Reasons why Cameroon needs to open up its 3G market
Cameroon lags behind other African nations in terms of broadband affordability. A recent Research ICT Africa policy brief addresses what is causing the high cost – and what can potentially be done to remedy the situation.
3G deployment in Cameroon has been limited due to poor policy decisions. Mobile operator Viettel has a monopoly over 3G infrastructure, yet has not deployed services yet (and may not until the 2016, who knows). Dominant mobile operators MTN and Orange cannot provide mobile broadband services (only 2.5G). ADSL prices are high and speeds are low – Camtel offers fixed ADSL at 256 kbps with the fastest option of only 1 Mbps. New bundled products are helping to lower the price for mobile prepaid services, but more 3G licenses are needed in conjunction with investment and regulation in the fixed broadband market.
Cameroon’s prepaid mobile rank among African nations slipped quarter after quarter from 2010-2013. By the end of 2013, the cheapest prepaid mobile product in Cameroon ranked 42nd out of 43 nations. That changed in early 2014 when Orange Cameroon introduced 60% cheaper bundled services that lowered Cameroon’s ranking to 18th.
Looking at mobile broadband pricing, the cheapest 1GB mobile prepaid basket in Cameroon (from Orange) costs USD21 which is as expensive as a similar product in Ethiopia (also home to a fixed monopoly). Still, Cameroon’s cheapest 1GB prepaid option is slightly cheaper than those in Botswana and Namibia. Of course, only the data plan and not actual download/upload speeds are considered. Factoring in the fact that Orange or MTN only offer 2.5G speeds in Cameroon, it becomes even more apparent that mobile internet plans are extremely expensive in Cameroon.
Moving on to fixed broadband costs, Camtel charges roughly USD1000 for an unlimited 1Mbps ADSL package. A slower 256kbps ADSL package costs USD63 for the home and USD104 for business or school. As RIA points out, “Camtel’s offering is more expensive than any other basket assessed by this policy brief.” Camtel also is the only operator with a sub-512kbps package. A table comparing costs among different nations shows just how extreme Camtel’s pricing is!
In conclusion, RIA recommends the following in order to improve mobile broadband adoption in Cameroon:
- revoke Viettel’s 3G monopoly and allow MTN and Orange to provide 3G and 4G services
- effectively regulate wholesale access to enable competition and reselling
- open the fixed-line market to secure more infrastructure investment
An agreement signed in June 2014 between Camtel and MTN Cameroon aims to improve MTN’s capacity on the fibre backbone. Such a move puts MTN Cameroon in good position to offer better services like 3G, yet a license is still needed. There’s additional speculation that Cameroon could secure bandwidth on a South America-Africa submarine fibre cable.