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Liberia
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Six years into peace, following more than a decade of civil war which destroyed much of its infrastructure, Liberia became a prime example of an almost entirely wireless telecommunications market. Four GSM mobile operators are competing for customers – LoneStar (majority owned by South Africa’s MTN), Comium, Cellcom and LiberCell.

France Telecom has signed a US$25 million dollar deal with the Liberian government for the connection of a submarine cable communications network in the country.

According to The Observer, the total cost of bringing the submarine cable communications broadband to Africa is approximately US$700 million dollars and several African countries including, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Sierra Leone have already signed to it.

“If all goes as planned,” Minister Konneh said “communications in Liberia will no more be hampered by network problems as the network system will be protected from storms and thunders because it will be connected under the Atlantic Ocean.”

Regarded as ‘best-in-class’ telecommunication technology, the ACE connectivity will become a key driver of Africa’s social and economic growth and will be the first international submarine cable to also land in Nigeria, Cameroun, Niger, Angola, Benin, Ivory Coast, France, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Portugal, Senegal, South Africa and Spain are also expected to benefit from this submarine project by France Telecom.Under the deal, the Government of Liberia will own 37% shares, while Lonestar Cell will have 33%, Cellcom 10% and the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Libtelco), 20% respectively.

Liberia’s US$5 million chunk of the construction cost of the cable has already been settled by a grant provided by the World Bank.

Licenses & Regulations

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), the body responsible to implement sector policy, is required to facilitate fair and effective competition in all market segments, except the fixed line telephone service that is under moratorium. Beside the fixed telephone line service which will witness full liberalization by 2011, the internet market, the mobile market and other services in the telecommunication and ICT environment are fully liberalized.

The Government of Liberia has actively liberalized the telecommunications market and is encouraging the participation of the private sector at all levels, except in the fixed telephone line service that is under temporal moratorium until 2011.

Fixed Lines

An attempt at privatizing the dysfunctional fixed network operator, the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Libtelco) failed in 2005. Since then, efforts to resuscitate the previously neglected incumbent have continued successfully with a wireless 3G system based on CDMA EV-DO technology enabling it to enter the mobile market as a fifth player and to provide wireless broadband services.

The number of main lines in use reached 2,000 in 2008.

Mobile

In the mobile sector, competition has led to some of the lowest call prices in Africa despite the expensive operating environment due to the lack of basic infrastructure in the country. However, the harmonization of the disorderly licensing and spectrum allocation regime inherited from previous governments is proving difficult. Market penetration is still below the African average but growing faster than in most other countries in the region.

In 2010, the number of mobile subscribers is estimated at 1.733 million with a penetration rate of 26%. Lonestar is the leading mobile operator with the largest market share of 50-60%, whereas Libercell, is the smallest operator.

Mobile Operators

Average Revenue per User (ARPU)

As the rest of the African continent, mobile ARPU levels have declined over the years with increasing competition and subscription base which is primarily poor. The country’s Blended ARPU reached US$14.

Internet

Internet services are available from a number of wireless ISPs and the mobile networks using GPRS, EDGE and WiMAX technology. The high cost and limited bandwidth of existing satellite connections means that most service offerings today are expensive and below broadband speed. Improvements can be expected from the arrival of international fibre optic submarine cables to the country’s shores for the first time in 2010/11.

The number of internet users was 20,000 in end of 2008, which is 0.6% of the population.

Key Figures

  • Number of main lines in use: 2,000 (2008)
  • Number of mobile subscribers: 1,733,000 (2010)
  • Number of internet users: 20,000 (2008)
  • Number of Internet hosts: 5(2009)
  • Number of ISPs: 2 licensed ISPs
  • Internet penetration rate: 0.6% (2009)
  • Mobile penetration rate: 26% (2008)

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