Perspectives on WRC-19

African Perspective on the WRC-19

Daniel Obam
Communications Secretary
National Communications Secretariat, Kenya


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Q. What is the significance of WRC-19 to Africa’s Digital Development Plans?

A. WRC-19 will discuss use of spectrum for various services including next generation of mobile networks or 5G and the following:

  • Sharing between non-geostationary and geostationary satellites;
  • Additional spectrum allocation to amateur radio services;
  • Modernisation of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS);
  • Introduction of a Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS);
  • Potential global or regional harmonisation of spectrum for the development of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS);
  • Identification of additional spectrum for High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS);
  • Technical and operational aspects of narrowband and broadband machine-type (i.e. IoT, “Internet of Things”) communication infrastructures;
  • Possible extension of Local Wireless Broadband or RLANs; and
  • Satellite coordination & recording procedures and processes; among others.

Decisions taken at the conference on these and other matters have the potential to affect millions of African consumers and businesses.

The African continent is suffering from low mobile broadband connectivity with less than 30% of Africans having access to broadband. The majority of Africans access the Internet mostly via mobile phones. Internet access anywhere and at any time is pivotal to the successful growth of a knowledge economy. African governments will continue to invest in infrastructure for universal, always-on, high speed, wireless data connectivity for every citizen. Nonetheless, ICTs and broadband access are expected to play significant role in enhancing Africa’s competitiveness in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Therefore, African governments are looking at making broadband accessible and affordable to enable citizens to utilize digital technologies to access public services and transact business effortlessly on online platforms.

One of the agenda items to be discussed at WRC-19 concerns identification and the future availability of spectrum for the next generation of mobile broadband, commonly referred to as 5G.

As postulated by the World Economic Forum, the digital and wireless transformation of Africa’s economies will be powered by 5G networks, which have the potential to drive economic growth in the region like no previous generation of mobile technology. One of the agenda items to be discussed at WRC-19 concerns identification and the future availability of spectrum for the next generation of mobile broadband, commonly referred to as 5G.

WRC-19 presents a critical opportunity for African countries to work with like-minded countries to finalize identification of spectrum that will enhance the delivery of services across various industries, but especially wireless broadband, to rural and remote un-served and underserved areas where wireline facilities are not feasible.

Q. What relevant preparatory milestones has Kenya contributed to in this regard?

A. Kenya’s preparatory process for WRC-19 began in early 2016 when members of the National Preparatory Committee (NPC) who had attended WRC-15 held a one-day workshop to brief other stakeholders on the outcomes of WRC-15. Thereafter, the National Preparatory Committiee for WRC-19 was constituted. The main objective of the NPC was to prepare the country position for the WRC-19, taking into consideration the results of ITU studies, current national spectrum use and priorities. The membership of the NPC was drawn from organisations that utilize the radio frequency spectrum resource. The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), by virtue of its mandate as the country’s radio frequency management agency, plays a pivotal role in the preparations of the WRC-19 by providing the chairmanship and secretariat for the NPC as well as logistical support for all the preparatory activities.

The NPC holds its meetings before major international preparatory meetings such as EACO Preparatory Meetings, ATU Preparatory Meetings, CPM and Inter-Regional Workshops while the associated subcommittees hold several meetings depending on the volume of allocated work in order to deliberate on the WRC-2019 agenda items in an effort to come up with final positions.

Kenya hosted and chaired the first ATU Preparatory meeting for WRC-19. We have also attended all the EACO and ATU preparatory meetings and contributed the rapporteur for Chapter 6 of the CPM Report.

5G technology is expected to increase opportunities for developments brought about by technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and mission critical communication.

Q. In the wake of WRC-19, what due considerations for future ICT development efforts are merited?

A. 5G technology is expected to increase opportunities for developments brought about by technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and mission critical communication. It is also expected to enhance overall capacity, speed and latency of the mobile networks and drive industrial and societal transformation and economic growth globally.

The WRC process has helped create economies of scale and make mobile services more affordable and as a result penetration of telephony in Africa has increased significantly.

The decisions at WRC-19 hold the promise for next-generation networks which will connect the remaining billions of unserved and under-served populations in Africa, with even higher capacity, higher speed services globally, opening up a world of opportunities to African and other people in the world.

Q. What milestones has the Republic of Kenya achieved in national digital transformation? (reference to the Kenya Blue Print)

A. Kenya has achieved much in the digital transformation of its economy; although a lot more work remains to be accomplished. In the SMART Africa Alliance (whose aim is to use ICT to drive the achievement of Africa as a Single Digital Market), Kenya has the responsibility to promote the Digital Economy Pillar. During the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda in May 2019, Kenya decided to review the factors that are driving the digital transformation of its economy.

The review resulted in the development, through a collaborative effort between the government, it’s agencies and the private sector, of the Kenya Digital Economy Blueprint for Africa which outlines the factors that are behind the digital transformation of the economy.

Kenya’s national development priorities are enshrined in the Kenya Vision 2030 and the Big Four Agenda. The Kenya Vision 2030 aims to create “a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030”. It also aims to transform Kenya into “a newly-industrializing, middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment”. The Vision identifies ICT as a key enabler in the achievement of economic pillars and a critical factor in driving the economic, social and political development in our country.

The Kenya Vision 2030 aims to create “a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030”. It also aims to transform Kenya into “a newly-industrializing, middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment”. The Vision identifies ICT as a key enabler in the achievement of economic pillars and a critical factor in driving the economic, social and political development in our country.

On the other hand, the Big Four Agenda is an accelerated five-year development plan designed to fast-track the realisation of the Vision 2030 and focuses on four pillars, namely Food and Nutritional Security, Universal Healthcare, Manufacturing, and Affordable Housing. The Big Four agenda can be directly related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) No. 2(End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture), 3(Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages), 9 (Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation ) and 11 (Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable)

The Blueprint defines the Digital Economy as “the entirety of sectors that operate using digitally-enabled communications and networks leveraging internet, mobile and other technologies”, and identifies pillars that are driving the digital transformation of the economy.

Kenya sees the Digital economy as opportunity to leapfrog and grow its economy, and transit to a Knowledge based economy. It expects to reap benefits in economic growth (GDP growth, sustainable development , job creation, reduced poverty, and innovative homegrown solutions), socio-economic development (enhanced quality of life and basic needs leading to citizen satisfaction), and in improved governance(transparency and accountability, greater efficiency for better public service delivery and increased public participation in decision making).

Five pillars have been identified as the foundations to guide the collective way forward in the Kenya’s digital economy:

  • Digital Government - The presence and use of digital services and platforms to enable public service delivery
  • Digital Business - Development of a robust marketplace for digital trade, digital financial services and digital content. As the home for MPESA, Kenya is recognised globally as one of the world leaders in driving financial inclusion through the use of digital finance solutions.
  • Infrastructure - The availability of affordable, accessible resilient and reliable infrastructure
  • Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship - The presence of an ecosystem that supports homegrown firms to generate world class products and services which help to widen and deepen digital economic transformation.
  • Digital Skills and Values - The development of a digitally skilled workforce that is grounded on sound ethical practices and sociocultural values

Q. In your role, how do you foresee the post WRC-19 international efforts on ICT development?

A. Post WRC-19, countries will have to promote policies that promote development of ICTs as an important tool for innovation processes, digital transformation and economic growth. The traditional regulatory architecture will be ill-suited for the ICT sector in a converged environment where 5G is deployed. Due to the expected rapid changes in technology and how it rapidly disrupts systems, any regulation must be backed by proper data and research with high level principles being applied as regulatory tools instead of prescriptive rules as has been done previously. The policy areas of focus could be:

  • Broadband deployment: available high-speed broadband viewed as a driver of innovation, efficient public service delivery, growth and jobs in ICT industry and beyond.;
  • Encouragement of technology diffusion to businesses for smart applications which are both more efficient and environmentally friendly;
  • The security of information systems and networks;
  • Electronic settlement/payment;
  • Availability of relevant and appropriate Digital content.
  • Introduction of pro-investment ICT policies which should be applied progressively to drive innovation, growth and to protect consumers and must take cognizance of the convergence and emergence of new technologies.

Q. In what significant ways is Africa region fulfilling its obligations and commitment to the international sustainable development goals?

A. Africa is doing this in several ways some of which are enumerated below:

African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement
The is reported to be world’s largest free trade zone — a 55-nation bloc worth $3.4 trillion. The AfCFTA agreement was signed in Kigali Rwanda on 21 March 2018 and by July 2019, 54 African States had signed up. Kenya and Ghana were among the first countries to ratify the Agreement and the ratification requirement was reached in good time and the agreement was launched on 8 July 2019 in Niamey Niger by African leaders.

The trade pact aims to create a single African continental market for goods and services and boost cross-border trade by reducing or eliminating duties and red tape with free movement of business, persons and investments. This is expected to expand intra-Africa trade, expedite the continental integration process and enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level. All these will contribute towards the African Region fulfilling its obligations and commitment to the international sustainable development goals as well as making the economies of African countries become stronger and much bigger and the mutual benefits of trade elevating Africa’s economic development status.

SMART Africa Alliance is group of countries with a vision to Transform Africa into a single digital market and whose Heads of State and Government have made a bold and innovative commitment to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent, ushering Africa into a knowledge economy through affordable access to Broadband and usage of ICTs.

SMART Africa Alliance
SMART Africa Alliance is group of countries with a vision to Transform Africa into a single digital market and whose Heads of State and Government have made a bold and innovative commitment to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent, ushering Africa into a knowledge economy through affordable access to Broadband and usage of ICTs.

Policy and Regulation Initiative for Digital Africa (PRIDA)
The African Union Commission (AUC) in line with its role and strategic mandate in developing continental strategies and related norms initiated several studies on harmonization of policies, regulatory frameworks and strategies conducive to development of regional and continental ICT networks and services. Affordable and accessible ICT services have the potential to help create competitive markets, drive social and inclusive growth and deliver more equitable development.

PRIDA has the objective of fostering universally accessible and affordable broadband across Africa, in order to unlock future benefits of internet-based services. Specifically it aims to create a more harmonised and enabling legal and regulatory framework for the use of ICT for social and economic development, with an emphasis on boosting the spectrum market across Africa. The project which is funded in collaboration with European Commission has the strategic priority areas of mobilising investments for African structural sustainable transformation. The main activities of the project are based on three pillars:

  • Efficient and harmonised spectrum utilisation;
  • Harmonisation of measurable ICT/Telecommunications policy, legal and regulatory frameworks; and
  • African decision makers’ active participation in the global internet governance debate.
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