Monday 1 February 2021

Senegal Mobile Users Are Just Starting to Move from 2G/3G to 4G LTE


Senegal’s telecom market has witnessed consistent growth in recent years, with the number of mobile subscribers having increased 5.7% in the year to March 2020. Orange Group’s local subsidiary Orange Senegal (Sonatel) is the dominant player in both the fixed-line and mobile sectors. The company reported solid revenue in 2019, and in mid-2020 it issued a XOF100 billion bond to finance its ongoing network upgrades and service offerings. the vibrant mobile sector continues to attract international investment, with Tigo having been acquired by a consortium and rebranded as Free Senegal, mirroring the brand name of an associated company in France which had upset the local market through cheap pricing and comprehensive service offerings. The third major operator is expresso. 

2G/GSM is mostly on 900 MHz and some 1800 MHz, 3G/UMTS is on 2100 MHz. Licenses for 4G/LTE have been given out in 2016 on 800 and 1800 MHz to Orange, other providers are to follow. All providers are testing in Dakar, but not haven't launched comercially yet.

In 2015 Senegal’s network coverage leaves much to be desired. Even in Dakar a large part of the population are still without effective coverage: The population not covered by a 3G network in Dakar is 27% for Orange, 47% for Tigo, now Free and 52% for Expresso. In Senegal’s 45 administrative departments, in addition to poor 2G coverage, only Orange has a 3G network in each department, with Tigo covering just 12 and Expresso having no 3G coverage at all outside of Dakar, Saint Louis, Thies, Fatick, Kaolock, Tambacounda and Diourbe.

Orange in Senegal is owned by the mobile department of Sonatel. This is the old state telco which was privatized in 1997. France Télécom is their strategic partner and from 2006 on it has used their Orange brand.

They are the biggest operator with 60% of all mobile customers, best coverage and reasonable speeds. For travelling through the country, it should be your first choice. But they have higher prices than their competitors.

In 2016 Orange received licenses for 4G/LTE on 800 and 1800 MHz (Bands 3 and 20). The operator is obliged to begin marketing 4G within two months of the frequency assignment date and required to provide coverage of 70% in 5 years and 85-90% in 10 years.

In 2018 Orange announced, that it now covers all major cities of Senegal with its 4G/LTE network and that by October all regional capitals and most populated cities will have access to mobile broadband. During the first half of 2018 Orange strengthened its LTE coverage in Dakar and commissioned 4G sites in Porokhane, Medina, Gounass, Sokone, Darou, Mousty, Popenguine and Velingara. Additional 4G sites will be set up in Kedougou, Kidira, Mbour, Louga, Kolda, Bignona, Kaffrine, Fatick and Sedhiou in October, while Orange will also strengthen LTE coverage in Ziguinchor and Touba. The population coverage of 4G was about 50% at the end of 2018.

Orange Senegal staged the country’s first 5G test on 24 November 2020 in partnership with Chinese hardware vendor Huawei, reports Agence Ecofin. Company officials have stated 5G trials could take place in the next two years, subject to regulatory approval. 

Free Senegal was previously called Tigo run by Sentel GSM, a subsidiary of Millicom. It used to be the 3rd operator, but overtook Expresso in 2013/4. In 2018 it acquired a 4G/LTE license.

Tigo Senegal was sold by Millicom in 2018 to the Saga Africa Holdings Ltd., a consortium owned by Xavier Niel of the French Free Group. Tigo, Senegal’s second largest mobile network operator by subscribers, has been rebranded as Free Senegal in October 2019. They promote the operator’s new ‘4G+’ LTE-A network, which is said to cover Dakar and most regional capitals and offer the country’s fastest mobile data speeds.

Expresso is owned by UAE-based Expresso Telecom Group Limited, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Sudanese telecoms operator Sudatel Telecom Group (STG), started in 2007 and was passed over by Tigo, now called Free in 2013 as 2nd provider. They now care for 22% of all subscribers. Like Free, their network is not as good as Orange's. 3G can only be found in Dakar and a few other towns (3G coverage map, 2G coverage map). Its service has proven to be not so reliable and you should make a network check before purchase.

Expresso announced it activated a new 4G network on 3rd March prior to launching commercial services on 31 March 2020. However this launch was delayed to the Pandemic situation. Expresso is also planning to upgrade its 3G network to address the poor data transmission speeds and service availability experienced in some areas of the country. The planned infrastructure investment is expected to expand 3G network coverage from 45% to 70% of population, while the operator’s 2G network footprint will be increased from 87% to 90%. 

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