This page forms part of MBendi’s documentation of the African Computer and Telecommunications Industry.

The cellular phone industry is a key component of the African computer and telecommunications industry and an example of where a new technology has the potential to by-pass the need to upgrade obsolete and non-existent conventional communication technology.

Cellular phones are taking the world by storm. There are an estimated 83m connections worldwide but that figure is expected to hit 360m by the year 2000. Cellular services are increasingly providing users with a way to by-pass inefficient and bureaucratic telcom parastatals. Some 24 African countries now have cellular systems, thought the cost of handsets and security are major cellular issues. Nokia and Ericsson are the major providers of handsets across the continent.

North African countries, apart from Libya, have the longest established networks. South Africa doesn’t feature in the top 40 countries per capita but it’s one of the fastest – growing markets. MTN and Vodacom now have a subscriber base of nearly 700,000. The pent-up demand in South Africa is partly the result of a monopolistic environment where Telkom offered mobile phone services at high cost in a limited area. Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) and Ericsson South Africa have signed a contract worth more than R750 million to extend the MTN GSM cellular network. It provides for the supply of Ericsson switching, radio, base-station and mobile terminal equipment.

Namibia installed a cellular phone system in 1995.

In Zimbabwe, TS Masiyiwa Holdings Limited won a 1995 court case to allow competition in the cellular phone market. However they have had to find a replacement for US partner Telecel International, who withdrew from a partnership citing the unnecessarily stringent rules laid down by the parastatal Posts and Telecommunications Corporation. The government has since introduced legislation which makes it difficult to make speedy progress on the project.

Zamtel were responsible for launching a cellular phone system in Zambia in 1995. The company provides telecommunications services to Gecamines in Zaire.

In Malawi, a joint venture between Telekom Malaysia Malawi and Telekoms Networks Malawi has installed a cellular phone network covering Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zombe and Mzuzu. The cellular phone project is a joint venture between the telecommunications corporation and Telecom Malaysia, who have formed Telecomms Network Malawi, with 1000 mobile cellular phones sold since the network was launched on December 6 1995. Telecom Malaysia has a 60% stake in the venture and expects to churn out 10,000 cellular phone units in the next two years to ease communication for the business community and open up the country to foreign investment.

In Kenya KPTC launched a mobile phone system in 1992 with a capacity for 2,000 lines; demand for mobile phones has been so high even though the equipment provided is the more expensive (handset) analogue-based system, the corporation has had to overstretch the capacity by 500 lines. A new digital cellular mobile system using GSM standard is planned.

In Gabon and Guinea, the US Trade and Development Agency has sponsored feasibility studies of installing cellular phone networks.

Telecel and Comcell are competing in the Kinshasa cellular market. Vodafone of the UK now has a 36.8% share in Cloverglen Celtel, the Ugandan cell-phone company which has installed a cellular system to support the major towns of the country.

The Nigerian Telecommunications Corporation, NITEL, has developed a reputation for inefficiency. As a result, companies in Nigeria are increasingly using cellular communications system to by-pass NITEL.

La Societe Nationale des Telecommunications du Senegal (Sonatel), Senegal’s state telecommunications company, has started the West African nation’s first cellular telephone service using a GSM system. There are 600 customers. Sonatel is earmarked for privatisation around the end of the year and the cellular network will be part of the sell-off. Sonatel’s turnover in 1995 was 53.6 billion CFA francs (about R471 million), from almost 57.5 billion CFA in 1994. Net profit in 1995 was 6 billion CFA, down from 12 billion CFA the year before.

Shaun Bakamoso

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