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Burundi to apply the One Area Network conditions later in 2017
Given its high population density and the low penetration rates across all telecom sectors, Burundi remains one of the most attractive telecom markets in Africa for investors. Nevertheless, investor reticence is still evident given the country’s low economic output and the fact that outside the main urban areas fixed-line infrastructure remains poor. To overcome these difficulties, the government, supported by the Word Bank, has backed a joint venture with a number of prominent telcos to build a national fibre backbone network, offering onward connectivity to submarine cable infrastructure landings in Kenya and Tanzania. The first sections of this network were switched on in early 2014, and additional provinces are being connected into 2017.
Since 2012 Burundi has had improved access to international cables, thus ending its dependence on expensive satellite connections. International bandwidth tripled in 2015, resulting in lower retail prices for consumers. There have also been efforts to encourage the country’s ISPs to join the national IXP in a bid to cannel internet traffic locally and thus reduce the cost of providing services to end-users.
Two of the four mobile operators have launched 3G and LTE mobile services to capitalise on the growing demand for internet access. The number of mobile subscribers grew rapidly for several years, though this slowed in 2016. Mobile penetration, at 50% by early 2017, remains low by regional standards, suggesting considerable room for further growth. A new player, Viettel Group, which received a licence to provide mobile services in early 2014, launched 2G and 3G services in June 2015 and LTE services in February 2016. It signed up customers very quickly, and claimed to have more than 1.79 million by March 2017, making it a leading player in the country. The operator has built up an extensive fibre-backhaul network which it aims to use to provide fixed-line services. These developments make Burundi one of the most attractive growth markets in Africa, despite the limited size of the population.
The long-established plans to privatise the national telco Onatel (which also operates one of the mobile networks), have been delayed several times, but the government since 2013 has made efforts to kick-start the process.
Market penetration rates in Burundi’s telecoms sector – 2016 (e)
|Penetration of telecoms services:||Penetration|
|Mobile SIM (population)||31%|
- Viettel Group claiming to have 1.79 million mobile subscribers;
- Regulator calls on local ISPs to join the national ISP and so reduce the cost of internet traffic;
- Econet launches LTE services, competing with Viettel;
- Huawei commissioned to build MAN infrastructure, funded by Chinese government grants;
- Growth rate in the low-penetration mobile market slows;
- Internet use developing strongly as the national backbone network increases connectivity;
- Privatisation of national telco planned rekindled;
- Backbone network has some 1,000km of cabling completed;
- Smart Telecom relaunches as Smart Burundi;
- Report update includes the regulator's market data to Q4 2016.
Companies mentioned in this report:
Office National des Telecommunications (Onatel, Onamob); U-Com (Orascom, Telecel Globe, Leo); VTEL Holdings (Tempo, Africell Safaris); Econet Wireless Burundi (Spacetel); LaCell SU (Smart Burundi); Renaissance Capital; BNP Paribas; Millenium Finance; Linkstone Capital.