New international fibre link expected to boost Internet and broadband market in Sierra Leone

Following more than a decade of civil war, Sierra Leone has enjoyed peace, stability and rapid economic growth since 2002. The country’s traditional telecommunications infrastructure has suffered damage and neglect, but the mobile sector has experienced excellent growth with competition between five GSM networks, according to Research & Markets.

Some consolidation has taken place when one network ceased operations and the market’s number two acquired the number four. Additional mobile licences have been issued but not all operators have launched services.

In addition, the state-owned fixed-line incumbent has entered the mobile market with a CDMA2000 1x network which it uses to provide fixed-wireless access and broadband Internet services following an upgrade to the EV-DO standard, making it the first 3G mobile network in the country. Other 3G services have not yet been introduced.

Rapidly declining average revenue per user is forcing the mobile operators to improve their services, streamline their operations and create new revenue streams, such as Internet access via mobile data services. In this area they are competing with a large number of wireless broadband network operators that have emerged as providers of converged Internet and VoIP telephony services.

Sierratel’s monopoly on the international gateway was reinstated in a controversial regulatory move in 2007 but a review of this decision was announced three years later. Capital from a strategic investor is needed to enable the company to compete effectively – a tender for its privatisation was set in motion in 2010. With assistance from the Indian government, Sierratel had already started to rehabilitate its fixed-line infrastructure and has taken first steps towards the rollout of a national fibre backbone network.

Depending entirely on satellites for international connections, without access to international fibre bandwidth, broadband services in Sierra Leone have remained extremely expensive, but this is expected to change following the recent landing of the first international fibre optic submarine cable the country in November 2011.

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