Sierra Leone - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Market Insights and Statistics

Executive summary

SMS services used to provide advice on Ebola

This report provides a comprehensive overview of trends and developments in Sierra Leone’s telecommunications market. Subjects covered include:

  • Key statistics;
  • Market and industry overviews;
  • Government policies affecting the telecoms industry;
  • Market liberalisation and regulatory environment;
  • Major players (fixed, mobile and broadband);
  • Telecoms operators – privatisation, acquisitions, new licences;
  • Consolidation in the mobile sector;
  • Infrastructure development;
  • Mobile voice and data markets;
  • Average Revenue per User;
  • Internet and broadband development and growth;
  • Convergence (voice/data, fixed/wireless/mobile).

Having emerged from more than a decade of civil war, Sierra Leone since 2002 has enjoyed greater political stability. Economic growth has been rapid in recent years. The country’s traditional telecommunications infrastructure suffered considerable damage during the war years, and has since also suffered from neglect and underinvestment. However, the mobile sector has experienced strong growth, largely reflecting the poor state of the fixed-line infrastructure, with competition between five GSM networks. Some consolidation has taken place, and in October 2014 Comium had its licence suspended following its continued inability to pay licence fees or creditors.

The state-owned fixed-line incumbent Sierratel has entered the mobile market with a CDMA2000 1x network which it uses to provide fixed-wireless access and broadband internet services following an upgrade to the EV-DO standard. This development saw it become the country’s first 3G mobile network operator. Other 3G services based on HSPA technology were launched in 2011 and 2012.

The regulator has in recent years responded to customer complaints of poor service by obliging mobile operators to improve services and network capabilities. In this area they are competing with a significant number of wireless broadband network operators that have emerged as providers of converged internet and VoIP telephony services.

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 is expected to bring down the price of broadband which has hitherto been extremely expensive.

Key developments:

Construction starts of 400km northern corridor fibre cable; government pledges national fibre infrastructure by 2017; Comium loses its licence after failing to address debt and network problems; Sierratel relaunches a fixed-telephony network following $30 million investment; privatisation of national telco Sierratel in progress; international gateway monopoly under review; first international fibre optic submarine cable lands; new mobile networks expected to launch following market consolidation; mobile quality of service and pricing under review; 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 includes recent market developments.

Estimated market penetration rates in Sierra Leone’s telecoms sector – end-2015 (e)

Market
Penetration rate
Mobile
44%
Fixed
0.4%
Internet
1.8%

(Source: BuddeComm based on various sources)

Companies mentioned in this report:

Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (Sierratel), Bharti Airtel (Zain, Celtel), Comium, Africell (Lintel), Millicom (Tigo), Datetel, Cellcom, LapGreen (Ambitel, GreenN), Access Point Africa, Afcom, African Information Technology Holdings (AITH), FGC Wireless, LimeLine, Multinet.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Executive summary
  • 2. Key statistics
    • 2.1 Country overview
  • 3. Telecommunications market
    • 3.1 Overview of Sierra Leone’s telecom market
  • 4. Regulatory environment
    • 4.1 Background
    • 4.2 Regulatory authority
      • 4.2.1 National Telecommunications Commission (NTC, NATCOM)
    • 4.3 Tariff regulation
    • 4.4 Quality of service (QoS)
    • 4.5 Telecom sector liberalisation
  • 5. Fixed network operators in Sierra Leone
    • 5.1 Sierratel
      • 5.1.1 Network infrastructure
      • 5.1.2 Wireless Local Loop (WLL), CDMA2000 1x EV-DO
      • 5.1.3 Privatisation, management contract
    • 5.2 Other operators
    • 5.3 Fixed-line statistics
  • 6. International infrastructure
    • 6.1 Satellite
    • 6.2 Submarine fibre
    • 6.3 International gateways, grey market
  • 7. Internet and broadband market
    • 7.1 Overview
      • 7.1.1 Internet statistics
    • 7.2 ISPs and converged service providers
      • 7.2.1 Access Point Africa
      • 7.2.2 Afcom
      • 7.2.3 AITH
      • 7.2.4 Datatel
      • 7.2.5 FGC
      • 7.2.6 icom.net (Comium)
      • 7.2.7 IPTEL/Sierra-Com
      • 7.2.8 LimeLine
      • 7.2.9 MultiNet
      • 7.2.10 Sierratel
      • 7.2.11 Sierra WiFi
    • 7.3 VoIP Internet telephony
    • 7.4 Broadband market
      • 7.4.1 WiFi and WiMAX
  • 8. Mobile communications
    • 8.1 Overview of Sierra Leone’s mobile market
      • 8.1.1 Mobile licensing
      • 8.1.2 Mobile statistics
    • 8.2 Major mobile operators
      • 8.2.1 Bharti Airtel (formerly Zain, Celtel)
      • 8.2.2 Comium
      • 8.2.3 Africell (Lintel)
      • 8.2.4 Tigo (now part of Africell)
      • 8.2.5 Sierratel
      • 8.2.6 Datatel
      • 8.2.7 Cellcom
      • 8.2.8 Ambitel GreenN
      • 8.2.9 Smart Mobile
    • 8.3 Mobile data services
    • 8.4 Mobile satellite services
    • 8.5 Third generation (3G)
    • 8.6 Mobile content and applications
      • 8.6.1 M-payments
    • 8.7 Satellite mobile
  • 9. Related reports
  • Table 1 – Country statistics Sierra Leone – 2014 (e)
  • Table 2 – Fixed-line network statistics – 2015 (e)
  • Table 3 – Internet user statistics – 2015 (e)
  • Table 4 – Mobile statistics – 2015 (e)
  • Table 5 – National telecommunications authority
  • Table 6 – Historic - Fixed lines in service and teledensity – 1999 - 2004
  • Table 7 – Fixed lines in service and teledensity – 2005 - 2015
  • Table 8 – International bandwidth – 2010 - 2013
  • Table 9 – Historic - Internet users and penetration rate – 1999 - 2004
  • Table 10 – Internet users and penetration rate – 2005 - 2015
  • Table 11 – GSM licences and operations in Sierra Leone
  • Table 12 – Historic - Mobile subscribers and penetration rate – 2000 - 2004
  • Table 13 – Mobile subscribers and penetration rate – 2005 - 2015
  • Table 14 – Mobile market share of subscribers by operator – 2011 - 2013
  • Table 15 – Celtel/Zain SL subscribers and market share – 2003 - 2009
  • Table 16 – Celtel/Zain SL ARPU – 2002 - 2009
  • Table 17 – Airtel 3G mobile broadband pricing – 2012
  • Chart 1 – Fixed lines in service and teledensity – 2005 – 2015
  • Chart 2 – Internet users and penetration rate – 2005 – 2015
  • Chart 3 – Mobile subscribers and penetration rate – 2005 - 2015
  • Exhibit 1 – Map of Sierra Leone
  • Exhibit 2 – West African common regulatory framework 2005
  • Exhibit 3 – Other international submarine fibre optic cables in West Africa

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