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Lauri Elliott in South Africa.
Ghana’s ICT boom converges with its oil boom, which kicked off on December 15, 2010 with the first commercial oil pour from Tullow Oil installations. Ghana’s potential ICT boom is tied to the landing of undersea cables, e.g. Main One, connecting it to international broadband networks.
As a potential market, Ghana is smaller than Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, with a population of over 24 million and a labour market of over ten million, according to the CIA World Factbook. However, the Ghana Statistical Service estimates that Ghana’s population will jump to 30 million in 2020 and 38 million in 2028. And, according to Guy Zibi of AfricaNext Research, any market of ten million in Africa is a sufficient market size to generate return on investments for telecommunications operators, at least.
In fact, Eric Osiakwan, director of Internet Research in Ghana, points out that while Nigeria might be larger, Ghana has a higher penetration rate, higher income levels, and is considered an emerging economy.
The general business environment in Ghana is also good. The country has maintained economic and political stability for 15 years or more. It also ranks well on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, at 7th place, just behind Namibia and ahead of Tunisia.
Within the Ghana ICT market, Ghana’s mobile phone penetration rate was 49.6 percent, while 6.4 percent and 0.3 percent of households had computers and internet access respectively in 2008. This is according to the Measuring the Information Society 2010 report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Addition of fixed lines is on the decline. The mobile penetration rate may be much higher based on a figure of over 15 million mobile subscribers from Ghana’s National Communication Authority (NCA).
According to ResearchICT- Africa, mobile users with multiple SIMS account for about 11 percent of subscribers in either case.
As with many developing markets, there are policy and legal frameworks for the ICT sector, but not sufficient implementation in Ghana, according to the Ghana ICT Sector Performance Review 2010 report by ResearchICTAfrica. The two key policies for ICT development are the ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4D) and National Telecom Policy (NTP).
ICT4D is tied to the socioeconomic development strategy, Coordinated Programme of Economic and Social Development of Ghana (2003-2012). One goal is to see Ghana as the ICT hub of Africa, so in essence ICT is a priority sector for the nation. This generally means the government will put more resources into ICT than other non-priority sectors because it is critical to economic development. For ICT businesses, this will often translate into benefits like incentives and special programs to attract businesses. For example, as part of the e-Ghana project, local ICT businesses receive focused support.
National Telecom Policy (NTP) focuses on developing the structures to ensure the ICT market operates well. For example, it supports open market entry through a licensing regime. This has had a positive effect. In the Telecom Regulation Environment (TRE) survey conducted in 2009, Ghana received positive marks for market entry when it had received negative marks in 2006, according to ResearchICTAfrica.
The number of operators in the telecom market due to the government’s liberalisation regime creates a competitive environment in Ghana for the most part. There are two fixed operators – Vodafone Ghana (controlling 98 percent of the market) and Westel.
There are six mobile operators in Ghana – Glo Mobile, Kasapa Telecom, MTN Ghana, Tigo Ghana Limited, Vodafone Ghana, and Zain. MTN Ghana and Tigo Ghana have the largest market shares, with 53 percent and 23 percent respectively, according to Ghana’s National Communication Authority (NCA) in 2008.
Ghana was actually one of the first African countries to implement the internet, but, unlike in other countries, the internet hasn’t really taken flight. According to the NCA, at the end of 2009, there were close to 500 licensed, internet-related service providers, but only about 120 are operational. These include VSAT, internet, and public/corporate data providers.
Osiakwan says that the new broadband capacity will drive many ICT opportunities. The price of broadband was slashed in half in 2010. “Prices should go lower because demand is not sufficient at the current price level. I expect it to follow a similar pattern to mobile phones. As prices go down, uptake will increase,” says Osiakwan.
The broadband market in Ghana is actually unregulated. Broadband providers include Vodafone Ghana, Internet Ghana and Busy Internet. Vodafone, however, has swallowed the market
by depressing prices, according to ResearchICTAfrica. Other providers simply cannot compete.
The broadband boom faces a challenge around the terrestrial backhaul needed to connect users with high-speed links. Providers are looking at a variety of solutions, including WiMax and WiFi. Osiakwan considers this challenge an opportunity.
As broadband accessibility improves, Osiakwan expects that application development for both the internet and mobile platforms will take off. He says, in particular: “Online content will be the next big thing.”
One of the more prominent and innovative development firms in Ghana is Rancard Solutions. Its solution – Rancardmobility.com – provides a platform to handle the content delivery process to mobile subscribers in Africa. A recent client is ESPNSoccernet.com, which allowed Ghanian and Nigerian mobile subscribers to follow teams during the World Cup and interact on Facebook and Twitter through the Rancardmobility.com platform.
For new firms entering the Ghanian market, Osiakwan stresses the importance of working within the Ghanian context. For example, like many African nations, Ghana does not have legacy systems like copper, and the basic unit of society is the family, not the individual.
Osiakwan says firms considering interactive media like video and internet TV need to consider that Ghanians are still focused on the ‘spoken word’. He doesn’t doubt that these formats will take off, “but for now, the ‘spoken word’ is it.”
Ghana is also a member of the regional bloc, ECOWAS, and can thus be used as a gateway into West Africa. So while a smaller market compared to the regional economic hubs in Africa, Ghana has assets and unique opportunities that can be leveraged.
Lauri Elliott is a strategist with over 25 years of business experience, specializing in global business, innovation, technology, and new ventures and start-ups.