Past turmoil has stymied DRC’s telecoms sector – R&M

Past turmoil has stymied DRC’s telecoms sector – R&M

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a troubled history, and accordingly its national telecom system remains one of the least developed in the region, reports Research & Markets.

The government can only loosely regulate the sector, and the national telco SCPT has little capital to invest, so much of the investment in infrastructure is from donor countries or from the efforts of foreign (particularly Chinese) companies and banks. Efforts have been made to improve regulating the telecom sector, with a revised Telecommunications Act adopted in May 2018, though the practical implementation of the Act's measures remains questionable.

Given the limited and decrepit condition of fixed-line infrastructure, the mobile network operators have become the principal providers of basic telecom services. More than a dozen new licences were issued in the early years of the century, but many of the licensees failed to launch services and the proliferation of networks, as well as the poor monitoring of spectrum assets, caused frequent problems with spectrum shortages, interference and compatibility issues.

As a result, the mobile sector entered a period of consolidation, including the acquisition of Tigo Congo by Orange Congo in April 2016, which greatly increased the latter's market share. Improved services could be on the way following a major tower infrastructure upgrade by Helios Towers.

The development of the DRC's internet and broadband market has been held back by the poorly developed national and international infrastructure. However, the country was finally connected to international bandwidth through the WACS submarine fibre optic cable in 2013. Huawei Marine recently completed the second phase of an upgrade to the cable system.

Meanwhile, SCPT – with support from China – is rolling out a fibre optic national backbone network that aims to quadruple fibre capacity from landing station to Kinshasa, addressing a key bottleneck. Additionally, a fibre link between Brazzaville and Kinshasa has been completed.

International bandwidth is still limited, and as a result internet pricing is high and backhaul capacity (for both fixed and mobile internet services) is low. An alternative terrestrial international fibre connection exists via neighbouring countries.

Vodacom and Orange launched the country's first commercial LTE networks - albeit with significant geographical limitations - in May 2018 soon after LTE licenses were issued. Mobile operators are keen to develop mobile data services, capitalising on the growth of smartphone usage, but in mid-2016 their attempts to dramatically increase mobile internet pricing were criticised by the regulator.

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