Monday 14 September 2020

Niger is looking forward to a more reliable 3G, and 4G eventually

Niger is one of the largest countries in West Africa but also one of the poorest in the world. As with many other countries in Africa they suffer from a lack of fixed telecoms infrastructure and this has led to growth in mobile services.

However Niger still has a modest mobile penetration rate of less than 55% according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, ranking 45th out of Africa’s 57 countries by this metric at the end of March 2020.

World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) has approved a loan and a grant – each worth US$50 million – to help Niger improve access to vital social services in the country’s poorest regions, as well as augmenting infrastructure nationwide.

CommsUpdate notes that part of the funding will be used for Niger’s Smart Villages project, which seeks to boost rural broadband and mobile connectivity. In turn, this will increase access to mobile financial services in the most remote areas of Niger.

Recent international investment to complete the Trans-Saharan Dorsal optical fibre (SDR) network has also extended the reach of fibre-optic infrastructure in the country and also increased international capacity. Despite this, investment among operators has fallen dramatically since 2015. This is partly the result of a poor economic climate since then, which saw a 7.5% fall in market revenue in 2019, year-on-year. The Pandemic will further contribute to this.

There are 4 mobile operators in Niger: Airtel Niger (by Indian Bharti Airtel), Orange Niger (by France Telecom), Moov Niger (by Maroc Telecom) and Sahelcom (by Niger Telecoms).

2G/GSM is mainly on 900 MHz and rarely on 1800 MHz in towns, 3G is on 2100 MHz in limited areas. 4G/LTE started in July 2019 in Niamey on Airtel using bands 3 (1800 MHz) and 20 (800 MHz).

GSMA Intelligence figures last year place Airtel (4.7 million) as the market leader with Moov (2.9 million) and Orange Niger as the third-largest player in the market by connections (including cellular IoT), with 2.6 million.

The poor quality of service remains a major obstacle in the country.

In 2018 the government of Niger is proposing to reintroduce the tax on international calls in 2019. The government is seeking to restore the tax, after accusing telecom companies of failing to honour commitments to improve services.

With a market share of 47% at the end of 2017, Airtel is Niger’s largest wireless operator by subscribers. It was formerly called Celtel and Zain. It's now owned by Indian Bharti Airtel. It's payment system is called Airtel Money.

Airtel Niger's 2G/3G network covers 18,000 villages in 264 communes out of the total 266 across the country in 2018. In 2018 Airtel Niger has secured the country’s first 4G/LTE mobile licence and in July 2019 Airtel announced the commercial launch of 4G/LTE services. Coverage of the 4G network is currently available in the capital Niamey, but will be expanded to the regional capitals and other main cities in the future.

The most recent company to join the mobile market Orange Niger has become the second-largest operator with a mobile market share of 29%. As the first operator to have launched a 3G network in 2011, Orange Niger is leading the broadband mobile internet market. Their payment system is called Orange Money.

Orange Niger is set to build out and modernise its network after being granted a loan of XOF31 billion (US$56.3 million) by Coris Bank Niger. The operator has also stated its intention of obtaining a 4G licence in order to launch an LTE and LTE-A offering before the end of 2020.

Orange has now sold its 95.5 per cent stake to Zamani Com S.A.S. The French operator was ordered to close offices by the Niger government in 2018, over a tax claim. However services will continue to be marketed under the Orange brand during a transition period.

The government of Niger has announced the award of a 4G licence to operator Zamani Com. The award of the 15-year licence for the establishment and operation of a 4G network to Zamani Com, the new owner of mobile operator Orange Niger, makes it the second operator in Niger, after Airtel, to plan to offer 4G in the country. The announcement also notes that Zamani Com’s existing 2G and 3G licences have been renewed for a further 15 years.

Moov is the 3rd player in Niger with only 10% of all subscribers on the market. In 2014 it was bought by Maroc Telecom from Etisalat. They claim to have 2G and 3G coverage in many towns and villages. Their payment system is called Flooz.

State-owned fixed and mobile provider Niger Telecoms has officially launched commercial operations, including 3G mobile voice and data services in 2017. The government of Niger approved plans to merge state-owned fixed line operator Sonitel and its mobile unit SahelCom into a single entity, and Niger Telecoms was formally established in December 2016.

Niger Telecoms says its 3G network is available in parts of all regions, but this is very questionable as it's network is mostly based on 2G. SahelCom only accounts for less than 5% of all mobile users and is not recommended for travellers so far.

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