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Mobile market changes with Orange Group acquiring Airtel Sierra Leone
Having emerged from more than a decade of civil war, Sierra Leone since 2002 has enjoyed greater political stability. The exceptional economic growth seen in 2012 and 2013 has slowed but remains strong, and this has encouraged international companies to invest in the country. Nevertheless, the telecommunications infrastructure is only gradually recovering from the destruction caused during the war years, and the theft of equipment and cabling is compounded by neglect, mismanagement and underinvestment. Nevertheless, the telecom regulator continues with its efforts to improve the market, including the liberalisation of the international gateway and regulator checks on quality of services. It has not shied from fining miscreant such as Airtel for providing poor services, or for promoting packages deemed to be disadvantageous to consumers.
Given the poor state of the fixed-line infrastructure, the mobile sector has been the main driver of overall telecom revenue. There continues to be movement in the market, with Orange Group in mid-2016 having completed its acquisition of Bharti Airtel’s local unit.
The state-owned fixed-line incumbent Sierratel has entered the mobile market, which it uses to provide fixed-wireless access and broadband services. It briefly had a monopoly on 3G mobile services before other operators launched their own services based on HSPA technology in 2011 and 2012. More recently network operators have invested in LTE upgrades, with a view to launching commercial services by the end of 2016.
Sierra Leone depended entirely on satellites for international connections until February 2013 when it was connected to the ACE submarine cable. This has considerably improved bandwidth capabilities, and has resulted in a welcome drop in the price of broadband. At the end of 2015 the 600km national backbone network was completed, which also links the country to Liberia and Guinea.
Regulator selects Subah Infosolutions Ghana to manage the international gateway; Orange completes acquisition of Airtel Sierra Leone; construction of 600km ECOWAS Wide Area Network completed; Comium loses its licence after failing to address debt and network problems; Africell claiming 3.5 million mobile subscribers by end-2016; Airtel expands capacity of its Freetown data centre; Sierratel relaunches a fixed-telephony network following $30 million investment; Sierratel loses monopoly on international gateway; Thuraya signs agreement with Bharti Airtel to provide mobile satellite services; Airtel contracts Flexenclosure to build a combined data and telecom centre in Freetown; report update includes recent market developments.
Market penetration rates in Sierra Leone’s telecoms sector – 2016 (e)
|Penetration of telecoms services:||Penetration|
|Mobile SIM (population)||94%|
Companies mentioned in this report:
Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (Sierratel), Bharti Airtel (Zain, Celtel), Comium, Africell (Lintel), Millicom (Tigo), Cellcom, LapGreen (Ambitel, GreenN), Access Point Africa, Afcom, African Information Technology Holdings (AITH), Onlime (LimeLine).