Cameroon prepares to welcome 4th mobile operator

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Cameroon

The mobile sector in Cameroon is set to undergo a major transformation and shake-up with the entry in January 2015 of a fourth operator.

The stage is being set and the red carpet is being rolled out for Cameroon Mobile Telecommunications (CMT) to walk on and challenge well established players MTN, Orange and two-year-old operator Nexttel.  

CMT is a subsidiary of the government-controlled CAMTEL, which is an internet service provider and a landline telephony operator, among others.

A serious exercise was launched in mid-November 2012 to privatise CAMTEL, but four years down the line the state is thought to be holding a major stake in the company.

CAMTEL, which is also the sole custodian of the country’s fibre optic network, established CMT back in 2006, but had to wait after eight years to publicly declare that it was ready to launch mobile operations.

The new development comes almost two years after the government gave green light to Vietnamese-owned Viettel to enter the market through its mobile subsidiary Nexttel.

Nexttel, a relatively unknown brand in Africa, is said to have invested US$400 million to ‘quickly’ cover 80% of this Central African nation. The Vietnamese company’s turnover currently stands at about US$5.5 billion.

But the government still believes that mobile coverage in Cameroon is still not adequate and has decided to award a fourth licence to CAMTEL.

The licence has a validity period of 15 years, the regulator, l’Agence de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART), said.

CAMTEL will also hold a 3G licence – a factor experts believe will heat up the competition and shake the market as the new entrant already knows the ABC of the internet game.

In the main cities of Yaoundé (capital) and Douala, people remain hopeful that the prices of mobile products will finally drop and the quality of services will vastly improved.  

“Let’s just hope that the prices will come down further and the quality of coverage will considerably improve, especially regarding the international calls,” Elizabeth Morera said.

Cameroon commentator Jessica Foumena echoed Morera's sentiments. She told Biztechafrica that the entry of a 4th mobile operator can help improve the quality of services.

"Cameroonians call and use the internet on a regular basis so the demand is high. Perhaps, having more operators on the market will encourage competitors to step up their game," Foumena said.

US-based international journalist Foumena, who is currently working in Cameroon, said if it was possible a 10th operator could be welcome for two reasons.

 "First, Cameroonian customers will be able to choose the right operator for their budget. Secondly, operators will have to adjust their prices and their quality to please their customers." 

But some view the new development in the jobs creation perspective as the new investment will create jobs and alleviate poverty in this Central Africa’s largest economy.

Nexttel is believed to have created about 6 300 jobs since launching in late 2012.

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