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Malawi - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

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Last updated: 22 Apr 2020 Update History

Report Pages: 69

Lead Analyst: Henry Lancaster

Contributing Analyst: Peter Lange

Malawi’s network operators adjust to SIM card registration deadline

Malawi is one of the world’s least developed and poorest countries globally and has suffered from inconsistent economic growth in recent years. Businesses endured high inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency in 2015 and 2016, though the economy has since rebounded, with GDP expected to have grown 3.5% in 2018, and the currency has stabilised. These factors have enabled telecom operators to fund network upgrades, with the result that considerable investment has been channelled into fixed-line and mobile infrastructure upgrades in recent years.

Mobile penetration remains low in comparison to the regional average and so there are considerable opportunities for further growth, particularly in the mobile broadband sector. TMN was the first operator to launch an LTE-A service, followed by Airtel Malawi in January 2018. The market remains a duopoly between these two operators given the failure of G-Mobile and Celcom Malawi to launch services. However, there is expectation that Lacell Private (operating under the Smart Mobile brand) will provide some competition and encourage a reduction in end-user prices. In a bid to discourage crime the regulator has imposed SIM card registration, effective for all new cards since July 2018.

To encourage additional market competition, the government has followed in the footsteps of several of its neighbours and introduced a converged licensing regime which allows the two fixed-line operators, Malawi Telecommunications (MTL) and Access Communications (ACL) to enter the mobile market as well. The converged licensing regime was revised and came into force in September 2016.

The internet sector is reasonably competitive, with about 50 licensed ISPs, though the limited availability and high cost of international bandwidth has held back growth and kept broadband access prices among the highest in the region. DSL services are available. The incumbent in late 2017 closed down the CDMA network, while the WiMAX component was closed down in early 2018.

A national fibre backbone is nearing completion, while the country recently gained access to international submarine fibre optic cables via a transit link from neighbouring countries.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.

Although it is challenging to predict and interpret the long-term impacts of the crisis as it develops, these have been acknowledged in the industry forecasts contained in this report.

The report also covers the responses of the telecom operators as well as government agencies and regulators as they react to the crisis to ensure that citizens can continue to make optimum use of telecom services. This can be reflected in subsidy schemes and the promotion of tele-health and tele-education, among other solutions.

Key developments:

  • New SIM cards required registration process;
  • Airtel Malawi launches LTE services;
  • Mobile Termination Rates begin glide path reduction through to 2020; MTL switches off its CDMA network;
  • World Bank provides $72.4 million to help Malawi engage in the digital economy;
  • Regulators of Zambia and Malawi sign MoU related to cooperative efforts in the telecom and broadcasting sectors;
  • TNM boasts 46% increase in net profit for H1 2018;
  • TNM launches LTE-A services;
  • National Fibre Backbone Project nears completion;
  • Reserve Bank of Malawi reports on m-payment progress;
  • Regulator develops Universal Access Fund (UAF) to deliver mobile services to rural areas;
  • White space spectrum trials to increase broadband availability;
  • Report updates include recent market developments, operator data to Q2 2018, assessment of the global impact of COVID-19 on the telecoms sector.

Companies mentioned in this report:

Malawi Telecommunications (MTL), Access Communications (ACL), Bharti Airtel (Zain, Celtel), Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM), G-Mobile (GAIN), Celcom, ESCOM, MalawiNet, MTL Online, Skyband, Globe Internet, Broadmax, Burco.

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