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Ethiopia is one of the few African countries still practicing a monopoly in its telecommunications sector though with an independent regulator, ETC. Market penetration is still very low, but major efforts to roll out a national fibre backbone and wireless access networks have resulted in an acceleration of growth in all market segments.

In late 2006, the ETC signed an agreement worth US$ 1.5 billion with three Chinese companies to upgrade and expand Ethiopian telecommunications services. The three Chinese were the ZTE Corporation, Huawei Technologies and the Chinese International Telecommunication Construction Corporation. This agreement was to increase the number of mobile services from 1.5 million to 7 million, land line telephone services from 1 million to 4 million, and expansion of the fibre optic network to 10,000 by 2010. It is part of a larger US$ 2.4 billion plan by the Ethiopian government to improve the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The government is intending on eventually privatizing the national operator, ETC, and introducing competition in mobile and Internet services. A recently announced management contract with France Telecom is expected to lead to improved performance by ETC and is seen as a first step towards privatization.

The mobile sector has been growing by 100% or more per annum in recent years, taking the network to its capacity limit and resulting in major infrastructure expansion efforts. Several broadband initiatives launched during 2004 promise to bring the country closer to the information society. Ethiopia's government with a new IT program is endeavoring, in a way similar to several other African countries for leap out of decaying public services with the help of IT. The dream is to jump an entire generation of infrastructure by going directly to internet technology.

Mobile Operators

Average Revenue per User (ARPU)

The average revenue per unit in the mobile sector for ECT in 2003 was Birr 268, US$30. However, this amount was estimated to decline across the years (estimated at US$8 in 2005) as mobile begins to reach the lower end of economic strata. Data for ETC’s current mobile ARPU estimates are not available.


Ethiopia has the second lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa (only Sierra Leone’s is lower) and is currently attempting a broad expansion of access throughout the country. These efforts have been hampered by the largely rural makeup of the Ethiopian population and the government’s refusal to permit any privatization of the telecommunications market.

The state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) and the Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency (ETA) have exclusive control of Internet access throughout the country. The ETA is not an independent regulatory body, and its staff and telecommunications policies are controlled by the national government. It grants the ETC a monopoly license as Ethiopia’s sole ISP and seller of domain names under the country code top-level domain, “.et.”

Internet cafés and other resellers of Internet services must be licensed by the ETA and must purchase their access through the ETC.38 Individual purchasers must also apply for Internet connections through the ETC.

Ethiopia has made several attempts to increase available broadband by laying 4000 kilometers of fiber optic cable along the country’s major highways, by making overtures to the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and by connecting Addis Ababa to existing fiber optic networks in Port Sudan and Djibouti. These ventures have had mixed success. The domestic network is not yet operational, though the government has promised to lay 10,000 more kilometers of cable by 2010. Once the cable has been laid, Ethiopia will consider opening the network to a second, private operator. EASSy has been delayed multiple times by disagreements among the member countries (though at the time of writing it was scheduled to be completed by June 2010), and the line to Djibouti was sabotaged and looted, allegedly by ONLF and OLF rebels, shortly after its completion in 2006. There were 360,000 internet users in Ethiopia as of June 2009, with a penetration rate of 0.4%. There were 400 broadband internet subscribers in 2008.

The Ethiopian government maintains strict control over access to the Internet and online media, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and free access to information. The ETC’s blocking efforts appear to focus on independent media, blogs, and political reform and human rights sites, though the filtering is not very thorough. Many prominent sites that are critical of the Ethiopian government remain available within the country.

Key Figures

  • Number of main lines in use: 908,900 (2008)
  • Number of mobile subscribers: 3,728,000 (2010)
  • Number of internet users: 360,000 (Jun. 2009)
  • Number of ISPs: 1 (2008)
  • Number of Internet hosts: 136 (2009)
  • Internet penetration rate: 0.4% (2009)
  • Broadband internet subscribers: 400 (Dec. 2008)
  • Fixed line telephone density: 1.2 (Sept. 2008)
  • Mobile telephone density: 3.25 (Sept. 2008)

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