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Telecoms operators say they are ready to roll out 5G networks in Morocco

Moroccan companies await operating licences while Rabat delays technological renewal
5G

AFP/STEFAN WERMUTH  -   Illuminated 5G logo is displayed during the 10th Mobile Broadband World Forum hosted by Huawei in Zurich on 15 October 2019

5G networks are operating at full capacity in the northern hemisphere of the globe. Although the technology is present on all continents, its operation is concentrated in North America and Europe, with the United States and France as the main players. The Persian Gulf is another enclave where the fifth generation of wireless communication is at work, while the other side of the coin can be seen in South America and Africa, vast regions where 5G connectivity is limited.

In this context, Morocco wants to be the first country on the African continent to roll out the new technology. And, against all odds, it has competition. Libya, despite its deep internal crisis, has been able to implement 5G thanks to the company Almadar, which launched its service in October 2020. However, it is only present in the capital, Tripoli, and the only user making use of the network is the operator itself.

The Tunisian capital also registers 5G activity in a few points in the wealthy neighbourhood of Les Berges du Lac, an area where international embassies are located. Elsewhere on the continent, Senegal, Mali, Kenya and, above all, South Africa, which have timid connections in their respective capitals, stand out.

Telecomunicaciones
PHOTO/REUTERS  -   5G network announcement in London

The Alawi Kingdom intends to undertake a more ambitious project. Morocco has invested heavily in its telecommunications project, with the intention of not leaving white zones, i.e. areas far from cities that are excluded from connectivity. In this regard, Rabat has stated that the country has other priorities before carrying out the network change.

Although the Moroccan authorities commissioned a study for 2021 with the aim of finding out the different proposals and modalities for the implementation of the new technology, this has not yet been carried out, according to the digital newspaper Medias 24, which suggests a delay in the roadmap set by Rabat. A delay that would in turn extend the deadline by which Morocco could put 5G networks into operation, 'a priori' planned for 2023.

Morocco's main operators, IAM, Orange and Inwi, have said they are ready. In fact, the companies have been waiting for two years to receive operating licences issued by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ANRT), the regulatory body.

In 2014, Morocco received proposals to implement 4G networks, the current technology. A few months later, the ANRT itself granted the permits and the three major operators carried out the current project. This time around, the companies are not counting on the same speedy deadlines. According to Media 24, the concessions are expected to be allocated by the end of 2022 or in 2023. So an effective rollout of 5G networks is not expected until 2024 or even 2025.

Mohamed VI
PHOTO/MAP  -  Mohamed VI presents the Agadir Urban Development Programme (2020-2024)

Before giving the green light to the various proposals, Morocco wants to wait for the full development of the technology, which has only been operational since April 2020 and has yet to be developed, and to plan a guarantee plan to facilitate the process. This is a gamble that could cause Morocco to lose its status as a pioneer in Africa.

Licences

The three major operators have developed preliminary 5G technology. The cases of Orange and Inwi, which are working on frequency bands, stand out. In any case, it is up to the ANRT to approve these bands for formal use. Among the conditions for obtaining a licence, companies must undertake to comply with the agency's conditions and pay an operating clause, according to ANRT.

The cost of the 4G networks exceeded Dh1 billion for IAM and Dh500 million for Medi Telecom, now Orange, and Inwi, according to Media 24. This amount could rise in this case with a new modification of the frequency spectrum, which would be borne by the operators. The wait continues.