Growth potential strong in Ethiopia and Somalia despite setbacks

Growth potential strong in Ethiopia and Somalia despite setbacks

Several factors have stymied development in the Horn of Africa, including instability in Somalia and a state monopoly in Ethiopia.

Nonetheless, there are promising signs that the telecoms sectors in both of these markets will continue to grow, according to Research & Markets

Ethiopia is one of the last countries in Africa allowing its national telco, Ethio Telecom, a monopoly on all telecom services including fixed, mobile, internet and data communications. This monopolistic control has stifled innovation, restricted network expansion and limited the scope of services on offer.

A management contract with Orange Group had dramatically improved performance for Ethio Telecom, though there remain weaknesses in quality of service. Although the contract was considered a first step towards privatisation and the introduction of competition, the government in 2013 again rejected calls to privatise the incumbent and allow market competition, citing the need for higher profits from the company to subsidise an unrelated railway project.

Although there is considerable investment in telecoms services - some $3.1 billion has been invested in telecom infrastructure and service expansion projects over the last decade - the sector is heavily regulated and the government has complete control over networks, with virtually unlimited access to the call records of all phone users and to logs of internet traffic. Most of the technologies deployed have been provided by ZTE and Huawei, which have often been favoured for offering vendor financing.

Despite major vendor contracts aimed at improving the reach and capabilities of mobile networks, the country's mobile penetration remains among the lowest in the world. Nevertheless, growth is strong and considerable growth potential remains. Under the auspices of the government's Growth and Transformation Plan, the country could have some 103 million mobile subscribers by 2020, as well as 56 million internet subscribers.

The country's broadband market is also set to develop further following massive increases in international bandwidth, improvements in national fibre backbone infrastructure and the growing availability of mobile broadband services via 3G and LTE networks. After years of low uptake due to prohibitive pricing, retail prices are now comparable to other more developed markets in the region.

Neighbouring Somalia’s telecom market has managed to keep going despite the lack of guidance from a central government or sector regulatory since 1991 - when a dictatorial regime was overthrown - and despite the efforts of the Al Shabaab Islamic militant group to close down internet services.

Through the anarchy which continues to disrupt many areas of the country, the telecoms market - dominated by the competitive mobile sector where seven networks compete for customers - has flourished. Some of these mobile services operators also offer fixed-line and internet services. There are no regulations or taxes, and no service obligations. Tariffs are among the lowest in Africa.

However, the absence of regulation has also led to problems with frequency spectrum coordination and interconnection between networks. To address this, Parliament in July 2017 began to consider a draft National Communications Bill aimed at setting a legal and regulatory framework for the telecoms sector.

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