Reliable backbone Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure and high- speed networks are a pre-requisite for spurring economic growth and achieving Botswana’s digital transformation goals.
Despite the major impact of Covid-19 during 2020, a number of achievements were recorded in the expansion of ICT infrastructure. This includes an additional 2 202 Fibre- to-the-Premises connections nationwide, bringing the total number of connections to 5 953. In addition, the National Cyber-Security Strategy was approved in October 2020, and a Computer Incident Response Team (CIRT), which is responsible for responding to Cyber-Security breaches, viruses and other potentially catastrophic incidents, was established in September 2020.
There was also a substantial drop in the price of mobile broadband during 2020, with operators reducing prices by 55 percent and increasing data bundle volumes by up to 200 percent. Botswana is now among the most competitive countries in Africa in terms of mobile data pricing, with a 2GB data package costing 0.92 percent of monthly GNI per capita, easily surpassing the maximum target of 2 percent. The reduction in mobile broadband prices is consistent with the aspirations of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, and these developments, among others, are helping to enhance the country’s ability to harness and take full advantage of ICTs, which are even more important in the era of Covid-19.
The 2021/22 budget for the Ministry of Transport and Communications caters for ICT projects such as the Government Data Network upgrading, National Backbone networks, Government Data Centre and Local Access Network. In addition, there is a budget allocation to cover Universal Service Programme obligations, which sees Government providing support for post offices which are running at a loss.
The Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) was established through the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) Act, 2012, to regulate the communications sector in Botswana. This comprises The Universal Access and Service Fund (UASF) was launched in 2014 as a special purpose vehicle responsible for facilitating the roll-out of communications services to unserved and underserved areas, thus ensuring that all Batswana have access to a set of basic yet essential communications services at affordable prices. To date, the UASF has helped to provide Wi-Fi hotspots in public places across the country, as well as Internet connectivity and electronic communications tools, such as computers and laptops, to a number of primary and junior schools. It has also worked to expand FM signal coverage.
In addition to providing digital platforms and access, the UASF’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan details its intention to promote local content development. Both BOCRA and the Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS) are supporting the fulfilment of this mandate. Recognising that local creatives play a critical role in contributing to the economy and promoting and preserving the national identity and cultural diversity, local media graduates are to be coached and mentored through a three-year Media Graduates Programme.
Botswana has one of the most liberalised telecommunications markets in the region, with a service- neutral licensing regime adapted to the convergence of technologies and services. Spurred by mobile technology, the sector continues to experience significant growth in terms of variety of services and the total number of consumers, with mobile broadband subscriptions having reached penetration in excess of 100 percent due to multiple SIM card ownership.
According to Statistics Botswana in their Information & Communication Technology Statistics Brief, out of a population of some 2.4 million, as at the third quarter of 2020 there were:
• 139 281 fixed telephone line subscriptions
• 3.813 million mobile telephone subscriptions
• 2.144 million Internet subscriptions, of which just 50 861 were fixed and 2.093 million mobile
In the third quarter of 2020, the Postal and Communications Services Sector’s value added amounted to P835.8 million in real terms, contributing
3.6 percent to total GDP.
Historically, Botswana has depended on satellites for its international bandwidth, and on other countries for transit capacity to landing points of international submarine fibre optic cable systems. The landing of additional cables in the region in recent years has improved the competitive situation in this sector, while prices for connectivity have fallen dramatically. In mid-2020, Paratus Teleco announced plans to build a private network covering the entire country and linking to the company’s international cables.
The monopoly held by the state-owned Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) to provide, develop, operate and manage the country’s national and international telecommunications services was repealed in 1996. Following further liberalisation, BTC was awarded a Public Telecommunications Operator (PTO) licence in 2007, and their mobile network – beMobile – was established in 2008.
On 1 November 2012, BTC was converted from a statutory body into a public company limited by shares, and renamed Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL). Government holds a 51 percent share in BTCL, while BTCL employees were given 5 percent, and the remaining 44 percent was transferred to Botswana Privatisation Asset Holdings Limited. BTCL listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2016. The Initial Public Offering (IPO) was oversubscribed 1.68 times and remains one of the most iconic IPOs in Botswana’s history. BTCL registered a net profit of P106.4 million in 2019/20 against a profit of P162.1 million in the previous financial year.
The separation of BTCL’s retail service provision from communications infrastructure resulted in the creation of the parastatal operator Botswana Fibre Networks Limited (BoFiNet) to manage the backbone that comprises the Trans-Kalahari Optic Fibre network and the Francistown- Gaborone loop. BoFiNet is a wholesale provider of national and international telecommunications infrastructure, with the focus on national broadband coverage, service and operational excellence.
By late 2020, BoFiNet boasted a national fibre network in excess of 10 600 kilometres countrywide, and is in the process of connecting cities, major towns and villages in order to reduce the digital divide. In this regard, 206 out of 399 localities are connected to high-speed open-access network infrastructure.
The drive to provide more villages with open access broadband backbone network connectivity continues. It was announced in the State of the Nation Address of November 2020 that more than 20 villages across the country are receiving broadband connectivity through optic fibre, with Kang, Tshane, Hukuntsi and Lehututu already completed and a further seven villages scheduled for completion before the end of the month. In addition, all villages with a population of less than 5 000 people are being connected via high capacity wireless instead of optic fibre before the end of NDP11.
Botswana has one of the highest rates of mobile penetration in Africa, with many users owning and operating more than one phone and utilising multiple SIM cards from different operators.
Mascom Wireless Botswana and Orange Botswana (owned by French telecommunications multinational Orange) began operating in the country in 1998. An additional mobile service was launched in 2008 – the BTC subsidiary ‘beMobile’. In 2019, MTN agreed to sell its 53 percent stake in Mascom for US $300 million to Zimbabwe-based Econet International, part of the Econet Wireless Group, which is already a minority shareholder in Mascom.
Uptake in subscriptions increased substantially between March 2019 and March 2020, from 3.353 million to 3.751 million, with teledensity reaching 185 percent. As in previous years, Mascom continued to lead in terms of market share (47 percent) as measured by the number of active mobile subscriptions, followed by Orange at 35 percent, and BTC Mobile at 18 percent. Although Mascom remained dominant in comparison to the other operators, its market share decreased by 4 percent over this period, while Orange increased its market share by 1 percent and BTCL by 3 percent.
Central to the creation of a competitive environment is a regulatory strategy that focuses on healthy competition in the sector.
Following a period of stagnation, the number of Internet users has risen strongly in recent years; largely the result of lower prices following improvements in international connectivity. Botswana’s three mobile network operators offer 3G, LTE and WiMAX technologies, and are working to expand the underdeveloped broadband sector.
Over the March 2019 to March 2020 period, mobile broadband subscriptions increased by 16 percent, from 1.752 million to 2.037 million. Mascom accounted for 959 955 subscriptions, followed by Orange at 864 564 and BTCL at 212 840. Subscriptions are expected to continue to grow in line with the five-year historical trend as consumers enjoy a diversity of services that facilitate e-commerce, social networking, entertainment and knowledge.
Access to fixed broadband has proven essential for reliability, high speed and high capacity Internet, and market trends indicate that access and usage will increase over time – firstly as a complementary service to mobile wireless Internet and secondly as a solution for bandwidth-hungry applications and services. The fixed-line broadband market comprises a large number of Internet service providers (ISPs), some of which have rolled out their own wireless infrastructure.
In Botswana, ADSL is offered at a wholesale and retail level by BTCL, which has a market share of about 95 percent. ISPs offer ADSL as resellers of the BTCL service. ISPs dominate the fixed wireless Internet market because they use free spectrum in the ISM bands for last mile access. There has been an increase in ADSL uptake, from 29 532 subscribers in March 2019 to 32 240 in March 2020. Over the same period, fixed wireless subscriptions increased from 10 943 to 23 352.
As part of its efforts to expand access to broadband Internet services, Government and the private sector have started rolling out the Fibre-To-The-Business and Fibre- To-The-Home project in Gaborone. The Gabz Free Wi-Fi initiative, which was launched in October 2020, intends to provide an hour’s free Wi-Fi per day for users in some public areas in Gaborone. The first phase of this project entails the installation of Wi-Fi Hotspots in ten public spaces in the city.
These locations were selected because they have already have the requisite infrastructure in the form of fibre networks. This service will be extended to other parts of Botswana in due course.
The broadcasting market in Botswana is fully liberalised and consists of Content Service Providers (CSP) and Subscription Management Services (SMS) providers. The CRA Act mandates BOCRA to regulate all broadcasting, subscription management services and re-broadcasting activities, with the exception of state broadcasting
The Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS), which falls under the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, is the state entity with the responsibility of providing news, information and entertainment. The DBS comprises Botswana Television (Btv), Radio Botswana (RB1), and Radio Botswana 2 (RB2).
Btv is the national broadcaster and began operating in 2000. It provides information on government policies and programmes as well as entertainment. RB1 broadcasts news, current affairs, culture, education and entertainment. Botswana’s first commercial radio channel, RB2 started operating in 1992 and features contemporary entertainment appealing particularly to young urban professionals. While its coverage was initially confined to Gaborone, today it can be found on 103 FM countrywide.
With the assistance of BoFiNet, Government has created a digital content platform that will showcase local entertainment through an Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) service. Dubbed ‘UPICtv’, the platform is a home- grown subscription-based streaming service which will host a bouquet of local and international titles, with a particular focus on locally produced dramas, movies, comedies and continuity programmes. This will contribute not only to commercialising Botswana’s creative industries and promoting digital transformation, but also to unlocking employment opportunities for at least 5 840 Batswana by its third year of operation.
In November 2019, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport & Culture Development launched NOW! TV to promote and showcase local talent. This focus is on youth empowerment, sport and culture, as well as developing the domestic film and television industry.
Botswana’s commercial radio stations, namely Yarona, Duma and Gabz FM, are available in most major towns and villages. The stations have expanded access to their services through online broadcasting transmission, thus making them available worldwide.
The eBotswana television station is currently available in Gaborone and surrounding villages within a 60-kilometre radius of the capital through terrestrial broadcasting. There are plans for eBotswana to introduce a satellite broadcast service in order to achieve national coverage.
According to BOCRA in its 2020 Annual Report, terrestrial television coverage has risen to 72 percent of the population, while commercial radio broadcasting reaches 68 percent. In a bid to enhance competition, the Authority continues to issue licences to new providers, as well as radio frequency spectrum for the rollout of new services. During the year, BOCRA also held stakeholder consultations on the development of a Campus Radio Licensing Framework, in line with its mandate to facilitate market entry into the communications sector.
During the 2019/20 financial year, BOCRA authorised Desert Road (Pty) Ltd t/a Zebranet and Stream It Media (Pty) Ltd to offer online broadcasting services, increasing the total number of online broadcasters to 16.
As announced in the 2020 State of the Nation Address, Government has installed a shared transmitter which is providing some 8 443 people residing in Sojwe, ShadiShadi, Lephephe, Otse, Boatlaname, Kokonje and Leologane with access to broadcast signals, including those of commercial radio stations. Furthermore, three transmitters at Salajwe, Takatokwane and Malwelwe, which were due to be commissioned before the end of the 2020/21 financial year, will provide 18 652 people in 33 villages with access to broadcast signals.
The public postal operator, BotswanaPost, is the main player in the postal market, with 124 post offices and 82 postal agencies across the country. It is mandated to provide, develop, operate and manage postal services in an efficient and cost-effective manner, and its universal service obligations mean that, as far as it is practicable, postal services should reach all the country’s inhabitants. Invariably, this mandate includes provision of universal postal services in areas that are not commercially viable; hence the need to continue exploring new avenues of funding, which cannot be sustained by Government alone.
Botswana Post has launched an online service, PosoMoney, to help the unbanked and under-banked achieve financial inclusion, while also generating a self- sustaining revenue stream. PosoMoney is a mobile money solution that allows customers to access a wide range of financial products and services. As at November 2020, there were 66 000 registered users on this platform.
Other players include commercial operators (who to a large extent lease facilities from BotswanaPost) as well as numerous courier companies offering express services. Commercial operators and courier companies are largely concentrated in urban areas and focus on niche markets, while BotswanaPost covers a wider populace.
Out of a total of 27 licensed commercial postal operators, 18 offer domestic and international express and parcel services, six offer international express and parcel services, while three offer domestic express and parcel services only.