Sierra Leone has enjoyed sustained political stability in recent years, following a decade of civil war. The departure of the UN’s local mission in March 2014 marked the end of more than 15 years of international peacekeeping operations in the country. The exceptional economic growth seen in 2012 and 2013 soon faltered, and this placed a brake on international investment interest. The telecom sector has only gradually recovered from the destruction caused during the war years, and only since 2019 has there been an effective terrestrial fibre backbone infrastructure, while the cable link to neighbouring Guinea was not completed until February 2020.
The theft of equipment and cabling, compounded by neglect, mismanagement and underinvestment, means that telcos continue to operate in difficult conditions. This has led to the demise of some telcos, including Comium and Smart Mobile. The telecom regulator has made efforts to improve the market, including the liberalisation of the international gateway and regular checks on QoS. It has not shied from fining miscreant operators for providing poor services, or for promoting packages deemed to be disadvantageous to consumers. To this end the regulator reduced the price floor for mobile voice calls in early 2020.
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 and the Gambian telco QCell being awarded a licence to operate mobile services.
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 in 2011 and 2012. More recently network operators have invested in LTE upgrades: Africell was the first network operator to launch LTE services in Sierra Leone, followed by Sierratel in January 2018 and Orange Sierra Leone in March 2019.
BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.
On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.
Although it is challenging to predict and interpret the long-term impacts of the crisis as it develops, these have been acknowledged in the industry forecasts contained in this report.
The report also covers the responses of the telecom operators as well as government agencies and regulators as they react to the crisis to ensure that citizens can continue to make optimum use of telecom services. This can be reflected in subsidy schemes and the promotion of tele-health and tele-education, among other solutions.
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).
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BuddeComm's strategic business reports contain a combination of both primary and secondary research statistics, analyses written by our senior analysts supported by a network of experts, industry contacts and researchers from around the world as well as our own scenario forecasts.
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