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MTN Cameroon waiting two years on regulator approval for 5G tests

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The glacial speed of a telecoms regulator still fretting over 2G could impede growth in Central African economy

South African mobile operator MTN reports that it has been frustrated in its ambitions for high-impact projects in central Africa’s Cameroon. The blockage is presented by the national Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications which is pondering the lack of coverage in other regions, reports Business in Cameroon. It argues that 5G may not be allowed until the digitally impoverished parts of the nation get an equitable scale of bandwidth, with some parts of Cameroon still on 2G coverage.  

"We requested a [5G] testing license two years ago. It's still been assessed by the regulator," a spokesman for subsidiary MGN Cameroon told Connecting Africa. 

MTN Cameroon is the country's biggest operator with a 37 per cent market share at the end of June 2021 (says Omdia research). Orange Cameroon has 35.5 per cent and Nexttel 25.5 per cent. Camtel Cameroon has less than two per cent of the nation’s subscribers. 

Can 5G ever be rolled out equally?

At the last count there were 24 operators in 18 African countries testing or rolling out 5G, says the global mobile trade body the GSMA

In South Africa MTN is one of three operators using 5G, along with rivals Vodacom, and Rain. Telma launched a 5G service in Madagascar last year and Safaricom launched in Kenya in March 2021.

The MTN group has tested 5G in Nigeria and Uganda, while Gabon Telecom has tested in Gabon. In Mauritius, the regulator has granted 5G licenses to the country's three telecom operators.

However, 5G subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa were under one per cent at the end of 2020 according to Ericsson's Mobility Report for June 2021. At the current rate, according to its predictions, 5G would comprise seven per cent of mobile subscriptions in the region come 2026.

Cameroon’s 5G is being delayed by a debate about the equality of access, according to Business in Cameroon (BIC).

While it will be profitable for MTN Cameroon to deploy 5G in Daoula and Yaounde, the two main telecom markets in the country, the government is concerned about an equitable development of its territory, said BIC. How could the government license MTN’s request while the 4G, 3G and 2G are not yet available all over the country, it asked.