Tuesday 31 August 2021

People in Mauritania are finally able to enjoy 4G

Mauritania’s small population and low economic output has limited the country’s ability to develop sustained growth. There are also practical challenges relating to transparency and tax burdens which have hindered foreign investment.

The telecom sector similarly faces difficulties, though efforts continue to be made to address them with financial support from the government as well as the World Bank and European Investment Bank. These efforts have been focussed on implementing appropriate regulatory measures and promoting the further penetration of fixed-line broadband services by improving the national backbone network, ensuring connectivity to international telecom cables, and facilitating operator access to infrastructure. Much progress has been made to improve internet bandwidth capacity, including the completion of a cable link at the border with Algeria, while by early 2021 the country will also be connected to the EllaLink submarine cable.

Mauritel maintains a virtual monopoly in the fixed-line sector, and there is little stimulus for new market entrants. Penetration of fixed telephony and broadband penetration is very low and is expected to remain so in coming years, though growth is anticipated following improvements to backbone infrastructure and the reduction in access pricing.

Most voice and data services are carried over the mobile networks maintained by Mauritel, Mattel and Chinguitel though all three have repeatedly fallen short in their quality of service, despite fines being imposed (twice in 2020 alone). This represents a significant challenge, given the importance of mobile networks for basic telecom services.

Population penetration of 3G is relatively high, though developments in LTE have been stalled repeatedly following a succession of failed licence auctions. The regulator continues to pursue it plans, issuing a renewed tender in August 2020. In the meantime, mobile broadband access speeds are low, placing a brake on the potential for mobile commerce and related applications.

The three operators Mauritel, Chinguitel, by Sudatel and Mattel, by Mauritano-Tunisienne des Télécommunications have rolled all out 2G and 3G networks, but speeds higher than around 1 Mbps cannot be expected. The operators are said to cover most population centres, but users face severe quality of service (QoS) problems. 

In October 2020 the government of Mauritania has finally awarded three provisional 4G licences following several failed attempts to offload concessions going back to 2018.  Mauritel, Chinguitel and Mattel have agreed to acquire nationwide licences, with Mattel offering MRU501 million (USD13.2 million) plus 2.5% annual 4G turnover and its two rivals submitting bids of MRU500 million plus 2.5% of annual 4G turnover. 

Mauritel is partially owned by Maroc Telecom and the largest operator in Mauritania. The network broadcasts 2G and 3G on 900 MHz and is available in the list of cities provided by Mauritel.

Chinguitel, owned by Sudanese Sudatel, is the youngest operator in Mauritania and operates 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz bands. The company also operates a CDMA network which is incompatible to most GSM devices.

Chinguitel has launched its first LTE-based services after being awarded a 4G licence last year. The operator has implemented networks in the capital city Nouakchott, as well as six regional centres: Nouadhibou, Zouerate, Atar, Akjoujt, Rosso and Kaedi. Chinguitel’s rival cellcos Moov Mauritel and Mattel launched 4G services in December 2020 and January 2021, respectively.

Mattel, owned by Mauritano-Tunisienne des Télécommunications, is the oldest network in Mauritania, commercialising their offfer under the name Mattel. The company was set up in 2000 in co-operation with Tunisie Télécom who has been trying to sell its shares since 2012.

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