Newer technology pushes out CDMA in Africa, bringing faster speeds

A variety of technologies, LTE in particular, is making CDMA obsolete in many parts of Africa, bringing faster mobile communication to people throughout the region.

This month, Orange, which operates LTE networks in Mauritius and Botswana, said it is moving its Kenyan subscribers off CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and that it will launch five LTE networks in Africa this year. CDMA can no longer favorably compete with 3G and LTE, CEO Vincent Lobry said in February.

On its part, Telecom Namibia shut down all its CDMA sites on March 31 after moving its customers to faster HSPA+ and LTE networks. It said it wanted to repurpose spectrum and offer mobile voice, data, and video services over a more modern platform.

CDMA appears to be waning as subscribers flock to other types of networks. For example, Ghana’s sole CDMA operator, Expresso, ended 2014 with a subscriber base of 119,059, down from November’s figure of 120,667. Expresso is owned by Sudatel. Sanctions on Sudan have hit Sudatel’s recapitalization efforts, affecting services.

4G—including LTE—is considered superior to 2G including CDMA because it is is faster, offering lower latency. It is also more flexible in how it uses spectrum.

“CDMA usage has indeed been in decline both in Africa and globally. On a global level, the decline mainly results from the telecoms companies migrating from CDMA to WCDMA and 4G technologies,” said Thecla Mbongue, senior research analyst at Ovum, via email. “In Nigeria, the number of mobile CDMA subscriptions declined by 9 percent in 2014.”

According to Nigeria’s telecom regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, CDMA lines dropped by 78,885 to 2,108,960 lines from December 2014 to January 2015. Meanwhile GSM technology recorded 139 million active lines in January, up from 137 million in December 2014.

Telecom companies are maneuvering to acquire spectrum to roll out new services. Last month, MTN Nigeria moved to acquire Visafone in Nigeria to gain access to its spectrum to enable it to provide 4G LTE services.

“Visafone launched LTE recently and the acquisition would propel MTN into the 4G (LTE) sphere instantly, without having to wait for further spectrum auction,” Mbongue said.

MTN might end up keeping the fixed CDMA segment of Visafone’s holdings, however. Fixed CDMA subscription remains stable in both Nigeria and the rest of Africa, Mbongue noted.

“Should the acquisition go through, MTN would access further spectrum and enhance its fixed segment and mobile broadband offerings,” she said.

Other factors associated with the declining use of CDMA include the higher cost of its mobile handsets relative to phones used for GSM and other technologies. CDMA’s declining market share has taken the competitive pressure off operators to lower prices on handsets. Local entrepreneurs, especially in Nigeria, are declining to lend capital to CDMA operators because of their relatively poor financial record.

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