Africell DRC’s free calls delight users despite lack of interconnection
By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Kinshasa, DR Congo
November 2012 to November 2014: it has been two years since the interconnection was taken away from mobile operator Africell in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And it has been two years of soul-searching, court cases, future prospects and of course aggressive marketing to increase the number of subscribers and consolidate the hard-earned gains.
Biztechafrica went to the streets of the capital Kinshasa to hear from the horse’s mouth if users were still in love with Africell despite two years of waiting in vain for interconnection.
The views on Africell’s free calls (daily from 11pm to 7am) came out top.
“Africell helps me talk without worrying about the length and cost of the call,” Mozart Nsumbu told Biztechafrica.
“What I like the most about Africell is the free calls. They make me forget the pain of interconnection. It’s amazing,” Elisée Olela said.
“Africell puts an eternal smile in my face every day because it helps me talk a lot with my fiancé,” 20-year college student Fatou Amisi said.
One Facebook user said: “Here is Africell, our beautiful network that brought us relief and liberated us from the past hardships.”
Even street seller Jean Mputu intervened, saying: “Every day, I sell more Africell Sim cards than any other network. It costs less and it already has 20 units in it. The choice is clear for the buyers.”
But despite this mountain of praises, the suspension of interconnection on 8 November 2012 by Airtel, and subsequently by Vodacom and Tigo, is a bitter pill to swallow for Africell DRC board chairperson Stanley Mbayo Lufunga Pelesa. He said:“Cutting the interconnection was an act of unfair competition and a violation of article 41 of the Framework Act on Telecommunications."
"There is no operator who has the capacity to absorb all the Congolese customers.”
There are currently about 15 million mobile users in the DRC, the equivalent of a 17.5% of mobile penetration, former Orange DRC MD Jean-Léon Bonnechere declared in June 2014.
However, the lack of official figures from the regulator makes it difficult to say who the market leader is. Vodacom and Airtel claim to have 10 million users each, while Africell says it in its Facebook page its boasts 5.5 million.
Orange had 2.6 million users by December 2013 or 10, while Tigo had 2.8 million users by September 2012, this must have tripled by early 2014, as a study conducted by Target SARL and published in September 2014 put Vodacom and Tigo as the market leaders.
Nevertheless, the interconnection saga refuses to go away in the capital Kinshasa. While fellow operators believe that the decision was justified because Africell’s lowly prices were bringing the market into disrepute, many observers believe it was unfair.
An Africell call costs US$0.005 for 0.5 unit between 7am and 9pm, while an SMS costsUS$0.0002 for 0.2 unit. One Sim card costs 100 Fc (US$0.11), while other operators’ Sim card is sold in the open market for 300 and 500 Fc (US$0.36 and 0.50).
However, the pricing set by the regulator, ARPTC, in October 2013 is the following: US$0.037 for the 2013-2014 financial year, US$0.034 for 2014-2015 and 0.031 for the 2015-2016 financial year.
This is crystal clear that why users continue to be hooked up to Africell in the past two years despite the lack of interconnection.
Despite the lack of official statistics, Africell continues to claim in its advertising campaign that it is the biggest mobile network in the capital Kinshasa – an honour no operator has so far been able to counter-claim.
Africell, which currently has 5.5 million subscribers, is also said to be controlling the Bas-Congo Province, west of Kinshasa. Again there are no official figures to prove it.