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Sierra Leone
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Against the backdrop, postwar economic development in Sierra Leone and economic recovery in general would see the advent of mobile telephony as important as ever.

It was only the government owned telecom operator, Sierratel that operated fixed telephone lines. It also provided Internet services but the traffic was as incredibly slow as it was expensive. Sierratel monopolized the telecommunications industry until in early 2000 when mobile phone operators like Celtel (now Zain) mobile phone company and later Millicom (now tiGo) SL Ltd gained entrance into the country's small market economy. However, that was not because government regulations governing the industry favored Sierratel's monopoly, but it was then virtually the only telecom operator in the country.

Today, the country is far away from limiting to or associating telecom with Sierratel in the country. The presence of liberalization, interconnection and collocation, which point to a significant direction of regulated competition, has replaced that perception. Thus now see a steady increase and growing presence of additional mobile telephony providers (GSM, CDMA, VoIP, Fixed Wireless and Mainlines) like Comium, Africel and there was Datatel.

Licenses & Regulations

The situation is different in Sierra Leone than other African countries where the issue of an independent regulator was a major concern. By default, and before the advent of the National Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM), the business of competition management and regulation was left with the then Ministry of Transport and Communications. Prior to it being disengaged from its line ministry as part of the former government's privatization programme, Sierratel under the ministry had also served as the "master regulator" for the industry.

Now the National Telecommunications Commission, established by a 2004 Telecom Act, has the statutory duty to issue operator licenses, allocate spectrums or other scarce resources, arbitrates disputes, formulates sector policy, and administers fines and industry standardization and consumer protection measures.

Fixed Lines

Fixed lines still concentrate in Freetown, the capital city, leaving the vast majority in the provincial towns and villages not even connected to landlines telephone system let alone have Internet access. Such growth is also constrained by the extent of electricity grid, the availability of computer equipment and low level of literacy.

The number of main lines in use reached 31,500 in 2008.

Mobile

Today, Zain, which stands as the pioneering mobile operator, operates in almost all the major towns and surrounding villages. It could now boast of a subscriber base estimated between at 666,000. Comium provides services to approximately 947.000 while Millicom, Africell cater for a good number of clientele as well.

Consequently, mobile subscribers have surpassed fixed lines users and mobile coverage generally spread beyond the reach of fixed lines infrastructure. The latter could now be found in the remotest village courtesy of Celtel. Although Information Technology development is now largely a matter of private sector investment and would not imply a public sector resource drain, it is increasingly central to economic growth, which is a prerequisite to addressing the health, environment, government and a myriad other national challenges.

Mobile Operators

Average Revenue per User (ARPU)

No information regarding the ARPU rates of Sierra Leone’s mobile operators has been publically disclosed.

Internet

Problems experienced with access to the Internet include an intermittent electricity supply and a slow connection speed in the country outside Freetown.

Internet services provided in the Sierratel days met serious problems. They therefore could not influence the perceptions of people who apparently would wish to benefit from ICTs. Much as Web hosting in most parts of Africa is still very expensive, partly because of the different constraints that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) face - fewer customers, costs of the bandwidth - local infrastructure virtually never existed. In contemporary Sierra Leone market economy, ISPs like Datatel, Fidelity Global Companies, Afrinet, IPTEL, and Limeline were yet to affect effective Internet communication throughout the country. This was going to be made worse simply because services provided by ISPs were limited. As of June 2009, the number of internet users was 13,900, which is 0.3% of the population.

Key Figures

  • Number of main lines in use: 31,500 (2008)
  • Number of mobile subscribers: 2,740,000 (2010)
  • Number of internet users: 13,900 (2009)
  • Number of Internet hosts: 273(2009)
  • Number of ISPS: 4 licensed providers (2008)
  • Internet penetration rate: 0.3% (2009)

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