Civil war mars a well-developed telecoms sector in Libya – R&M

Civil war mars a well-developed telecoms sector in Libya – R&M

Libya's civil war has crippled the country's economy and disrupted its telecommunications sector. Much of the telecom infrastructure has been destroyed or stolen, including about a quarter of the country's mobile tower sites, according to Research & Markets’ latest report.

Reconstruction efforts continue to be stymied by political and military disturbances which affect much of the country, while with two opposing administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk, there is no consensus as to how to rebuild infrastructure on a national scale despite attempts to reach a political solution.

Due to these difficulties, and of heightened national security issues, telecom services have been regularly disrupted, particularly in the eastern region of the country. In June 2017 mobile and landline services were restored in Sirte after having been disconnected by Islamic State (a group ejected from the city after a two-year occupation). As a security measure, in July 2017 the main mobile network provider Libyana disconnected SIM cards owned by foreigners, on the basis that criminals and radical groups had been using the company's network for their activities. Reregistering a SIM card now requires proof of ID.

In early 2015 the state telco (along with many other businesses) decamped to Malta, and since then both rival administrations have fought in the Maltese courts to assume control of the company. The economy, which largely collapsed in 2013 and 2014 with dramatic falls in GDP, is again showing growth though this is based on a very dire base. Economic uncertainties in recent years have stymied the ability of telcos to invest in infrastructure, though in mid-2018 the incumbent telco announced plans to invest up to $1.7 billion in a sign of its confidence in returning social and political stability.

Under the Gaddafi regime, virtually the entire telecom and internet sector was in government hands, with the unique situation wherein three government-owned mobile networks competed against each other. One of these networks, Libyana, was to have been privatised through an IPO in late 2014, though instead elements of the operator's mobile network were split off to create a separate operator serving the eastern part of the country.

A new Telecommunications Law has been drafted and the government is in the process of establishing an independent regulatory authority. Since the downfall of the old regime, 25 ISPs have already been licensed to compete with the government-owned former monopoly, as well as 23 VSAT operators.

Destruction to telecom infrastructure aside, it remains superior to those in most other African countries. Considerable investment had been made by the former government in a next-generation national fibre optic backbone network. There was considerable expansion of DSL and WiMAX broadband services, and new international fibre connections and upgrades made to existing ones. Libya also had one of Africa's first Fibre-to-the-Premises (FttP) deployments. The first terabit international fibre optic cable landed in the country in 2010, followed by a second in 2013. Investments into telecommunications infrastructure totalling S10 billion were earmarked for the 15 years to 2020, though given the civil strife in recent years it is difficult to say how much of this will be put into effect.

With one of the highest market penetration rates in Africa, the mobile voice market is approaching saturation, supported by some of the lowest tariffs on the continent and one of the highest per capita GDP levels. Opportunities remain in the broadband sector where market penetration is still relatively low. So far only one of the mobile networks has launched third-generation (3G) broadband services. Fixed-line penetration has fallen significantly because of the war but is also expected to see a renaissance, including fibre, as the demand for very high-speed broadband increases.

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