GDP per capita in Gabon is well above the African average, with the country’s oil revenues make it one of the wealthiest nations in the continent - although a distorted income distribution and poor social indicators are evident, according to Research & Markets. The telecom market was liberalised in 1999 when the government awarded three mobile telephony licences and two Internet Service Provider (ISP) licences and established an independent regulatory authority. Following two unsuccessful attempts, the privatisation of Gabon Telecom finally succeeded in 2007 when Vivendi-controlled Maroc Telecom bought a majority stake.
With competition between three service providers – Zain (formerly Celtel, now Bharti Airtel), Gabon Telecom’s Libertis, and Etisalat’s Moov – Gabon became one of the first countries in Africa to exceed 100% mobile market penetration in 2008. At the same time, the network operators have been able to maintain a much higher average revenue per user (ARPU) than their peers in the region.
The entry of a fourth network, USAN (operated by Bintel under the brand name Azur) into this virtually saturated market in 2009 triggered a price war that saw revenues and profits dive, forcing the operators to streamline their operations and to look for new income streams. Following more than a year of delays, a licence to offer 3G mobile broadband services was finally awarded in late 2011.
In contrast with the mobile market, Gabon’s fixed-line and internet/broadband sectors have remained underdeveloped due to a lack of competition and the resulting high prices. The country has always had sufficient international bandwidth on the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE fibre-optic submarine cable which runs from Portugal via South Africa to the Far East, but this facility has been monopolised by Gabon Telecom. The recent arrival of a second international submarine fibre optic cable (ACE), combined with the launch of 3G mobile broadband services is expected to bring significant improvements to this sector in 2012.