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Senegal and Sierra Leone telecoms boosted by economic growth – R&M

Senegal and Sierra Leone telecoms boosted by economic growth – R&M

Senegal's economic growth has improved steadily in recent years, with GDP having grown at about 7% in 2017 and 2018.

This has translated into consistent growth in the telecom market, with the number of mobile subscribers having increased 4.5% in the year to June 2018, according to Research & Markets.

Orange Group's local subsidiary Orange Senegal (Sonatel) is the dominant player in both the fixed-line and mobile sectors, and boasts LTE coverage of 50% of the population. There is effective competition in the mobile sector from Tigo Senegal (now owned by Saga Africa Holdings) and Sudatel's local unit Expresso, which have a 24% and 22% market share, respectively. Expresso recently launched an E-Money platform in a bid to attract new subscribers.

Competition in the fixed-line sector was introduced when Expresso launched services as the second national operator (SNO) in 2009. The new entrant initially chose CDMA2000 technology to serve both market segments but switched to GSM technology in 2010, including 3G/HSPA mobile broadband. Despite its market entry, Sonatel commands a near monopoly on fixed lines.

In the last quarter, notable moves from the country’s regulator include upping the tax on telecom services to 5%, as well as issuing more MVNO licences and deactivating around five million unregistered SIM cards.

Elsewhere in West Africa, 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 has slowed but remains strong, and this has encouraged international companies to invest in the country, with MNOs boosting investment to provide national mobile coverage, and construction of the 600km ECOWAS Wide Area Network being completed.

Nevertheless, the telecommunications infrastructure is only gradually recovering from the destruction caused during the war years, and the theft of equipment and cabling. These difficult operating conditions have been compounded by neglect, mismanagement and underinvestment, factors which have seen the demise of some telcos, including Comium and Smart Mobile.

However, QCell is looking to launch mobile services by the end of the year, and Sierratel has outlined a major investment program for 2019, having launched LTE services this year. The operator has also relaunched its fixed-telephony network following a $30 million investment.

The telecom regulator continues with its efforts to improve the market, including the liberalisation of the international gateway and regulator checks on quality of services. It has not shied from fining miscreant operators for providing poor services, or for promoting packages deemed to be disadvantageous to consumers. However, the regulator has also approved a 27% increase in mobile voice calling costs.

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