Two new mobile operators have changed the Timor-Leste market
Timor-Leste is continuing its effort to simply maintain integrity as a nation. The country ranked number 23 in the 2011 Index of Failed States, not a promising statement on its national development status; however, this was up from 20 in the 2009 Index. And it had jumped to 31st place in 2014. (The Index is now called Fragile States) In 2014 it was rated ‘Alert.’ So in the last few years Timor Leste has moved itself out the ‘critical’ 20 category and continued with some modest but nonetheless important gains in the way it manages itself. The nation has been pressing ahead with the regeneration of its economy and the rebuilding of infrastructure. The effort to roll out telecommunications infrastructure in particular has been a key part of this. Despite the considerable energy that has been going into this rebuilding, the prevailing social and political environment continues to present major challenges to those seeking to improve the country.
In the meantime, throughout this most difficult of political periods, the country’s telecommunications sector has been expanding with the mobile telephone sector experiencing a particularly strong and sustained surge. After recording huge annual growth rates over a number of years from 2006 onwards, by 2015 the country’s mobile subscriber base had increased rapidly in a short period of time and penetration had moved past the 100% mark. Not surprisingly the mobile sector was boosted by the launch of networks by two new operators in 2013. Telin’s Telkomcel and Viettel’s Telemor have injected fresh vigour into the market.
Fixed-line network expansion was continuing to languish, however, with fixed teledensity down around 0.3% and seemingly stuck there. Although it was difficult to get accurate figures on the internet market, it was clear that growth in this sector remained highly constricted and there was little optimism about online activity in Timor Leste in the short term. Whilst there was a limited fixed broadband service in the country, the number of subscribers for this type of access remained extremely low. The advent of mobile broadband internet access has provided a boost to the internet sector; however, again, the initial penetration figures were not as yet having a major impact on the overall market.
Timor Leste’s liberalisation of its telecom sector has come about relatively quickly. Two new operators were licensed in July 2012 and began competing with incumbent Timor Telecom (TT) in the first half of 2013. This ended TT’s ten year monopoly on the telecom sector, having won a tender in 2002 to build the tiny nation’s telecom infrastructure virtually from nothing. It had initially been granted an exclusive licence in the market until 2017. In March 2012, however, an agreement was reached between the government and TT to end its monopoly earlier than planned.
While the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) does provide some statistical information on this market, the information is limited. It has continued to be a difficult task to obtain official statistics for the country’s telecom sector. Where official statistics are not available, BuddeComm has attempted to provide estimates.
- the mobile market grew by around 90% in the 12 months to June 2015, reaching 117% penetration;
- of the two new operators, both had signed up sizeable subscriber bases, Telemor even claiming to have achieved 47% market share;
- in sharp contrast with the mobile market, both fixed-line subscriptions and internet usage in its various forms remained especially low, with only modest growth likely in the short term;
- mobile broadband has started to have some impact on the internet market but penetration remains relatively low;
- on the broader national front, the country’s history of political and civil unrest continued to cause some uncertainty and predictions for development were guarded;
- the government was in the process of setting up a new independent regulatory authority for the sector.