Malawi's telecom sector pricing among the most expensive in the region
Although Malawi is one of the world's least developed countries, GDP growth has been strong in recent years, with the exception of 2012 when growth fell to 1.9%. GDP growth recovered in 2013, reaching 5.2%, and was expected to have increased to 5.7% for 2014. Telcos have been affected by the currency devaluation imposed in mid-2013, which has delayed their ability to fund network upgrades. In addition, the government in mid-2013 instituted a tax on internet services, the additional cost of services being passed on to consumers.
Mobile penetration remains very low in comparison to the African average. This allows for considerable opportunities for further growth. The market remains a duopoly between Bharti Airtel (formerly Zain) and Telecom Networks Malawi (TNM), given the failure of the third and fourth mobile operators, G-Mobile and Celcom Malawi, to launch services.
To encourage additional market competition, the government has followed in the footsteps of several of its neighbours and introduced a converged licensing regime which allows the two fixed-line operators, Malawi Telecommunications (MTL) and Access Communications (ACL) to enter the mobile market as well. Both operate CDMA-based fixed-wireless networks which support full mobility and broadband access using EV-DO technology.
The internet sector is reasonably competitive with 22 licensed ISPs, though the limited availability and high cost of international bandwidth has held back growth and has kept broadband access prices among the highest in the region. DSL services are available, and several ISPs continue to extend their WiMAX wireless broadband footprints. The two incumbent mobile networks have launched third generation (3G) mobile services based on UMTS/HSPA technology.
A national fibre backbone is being implemented, and the country recently gained access to international submarine fibre optic cables for the first time when a transit link via neighbouring countries was completed. Provided a suitable regulatory regime is put in place, this will bring down the cost of international bandwidth and deliver a boost to the broadband market.
Estimated market penetration rates in Malawi's telecoms sector end - 2015 Market | Penetration rate Mobile | 38% Fixed | 1.9% Internet | 6.8% (Source: BuddeComm based on various sources)
Beijing Xinwei Telecom Technology planning to enter the market as technology vendor and telco; Regulator prepares to award mobile licence to Lacell Private following failure of Celcom to launch services; TNM reports 102% increase in net profit for 2014; Regulator proposes Universal Access Fund (UAF) to deliver mobile services to rural areas; SIM card registration takes effect; Broadband plan developed with ITU technical assistance; TMN reports strong revenue recovery; Airtel Money registers over 500,000 users, receives ten-year licence renewal; Converged licensing regime expected to boost competition; National fibre rollout; White space spectrum trials to increase broadband availability; SimbaNeET contracted to build and operate a fibre-optic cable linking Lilongwe with Tanzania; Report updates include recent market developments.