and the common urgency to find solutions that will drive down the cost of mobile and internet services and help connect the unconnected,” she added.
The operator groups manage a combined total of 76 mobile networks across 47 countries in Africa and the Middle East. The initiative has the full support of all eight CEOs, and came about following a discussion at Mobile World Congress.
Manoj Kohli, managing director of Bharti Enterprises and Chair of the Public Policy Committee of the GSMA board, noted: "This cooperation demonstrates that the industry is committed to innovating in order to serve the billions living in the rural areas. We call on governments to support and encourage the commercial infrastructure sharing arrangements that we aim to propose.”