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3G on the horizon for Niger

July 24, 2011  »  MobileNo Comment

Niger is not known as a hotbed of mobile or tech activity. In fact, Sonitel, the state-owned telecoms operator site hasn’t been updated since 2007. (Sonitel still lists 56k web access as costing 50 CFAF  ($0.11 USD) per minute.) The number of times the nation has been tagged in a post on this site can be counted on one hand:

  • General Salou Djibo has over 1,200 Facebook fans (by no means a small number)
  • In 2010, AVG ranked Niger as one of the safest web-surfing nations in the world (the lack of available Internet connections probably keep computers safe)
  • Recently, it was announced that a Libyan telecom will hold a 51% share in Sonitel and Sahel Com for 10 years.

Still, there is positive news from Niger these past couple of days: 3G service is in the pipeline. Reuters reports that Niger’s communications ministry, out of a desire to establish a 3G mobile phone network, is inviting firms to apply for the country’s first two licenses. That said, mobile subscription data doesn’t currently support 3G as a viable standard. Reuters cites a mobile penetration rate near 16% (2.5mm out of 16mm citizens own mobile devices). Business Monitor International put the number of mobile subscribers near 3.75 million at the end of 2010, for a Nigerien subscription rate of 23%.

Either way, the data suggests that relatively few Nigeriens use 2G mobile, let alone have devices capable of accessing high-speed services. In all likelihood, demand for 3G would appear if operators brought the service to Niamey today. However, the service would interfere with economic growth as citizens purchase new devices and overspend on data plans with costs driven up due to the lack of sufficient international fibre connections. Plus, fewer than 1-in-10 Nigeriens reside in the capital city, so rural areas would remain underserved.

Finally, not to be negative, but a long road remains even once the communications ministry assigns 3G licenses. Still, once licenses are granted, a variety of entities must update regulatory policy, build infrastructure, sell devices, and complete 3G tests. Who knows if the often financially-troubled, but state-run Sonitel wins a 3G bid…

Either way, 2G will undoubtedly suffice during the next couple of years. There is plenty of room for the growth of local content and improvements to the business environment. A lack of 3G does not mean tech cannot flourish. Sure, it means that Niger may lack in the African apps race, but tech-minded youth and entrepreneurs should use this news as motivation to hone their skills for when 3G arrives.

niger mobile summary

Niger mobile at-a-glance. Click to enlarge. {Data through 2010: Reuters & BMI}

Note: Finding news from Niger requires extra work. The reason? The term ‘Niger’ is included in ‘Nigeria’, so a simple Google search for “Niger ICT” brings up articles on both nations.