Spotlight on African markets Part 2: Ethiopia & DRC

Which African economies are set to transform over the next five years? Capacity asked leading experts to name their telecoms markets to watch.

As some African markets begin to reap the rewards of progressive regulatory measures, others appear ripe for change.

Ethiopia remains one of the last African countries to allow an incumbent – in this instance Ethio Telecom (ETC) - a monopoly across mobile, fixed-line and internet communications. With a population of over 90 million and one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in the world, the country has phenomenal pent-up demand for high-quality telecoms services.

“Ethiopia has a lot of potential,” says Mike Conradi, partner at global law firm DLA Piper. “But it needs the government to change its attitude and perception of foreign investment. And fast.”

Evidence of this came in April, when Ethio Telecom took the drastic action of revoking a 4G network expansion contract originally awarded to Ericson and handed it to Huawei.

Low mobile penetration, the emergence of 4G services and potential future deregulation means Ethiopia is attracting strong interest from service providers, CDNs and content players alike. “All our customers are talking about Ethiopia. They want to be there,” says DDC’s Melick. “The infrastructure and ecosystem isn’t there now but it will be in the near-term, and that is driving interest from the operators.”

The situation is more complex in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has been subject to prolonged periods of social upheaval, but is showing signs of a promising telecoms market.  

DRC has traditionally been held back by poor national and international connectivity. This began to change in 2013 when WACS became the first subsea cable network to connect to DRC. This will double when ACE cable completes its second phase of expansion and also connects to the nation: “The new ACE landing station in Western DRC will enable larger internet capacities complementing the WACS landing,” says David Eurin, group chief strategy officer at Liquid Telecom. “The general situation is DRC is expected to stabilise the key areas of the country, such as Katanga, Bas-Congo.”

The country is now awaiting the imminent arrival of its first LTE services, further highlighting its progress: “LTE and other fixed-wireless access technologies will be deployed in key cities providing fast internet services to consumers and businesses,” says Eurin. 

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