Research & Markets’ latest report notes that Mali has a challenging geography for the provision of telecommunication services, with large tracts of the country consisting of sparsely populated desert.
Many settlements are hard to reach, making them difficult and expensive to service with effective backhaul infrastructure. Security issues have also been a concern, leading to delays in the national backbone network being built by Huawei.
Compounding these difficulties, underinvestment in fixed-line networks has resulted in telecom infrastructure that is barely adequate to serve consumer needs in most towns and is largely absent in many areas of the country. In addition, a combination of poverty, high illiteracy and low PC use has led to a very low take-up of fixed-line internet services. In common with many other countries in the region, Mali has taken to mobile networks for voice and data services.
Orange Mali entered the market as the second mobile and fixed-line operator in 2003 and soon became the dominant provider. The duopoly with national telco Sotelma continued until late 2017 when Alpha Telecom (after much delay) launched mobile services. A fourth mobile licence is also being considered by the government in a bid to improve market competition. In June 2018 the Algerian operator Mobilis expressed an interest in entering the Malian mobile market by acquiring this licence.
Mobile penetration in Mali is relatively high and given the sparse nature of the fixed-line infrastructure there is considerable potential for mobile broadband services. Nevertheless, Mali's landlocked location makes it dependent on neighbouring countries for international bandwidth, which has kept prices high. Improvements in this sector can be expected from the recent arrival of several new competitive international submarine fibre optic cables in the region, while the government in late 2017 set in motion plans for a local Internet Exchange Point.