The story of Vodafone Ghana's acquisition of the 4G licence is an odyssey of persistence and belief. The story starts in 2015 when Vodafone pulled out of the National Communications Authority's (NCA) 4G spectrum bidding process. The NCA pegged the price at US$67.5m for any mobile operator – Vodafone balked at the price, finding it exorbitant given market conditions. Supporting their claim, were examples across Africa where similar spectrum bids for the same band had an average price of around US$25m.
Chief Executive, Yolanda Cuba was adamant, “There is no doubt that 4G is an efficient technology and from a customer perspective, it can give increased speed. However, from our standpoint, it's just not cost efficient for us to deploy the technology.”
The bidding process went ahead nonetheless and a block of the two available slots was eventually prized away by another operator. With hopes of acquiring the other block fast slipping away, Vodafone Ghana decided to embark on an extensive advocacy campaign to make 4G spectrum available to its customers. The reasoning was that spectrum was an intrinsic property of every Ghanaian customer and the regulator should ensure that everyone had access to improved data access. The advocacy was eclectic and poignant but the NCA stood their ground. One operator had acquired a block despite the price, so what was hindering a multinational like Vodafone?
Despite all these challenges, the Vodafone Senior Management Team kept going. The company was determined to achieve this goal – to provide their customers with another top tier data service. They would not rest until they secured the 4G spectrum. Stakeholder Engagement sessions with Government representatives, the regulator, the media and advocacy groups were consistent and unrelenting.
Meanwhile, the company stepped up efforts by bolstering an already significant investment in its 3G network – which was soon ranked the best in voice clarity and 3G speed by global research company P3. Vodafone's Fixed Business also introduced the game changing *Fibre-to-the-Home* (FTTH) service, matching internet delivery to home and offices anywhere in the world. In no time, 1000-gated communities were connected – leading up to 27,000 homes connected to date. These strategic business decisions kept Vodafone relevant in the market. 4G was desirable but so was 3G; especially when you are providing best in class services in a country that still has significant pockets without data coverage.
Yolanda refused to give up. Advocacy reached the highest corridors of power. Vodafone's CEO for Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific (AMEAP) region, Vivek Badrinath proved instrumental in these interactions as well.
Then came June 2018 – a month marking 10 years of Vodafone's operations in Ghana. The company had put up a splendid anniversary dinner at the new Marriot Hotel in Airport. Every key personality and stakeholder attended including the Vice President of Ghana, Alhaji Mahamudu Bawumia.
His speech was instrumental in turning the tide in this epic saga:
“Some of the concerns expressed by Vodafone have been around the need for government to make available reasonably priced LTE spectrum to empower the company to deliver maximum quality service to its customers. We have taken the concerns on board and we will do everything within our power to make spectrum available for the benefit of Ghanaians. For me, making spectrum available to Vodafone should be seen as ensuring that government makes returns on its 30% shareholding in the company.”
After the anniversary event, the proverbial wheels started turning. The NCA finally agreed to open fresh bids for access to 4G spectrum and invited operators without the technology to bid. Vodafone, tireless in its commitment to liberalize the digital space in Ghana, emerged as the only successful company and was awarded a block for US$30m.
It was a feat that was met with much excitement. Sharing her thoughts on the matter, Yolanda Cuba stated:
“We are excited that after three years of persistent constructive engagement with the regulator and policymakers, we now have the opportunity to operate an LTE 4G licence in Ghana. We are happy that our customers will finally experience faster data speed starting next year. Vodafone is committed to continuously work with the regulator to promote digital inclusion in the country, for which the 4G spectrum will play a critical role. It will also enable Vodafone to partner with government on its agenda of digitising Ghana's economy.”
Telecommunication users are excited and expecting a major service boost from Vodafone. The company is already aligning its infrastructure towards launching 4G. If similar rollouts in other Vodafone operating markets are anything to go by, a data market transformation is imminent. Make sure you are ready!