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Democratic Republic of Congo - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

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Last updated: 19 May 2020 Update History

Report Pages: 114

DRC to secure access to Google’s Equiano submarine cable

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) was under a 30-year dictatorship between 1967 and 1997. Since then the country has continued to suffer from regional wars among rival groups, resulting in considerable social upheaval. There remain violent conflicts in the eastern part of the country, exacerbated by considerable corruption within the government as well as by ethnic tensions resulting from disputes among and within bordering countries which have spilled over in the DRC itself. These circumstances have made it difficult for the government to extend its control in these regions.

Largely due to the country’s troubled history, the national telecom system remains one of the least developed in the region. The government can only loosely regulate the sector, and since 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 licenses were issued in the early years of the century, but many of the licenses 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.

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, while SCPT is rolling out a fibre optic national backbone network with support from China. Breakages in the WACS cable have exposed the vulnerability of international bandwidth, which is still limited. To address this, Liquid Telecom in early 2020 was licensed to build and manage the landing station for the Equiano submarine cable. This development will also provide competition in the broadband access market, hitherto a monopoly held by SCPT. In turn, the additional capacity, stimulated by competition in pricing, should contribute to a reduction in internet pricing for both fixed and mobile internet services.

The country’s first commercial LTE networks were launched, albeit geographically limited, in May 2018 soon after LTE licenses were issued. Mobile operators are keen to develop mobile data services, capitalising on the growth of smartphones usage.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.

Although it is challenging to predict and interpret the long-term impacts of the crisis as it develops, these have been acknowledged in the industry forecasts contained in this report.

The report also covers the responses of the telecom operators as well as government agencies and regulators as they react to the crisis to ensure that citizens can continue to make optimum use of telecom services. This can be reflected in subsidy schemes and the promotion of tele-health and tele-education, among other solutions.

Key developments:

  • Orange Money develops its service in partnership with Flash International;
  • Vodacom DRC management to be transferred to Vodacom South Africa under a reorganisation plan;
  • Liquid Telecom licensed to build the Equiano cable landing station;
  • Helios Towers completes major tower infrastructure upgrade;
  • Incumbent telco SCPT seeking to quadruple fibre capacity from landing station to Kinshasa, addressing a key bottleneck;
  • Fibre link between Brazzaville and Kinshasa completed;
  • Report update includes operator data to Q4 2019, regulator’s market data to September 2019, Telecom Maturity Index charts and analyses, assessment of the global impact of COVID-19 on the telecoms sector, recent market developments

Companies mentioned in this report:

Vodacom Congo, Bharti Airtel (Zain, Celtel), Millicom (Tigo), Congo Chine Telecom (CCT, Orange Congo), Africell (Lintel), Société Congolais des Postes et des Télécommunications (SCPT), Tatem Telecom, Gecamines, AfriTel (Starcel), Standard Telecom, Telecel International, Africanus.net, Interconnect (Vodanet), Microcom, Cielux Telecom, Global Broadband Solution (GBS), Afrinet, Congo Korea Telecom, Geolink, ICP Net, Orioncom, PacoNet (Pan African Communication Network), RagaNet, Roffe Hi-Tech, Sattel, Société Internet Congolaise (SIC), Sogetel, Liquid Telecom, O3b Networks, Smile Telecom, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei Technologies, ZTE.

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