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DRC issues LTE licences but more work remains – R&M

DRC issues LTE licences but more work remains – R&M

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is one of Africa’s least developed markets but progress is underway, according to a new report from Research & Markets.

The country was under a 30-year dictatorship between 1967 and 1997. Since then it has continued to suffer from regional wars among rival groups, resulting in considerable social upheaval. There remain violent conflicts in the eastern part of the country, exacerbated by considerable corruption within the government as well as by ethnic tensions resulting from disputes among and within bordering countries which have spilled over in the DRC itself. These circumstances have made it difficult for the government to extend its control in these regions.

Largely due to the country's troubled history, the national telecom system remains one of the least developed in the region. The government can only loosely regulate the sector, and since the national telco SCPT has little capital to invest, much of the investment in infrastructure is from donor countries or from the efforts of foreign (particularly Chinese) companies and banks. Efforts have been made to improve regulating the telecom sector, with a revised Telecommunications Act adopted in May 2018, though the practical implementation of the Act's measures remains questionable.

Given the limited and decrepit condition of fixed-line infrastructure the mobile network operators have become the principal providers of basic telecom services. More than a dozen new licenses were issued in the early years of the century, but many of the licenses failed to launch services and the proliferation of networks, as well as the poor monitoring of also spectrum assets, caused frequent problems with spectrum shortages, interference and compatibility issues. As a result, the mobile entered a period of consolidation, including the acquisition of Tigo Congo by Orange Congo in April 2016, which greatly increased the latter's market share.

The development of the DRC's internet and broadband market has been held back by the poorly developed national and international infrastructure. However, the country was finally connected to low-cost, high-quality international bandwidth through the WACS submarine fibre optic cable in 2013, and SCPT is rolling out a fibre optic national backbone network with support from China. International bandwidth is still limited, and as a result internet pricing is high and backhaul capacity (for both fixed and mobile internet services) is low. An alternative terrestrial international fibre connection exists via neighbouring countries.

The country's first commercial LTE networks were launched, albeit geographically limited, in May 2018 soon after LTE licences were issued. Mobile operators are keen to develop mobile data services, capitalising on the growth of smartphones usage, but in mid-2016 their attempts to dramatically increase mobile internet pricing was criticised by the regulator.

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