Internet is booming in Mozambique

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Balancing Act 
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TDM annual report 1999 
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Virtual Connection 
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Mozambique Study Group, 8 January - Mozambique is the second poorest nation in the world. Things ought to be more difficult, tougher, and more important than that because you are in Mozambique, technology ought to cost more. Internet cafes in Maputo charge US$ 3.00 an hour for access and dial-ups cost US$30 but despite all this the internet in Mozambique is booming.

According to Tropical Connection, one of the 10 ISPs operating in Mozambique the number of users country-wide has more than doubled from 5,500 to more than 12,000 during the last two years. Until now a staggering 75% of the users were located in Maputo and surrounding communities and the remaining 25% at the provincial level. Until now this was also aligned with the disparity of economic growth countrywide for the past 5 years where the focus has been in Maputo, the capital city.

The newly created National Commission on Information focuses on Information Technology policies. This is a high-level government body led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Pascoal Mocumbi that focuses on the establishment of a national policy for the internet, Information technology, research and the future of commerce through Internet. Additional objectives are to raise national conscioussness on the importance of Information in this day in age, in the areas of education, science, health and entertainment.

Tackling the need to eliminate regional trade disadvantages, the commission promises to focus on investment in technologies for the commerce arena, enabling products to be marketable in a global marketplace. Until now that is.

The trend is shifting towards Mozambique's nine remaining provinces. Newly injected USAID funds and a new multi-million dollar international partnership fiberoptics highway has promised to deliver solutions to the much needed rural communities that compose nothing less than 13 million of Mozambique¹s 15 million population. To put this speed of change into perspective, it is worth saying that the bottleneck thus far has been politics behind the technology.

International access will improve during 2001, following implementation of a new international gateway switch, new $150,000 USAID funded antennas in three provinces (alternate ISP), and a US$21 million fiberoptics project due for implementation during 2001. And improved inter-urban 64 Kbps leased line access as well as X.25 interurban access will be available in 2001 in two destinations in addition to Maputo. Local access in Maputo will improve as a result of the installation of fiberoptic loops around the city center, currently in execution.

What is it like to connect via a sole ISP from a remote rural area? It can only be done via a monopoly supplier whose stagnation is literally frustrating, Teledata Lda, a partnership of Mozambique and Portuguese capital, holds rural users over a barrel. If you need access to the internet at the provincial level your only choice is Teledata. Needless to say that frustration was rampant. Users could not believe that a page with graphics should take anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes to download, but it was a realistic vision of the internet in Mozambique until now.

The economics of communications
According to the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) Mozambique spends 5% of its GDP on telecommunications. This figure is considered among the highest in the world. The results are visible. A new dynamic is taking shape, with emphasis on rural data centers supplied by Mondlane University (UEM), remote connectivity projects via radio link. South Africa's Bushmail plans to set up remote connectivity centers in the first quarter of 2001.

These are but a few upcoming projects for the new year. With these initiatives the number of users at the provincial level is expected to double in 2001 from 2,000 to 4,000 users as telecommunication infrastructures are improved.

The quality of the telecommunications infrastructure provided by the national telco to support applications such as full internet can be considered good in the capital city (Maputo) and the provincial capitals. Rural access is often poor and 64 Kbps access is not possible yet. This is mainly due to poor infrastructures and noisy telephone access. Improvement of the equipment in the network is showing marked results. In 1995, call completion rate stood at 74%, up from 66% in 1994. This is far higher than what is normally encountered in African countries.

The number of reported faults per 100 lines is 54 in 1995. The average fault clearing time on a subscriber line is eight days, which is lower than what is reported from various other countries (e.g. Ghana, Kenya, Senegal). The rate of digitalization in switching has increased from 71% in 1994 to 90% in 1999. The digitalization rate in transmission increased from 85 to 93% in the same period. Communication with Zimbabwe and South Africa have improved dramatically. These digitalization rates are also significantly higher than in many other SADC countries.

The national telecommunications operating company is Telecomunicacoes de Mocambique, E.E. (TDM) and is the dominant service provider. The posts and telecommunications functions of the parastatal for national communications services were separated in 1981. TDM was reorganized in 1991 and emerged with a new commercial board of directors. The first annual report of TDM was released in 1993. The government through the Ministry of Transport and Communications in consultation with the Ministry of Finance must approve capital expenditure by TDM which otherwise enjoys autonomy within the framework of its universal coverage obligation.

Telecommunications Indicators during 2000

Population: 17.5 million
Total GDP: US$ million 2,500 est
Per capita income: US$ 236 est
Telecommunications expenditure in % of GDP: 5%
Number of main lines: 79,000
Teledensity/100 population: 0.39
Telecom service joint ventures: No
Independent Telecomm Regulator: Yes
Number of telecom operators: 2 *
Number of ISP providers: 10
Number of Internet Connections: 12,000** est

*Source: Telecomunicacoes de Mocambique; Telecommunications Foundation of Africa * non TDM or TDM subsidiaries 
** This number may be underestimated, the actual figure may be much higher. ISPs routinely underreport their subscriber numbers to avoid high value-added taxes imposed on their businesses. This is true and may have major tax implications, which would dramatically raise the mega-byte cost to prohibitive levels for doing business. 

TDM is currently implementing an investment program worth US$ 60.6 million. For some projects (notably those in rural areas) TDM is able to attract donor finance. For the GSM project, which is the largest single investment, a private sector partner has been selected. TDM does not entertain special working relationships with its professional customers and requirements of professional customers beyond the provision of direct exchange lines are not being addressed in a responsive manner. There are relatively few technicians within TDM who have a background in data communications. Experience shows that a close working relationship between professional users and the telecommunications operator is an important one and can prevent delays and implementation problems on the part of datacommunications service providers such as Internet service, lease line service and understand the data needs of its customers.

MCEL expansion
One widely held belief is that the wireless revolution, namely that cellular communications, sat phones and radio (bushmail¹s approach) can be a part of the solution. The irony may be that African countries, Mozambique in particular, may be using digital technology while US uses analogue technology; hence a faster development of Internet products and solutions. The number of cellular users is estimated in 12,400 and is mainly focused in Maputo surrounding communities. With the expansion of cell phone services to the rest of the country this number will dramatically rise, providing an additional means of internet connectivity.

The national telecommunications backbone has been rehabilitated following the war. The transmission capacity is being expanded significantly, from 3,542 circuits in 1994 to 9,500 in 1999. Switching capacity has likewise been expanded since then. In 1995, the infrastructure had 59,904 connected direct lines. The annual growth of connected lines is between 7 and 8% and by 1998 72, 840 subscriber lines were in operation. Average cost per new line is US$ 4,500. MCEL, the sole cellular provider in Mozambique, has budgeted US$ 33 million for remote connectivity construction during 2000-2002. 

End-user economics
The major issues related to Internet in Southern Africa and particularly to Mozambique are directly linked with the ambition to connect with foreign partners to do business at a less cost. The number of foreign entities, consultants, and NGOs does tend to promote communication to all regardless of costs to support business processes. The start-up costs are exorbitant but as time goes by the telecommunication infrastructures are closing the gap, thus slowly reducing costs. The price of computers is also a factor. With IBM compatibles costing as much as US$ 236 some form of subsidies (either governmental or donor based) has to take place to ensure that the new infrastructures are fully utilized.

The literacy factor
There is often the belief in Africa that the one of the main barriers is illiteracy. Are we going to let that stop us? No. We can program computers, enable telephony, use wireless communications and use e-commerce through PCs and workstations and download MP3, compile CDs, and recognize voice through 64kbps lines. Mozambicans are not waiting and are very optimistic that the lack of infrastructure will not deter adherence to new technologies. 

Internet usage in Mozambique has increased dramatically and promises to duplicate yearly for the foreseeable future. With the improvement of bandwidth, telecommunication infrastructures and the expansion of ISPs throughout the country it is expected that such usage will explode. The currently existing bandwidth no longer satisfies the needs of users and the demands of businesses in Maputo as well as the needs of the other entities that ISPs provide services to.

Therefore provision should be made to improve the bandwidth to Internet to at least 1Mbps full duplex link, i.e., 1Mbps for uplink and downlink. Most ISPs are currently able to provide stable 64Kbps uplinks and similar speed downlinks. The number of leased lines is on the upward trend as well. Even with innovative telecommunications pricing and internet policies, Mike Jensen, a consultant from South Africa stated that, the price of access calls is still prohibitive throughout Mozambique.

If you consider that in some African countries you can pay US$ 8 or more per hour for a dial-up call, with the charge in at least 10 countries at US$ 4, according to Jensen. In countries with a more competitive market, the charges can be as low as US$ 0.60 per hour, but even there call charges still form the most expensive part of access costs. This major variance brings Mozambique into perspective since the actual cost of US$ 3 per hour is aligned with the majority of African countries.

The high license fees and license conditions of telecommunications and service providers, limitations imposed on wireless and very small aperture terminal satellite access, excessive import duties on equipment, and limited skill and knowledge of the available options for providing access are among the major factors delaying the speed of implementation in Mozambique. Yet restrictive government policies are not always adhered to. ISPs are putting in a lot of illegal wireless equipment regardless of the law. Telephony among other equipment is being tested. Country telecommunication policies are not able to keep up with the advances in technology. It is obvious that this trend will continue. This is a clear indication that in Mozambique and other SADC countries technology is moving much faster despite the desire of government to keep-up with flexible policies.

Artur Manhica is an IT Manager, Project Manager and developer of MIS Solutions. 

Source: This article is reproduced with special permission from Balancing Act

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