Ghana aims to succeed where others have struggled with shared 5G network

Government-led mobile network sharing initiatives rarely run smoothly, but that doesn't seem to put them off, as they chase the dream of widespread, affordable broadband.

Nick Wood

May 28, 2024

3 Min Read

Ghana has become the latest to give it a go. It has established the Next-Gen Infrastructure Company (NGIC), a public-private partnership that includes the government and local mobile operators AT Ghana and Telecel, as well as a roster of suppliers.

They are Reliance-backed Radisys; Indian IT services giant Tech Mahindra; and Nokia. Ghanaian network services specialist Ascend Digital, and a local tower company called K-Net are also part of the group.

Together this coalition aims to build a nationwide 4G/5G network that any operator can use to offer affordable mobile services, including fixed-wireless access (FWA). It is hoped that NGIC will close the digital divide and improve financial inclusion via the uptake of various online services including education, healthcare, M2M, and payments.

NGIC has been granted a 5G licence and has an incredibly ambitious plan to launch services within the next six months, before expanding into other parts of Africa.

"The creation of a shared 5G Mobile Broadband Infrastructure is critical for delivering affordable, high-speed data access to the people of Ghana and help achieve our Digital Ghana vision. The creation of NGIC as a neutral, shared platform, accessible to all mobile network operators and tower companies, will help to expand 5G services rapidly across the country," said Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Ghana's minister for communications and digitalisation.

The involvement of two major Indian suppliers – Radisys and Tech Mahindra – is deliberate. Owusu-Ekuful said through NGIC, Ghana hopes to mimic the rapid rollout and uptake of networks and affordable broadband services seen in India.

"We are inspired by India's digital infrastructure and low-cost mobile data usage and keen to replicate it in Ghana," she said.

It's a feather in India's cap, and while no-one would argue that its mobile market is perfect, there are worse examples to replicate.

Mexico's Altan Redes springs to mind. It was one of the earlier attempts at building a shared LTE network running on 700-MHz spectrum. Unfortunately, Altan Redes struggled to hit its rollout targets, and its problems were compounded by the country's mobile operators, which were rolling out and wholesaling their own networks in parallel. It filed for bankruptcy in 2021, and had to be bailed out by the government.

Last week, Expansion reported that Altan Redes is now under investigation by the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) for alleged anti-competitive practices. It follows complaints from America Movil and AT&T that the wholesaler is offering tariffs that are impossible for private sector players to replicate.

Then there is Malaysia, which opted for a single, state-controlled, shared 5G network called Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB). Thanks to changes in government, operators' objections to the network's ownership structure, and questions about the vendor selection process, the whole thing descended into farce.

It made such a hash of it that Malaysia is now in the process of implementing a second shared 5G network programme to compete with the first one.

Here in the UK, a government keen to improve rural mobile coverage cajoled the country's operators into establishing the Shared Rural Network (SRN), a billion-pound plan to cover 95% of the country by the end of 2025. Being a looser coalition and private-sector-led, it's not exactly like the other examples here, but it has nonetheless managed to flounder in similar fashion.

As has been widely reported, all but one of the operators are running behind schedule on their SRN deployments, and the National Audit Office is concerned the scheme will require more funding.

Given all the travails that come with shared mobile network deployments, Ghana getting NGIC up and running in six months – and launching internationally – would be a remarkable achievement.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like