The Kingdom of Lesotho is located in Southern Africa, an enclave of South Africa. Lesotho has an area of 30,355 km, with 10 administrative divisions (Berea, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, Maseru, Mohale's Hoek, Mokhotlong, Qacha's Nek, Quthing, Thaba-Tseka). The population as at July 2018 was estimated to be 1.962 million with a literacy rate of 79.4%. Sixty-two percent of the population is between 15 and 64 years of age (median 23 years). Maseru, the capital city, has a population of 202,000 (2018 CIA World Factbook). The official languages are Sesotho and English.
Key sectors in Lesotho are agriculture, followed by industry and services. Lesotho produces about 90% of its own electrical power needs. Economic growth is dependant on manufacturing, diamond mining and services. Export partners include US, Belgium and Canada.
Lesotho has developed a good policy framework. The ICT Policy was approved and adopted as a working document in March 2005. The main driver of the ICT policy is the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology. The Universal Access Fund was established in 2009. The Science Technology and Innovation Policy was reviewed in 2010 and proposed that an Innovation Fund be established to support research and capacity development. The Communications Act 2012 became operational in April 2012. The Electronic and Transaction Bill and the Lesotho National Broadband Policy were drafted in 2014, and the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill was drafted in 2015 (to be revised). Both are awaiting being passed into Bills by Parliament. The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP, 2013 -2017) highlights that the main goal of the communications sector is to facilitate access to high-speed broadband and to basic ICT services throughout the country and widen ICT literacy.
In relation to Communications, according to the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) there were 2.23 million telephone mobile subscribers with a teledensity rate of 119% as at March 2017. Fixed services continued to decline and by the end of March 2017, subscribers for fixed voice services had fallen to 28,206 from 41,123 in the corresponding period in 2016. Internet subscribers increased to 923,407 in March 2017 compared with 833,532 in March 2016. Mobile broadband subscriptions increased from 831,194 in March 2016 to 917,771 in March 2017. Whille fixed Broadband subscriptions increased from 2,062 in March 2016 to 5,636 in March 2017, it is still less than 1%. 49% of the population is using the Internet. A survey of Internet cafes is undertaken on a biannual basis. As at September 2016 there were 43 Internet cafes, representing a decrease of 14% over a six month period. Challenges identified included adoption of smart phone, increasing mobile broadband penetration and increased number of Wi-Fi hot spots.
LCA undertook a broadband study, which determined that mobile network coverage in Lesotho is at 96%. Mobile prices are higher than the average in the SADC region. while data prices are in the mid range of other African countries. However the costs associated with devices and data services are creating barriers to service take up.
In September 2018 Vodacom Lesotho launched a 5G network on 3.5 GHz spectrum. The Central Bank of Lesotho and Lets'eng Diamonds are using it initially. Vodacome aims to make 5G availiable to customers as 5G compliant deivces become more accessible to the general public.
Challenges in relation to Internet bandwidth costs and connectivity are gradually being eradicated by developments such as the arrival of the East and Southern African Optic Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the increasing adoption of converged technologies such as Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) and Third Generation (3G) High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA). The introduction of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) services will support high-speed mobile broadband Internet access. Lesotho currently has two mobile telecoms providers - Econet Telecom Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho, which both provide a similar level of 2G and 3G voice coverage.
In terms of ICT Infrastructure, Lesotho is a participant in EASSy, through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC). The cable went live in July 2010 and provides direct access to high-speed bandwidth for broadband services. The introduction of the WASACE cable also provides more options. As a result of these developments, internet bandwidth prices are going down and mobile data services are being more affordable. LCA is responsible for administrating Internet domain names and supporting the establishment of Internet-related infrastructure in Lesotho.
As part of the Universal Service Fund, the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) supported the establishment of the Internet Exchange Point in Lesotho (LIXP), which facilitates all internal Internet traffic to be handled within Lesotho. The LIXP project has helped address the issue of connectivity with the international bandwidth challenges. To help in this respect, LCA has a partnership with Afrinic. The data centre hosts the LIXP facilities and the infrastructure for the management of the country Top-level domain (.ls). The Universal Service Fund provided subsidies of M14.6 million during the 2016/2017 financial year to support twelve mobile network expansions projects. Co-funding from African Development Bank (M16.2 million) was provided towards six of these network expansion projects. A further M6.8 million was invested in broadband development.
In terms of national back bone and accessibility around the country Lesotho has mostly copper cables and fibre optic cables to a certain extend and satellites where there are no cables.
There are one public university (National University of Lesotho), Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho College of Education, National Health Training Centre and a private university (Limkokwing University of Creative Technology).
The National Strategic Development Plan (2013 - 2017) aims to support the development of an ICT-based Information Society. Its main goals in relation to ICT are to improve the ecosystem and backbone infrastructure (require facilitation of access to high speed broad band and access to basic ICT services throughout the country), to reach universal access and widen ICT literacy, review the e-government strategy and plan to facilitate implementation, facilitate smooth migration from analogue to digital, promote the growth of e-services, and develop niche ICT sub-industries through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), research and development and enhance surveillance capacity to deal with cyber security.
The ICT Policy, which was adopted in 2005, also has objectives that strongly support infrastructural development including: Universally accessible advanced communications networks, provide and sustain diffusion of ICT infrastructure for access to ICT services and products, encourage infrastructure sharing among network operators to optimize scarce resources, create a favourable investment environment for the private sector in the development of ICT infrastructures and endorse competition in the ICT sector so as to increase customer choice, quality and affordability of services.
Lesotho's ICT Policy identifies nine critical areas for the development of the country, namely;
- ICT and supporting infrastructure
- Education and human resource development
- Enabling legal and regulatory framework
- Rapid delivery of ICT services to society
- Agriculture and Food Security
- Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources
- Gender and Youth
The proposed regulatory framework encourages the deployment of converged technologies, which can be offered over existing networks using IP technology. The country adopted a technology neutral approach in selecting appropriate, scalable technology needed to build robust communications networks. Secondly, the policy seeks to encourage the expansion of the national electricity grid in order to support the deployment of ICT infrastructure. The Electronic and Transaction Bill was drafted in 2014 and the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill drafted in 2015 (to be revised).
The Universal Access Strategy was developed in 2001 to support access to a range of services (telephony, Internet, radio, television, postal services) across the country. In 2009, the Universal Service Fund (USF) was established to provide access and connectivity to communications services in unserved and underserved areas. It provides subsidies to support mobile expansion projects to extend mobile network coverage to unserved areas and to support broadband development. The Fund also embarked on a Wireless Network Broadband project to provide broadband internet access to communities, 44 schools and 29 health institutions in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It supported the operations of the Lesotho Internet Exchange Point (LIXP). The virtual landing point that brings additional international Internet bandwidth into the country through WIOCC is operational. The company that runs the country-code Top Level Domain. USF and LSA CSI are supporting programs in high schools providing equipment, infrastructure, connectivity and digital skills training. The enhanced infrastructure puts Lesotho in a position to benefit from the use of information and communication technologies to further economic development.
The Parliament passed the new Communications Act 2012 and it came into operation at the end of April 2012. It is aimed at consolidating all pieces of primary legislation that preceded it and would enable Lesotho to truly participate in the global information society. The Communication Act (2012) provides for:
- The establishment of the Universal Service Fund and thus addressing more areas of communications other than just access;
- The introduction of co-regulation and self-regulation within the broadcasting industry through the establishment of the Broadcasting Dispute Resolution Panel (BDRP);
- The introduction of competition management in the communications services markets. Better regulation of market competition, interconnection agreements and anti-competitive practices would ensure efficiencies and would result in higher quality services as well as lower communication costs, and;
- The introduction of regulation of Postal Services by LCA. When regulated, postal services would develop faster than at the present moment.
The Radio Frequency Spectrum Management Policy of 2014 replaces the Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy of 2008. The LCA Board has extended the use of Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequencies beyond wireless Local Area Networks (LANs) and hotspots to incorporate wireless mesh networks. The Lesotho National Broadband Policy was drafted in 2014.
Many ICT projects were launched in the public and private sector including the Lesotho Government Data Network (LGDN), IEC (2012 elections registration confirmation & results on Website, 'campaigns' on Social networks), World Vision (including Area Development Programs - emergency relief), Lesotho Meteorological Services (Climate Action Intelligence, involves High Performance Computer) and others (Postal, Traffic, Passports, Security).