Universal Licence regime comes into play
After more than a decade of civil war which destroyed much of its infrastructure, Liberia became a prime example of an almost entirely wireless telecommunications market. Four GSM mobile operators compete for customers – LoneStarGSM (majority owned by South Africa’s MTN), Comium (Novafone), Cellcom and LiberCell.
Internet services are available from a number of wireless ISPs as well as the mobile networks using GPRS, EDGE, HSPA and WiMAX technologies. The high cost and limited bandwidth of satellite connections means that most service offerings remain expensive and are below recognised broadband speeds. Nevertheless, substantial improvement can be expected from the recent landing of the first international fibre optic submarine cable in the country, though this still required considerable investment in domestic fixed-line infrastructure.
In the mobile sector, competition has led to some of the lowest call prices in Africa despite the lack of basic infrastructure in the country which has resulted in an expensive operating environment. The harmonisation of the disorderly licensing and spectrum allocation regime inherited from previous governments has proven difficult. However, market penetration has reached a par with other markets in the region in recent years.
An attempt to privatise the dysfunctional fixed network operator, the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (now Libtelco) failed in 2005. Since then, efforts to resuscitate the previously neglected incumbent have continued. A wireless 3G system based on CDMA EV-DO technology enabled the company to enter the mobile market as a fifth player and to provide wireless broadband services. There are also plans for a national fibre backbone network. These assets would create an attractive opportunity to a strategic investor in a likely renewed privatisation in the near future.
The market is ineffectively monitored by the telecom regulator, which lacks the resources, technical expertise and documentation to enforce its orders. As a result, a number of operators are able to avoid paying dues to the government, and operate despite the regulator’s rulings that they must cease operating in the market.
- Regulator migrates to Universal Licence regime;
- Orange Group agrees to acquire Cellcom Liberia;
- Underfunded telecoms regulator failing to monitor sector effectively;
- Regulator to receive portion of operator revenue under new payment regime;
- Government and regulator impose SIM card registration in a bid to reduce crime;
- Libtelco Board dismissed pending judicial review;
- Libtelco launches first phase of its fibre network in tie-up to the ACE cable system;
- Novafone launches HSPA+ mobile services;
- Report update includes telcos’ operating data, recent market developments.
Estimated market penetration rates in Liberia’s telecoms sector – end-2015
(Source: BuddeComm based on various sources)
Companies mentioned in this report:
Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC, Libtelco), MTN Liberia (LoneStar), Cellcom, Comium (Novafone), LiberCell, Globacom, West Africa Telecom (WAT).