Broadband still expensive in Liberia despite new international fibre

Nine years into peace, following more than a decade of civil war which destroyed much of its infrastructure, Liberia became a prime example of an almost entirely wireless telecommunications market. Four GSM mobile operators are competing for customers – LoneStar (majority owned by South Africa’s MTN), Comium, Cellcom and LiberCell.

Internet services are available from a number of wireless ISPs and the mobile networks using GPRS, EDGE and WiMAX technology. The high cost and limited bandwidth of existing satellite connections means that most service offerings are still expensive and below broadband speed. Dramatic improvements can be expected from the recent landing of the first ever international fibre optic submarine cable in the country.

In the mobile sector, competition has led to some of the lowest call prices in Africa despite the expensive operating environment due to the lack of basic infrastructure in the country. The harmonisation of the disorderly licensing and spectrum allocation regime inherited from previous governments has proven difficult. However, market penetration has caught up with other markets in the region in recent years.

An attempt at privatising the dysfunctional fixed network operator, the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (now Libtelco) failed in 2005. Since then, efforts to resuscitate the previously neglected incumbent have continued successfully with a wireless 3G system based on CDMA EV-DO technology enabling it to enter the mobile market as a fifth player and to provide wireless broadband services. There are also plans for a national fibre backbone network. These assets would create an attractive opportunity to a strategic investor in a likely renewed privatisation in the near future.

Market highlights:

  • Almost 9% annual GDP growth despite weak local currency;
  • New international fibre access has not yet led to cheap broadband services;
  • 3G mobile broadband services being rolled out;
  • Mobile network shut down for failing to pay licence fees.

Estimated market penetration rates in Liberia’s telecoms sector – end-2013

Market

Penetration rate

Mobile 69%
Internet 7.4%
Fixed 0.4%

(Source: BuddeComm based on various sources)

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Liberia – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

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