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Uncertainty of Arab Spring wanes as growth returns to Tunisia

 As a result of heavy investments in the telecom sector since the mid-1990s, Tunisia has one of the most developed telecommunications infrastructures in Northern Africa and sports some of the continent’s highest market penetration rates...

As a result of heavy investments in the telecom sector since the mid-1990s, Tunisia has one of the most developed telecommunications infrastructures in Northern Africa and sports some of the continent’s highest market penetration rates, according to Research & Markets.

Tunisia has developed a diverse, market-oriented economy which escaped the global economic crisis virtually unscathed, but the events of the Arab Spring drove the country close to a recession in 2011. However, from 2012 GDP growth is expected to return to levels around 6%.

Offering a full range of services, Tunisie Telecom is the country’s fixed-line incumbent. The company was partly privatised in 2006 when a 35% stake was sold to Dubai-based Tecom and DIG. It also operates a mobile network under the name Tunicell.

The mobile sector has experienced exceptional growth since the introduction of a second GSM network in 2002, operated under the name Tunisiana first by Egypt’s Orascom and now by Kuwait’s Wataniya in which Qatar Telecom (Q-Tel) holds a majority stake.

Competition between eleven ISPs, supported by a nationwide fibre optic backbone network and international access via submarine and terrestrial fibre, has led to one of the most developed Internet markets in the region and some of the lowest broadband prices in Africa. The former government encouraged and promoted Internet use but at the same time kept tight control by restricting access to certain websites. Laws supporting e-commerce and digital signatures have been passed, which has led to one of the most active e-government and e-commerce sectors in Africa.

France Telecom-owned Orange entered the market as the second fixed-line and third mobile operator in 2010 and launched Tunisia’s first commercial 3G mobile service. Tunicell followed in August 2011, offering up to 42Mb/s. This is expected to deliver a further boost to the Internet and broadband market by taking broadband Internet access to a wider part of the population, considering that the country’s mobile networks already reach close to 100% of the population while Tunisie Telecom’s fixed-line network reaches only about one-third of households. 3G mobile broadband pricing is designed to compete head-on with Tunisie Telecom’s ADSL service which up to now has dominated the broadband market.

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