New wireless operator LINTEL SL plans to launch mobile services over its network in Sierra Leone in early February 2005. The cellco, which paid USD250,000 for its GSM-900 operating licence in July 2002, will offer services under the brand name Africell. LINTEL, which has had to delay launching until February to comply with government directives, joins two established operators in Sierra Leone’s mobile market – Celtel International Sierra Leone (Celtel) and Millicom International Cellular (MIC). A fourth operator, Comium, also holds a GSM licence.
Celtel is the current wireless market leader in the country, reporting a subscriber base of over 60,000 at the end of June 2004. The pan-African group announced that it had signed up its five millionth mobile customer in the continent earlier this month. It now has operations in 13 African countries. Sierra Leone’s second placed cellco, MIC, had 32,000 subscribers at the end of December 2003. In 2003 MIC, with its pre-paid brand ‘Buzz’, targeted the low end of the market by launching a new USD3 pre-paid card, the lowest denomination card in the country.
Sierra Leone, with a population of around 5.5 million, and an estimated 100,000 cellphone users, is experiencing growth in its mobile telecoms sector but not without problems – rural coverage is severely lacking and prices are way beyond the means of the average citizen. The Sierra Leone Telecommunication Company is the country’s incumbent telco and largely regulates the activities of other companies. Increased activity in the wireless sector has prompted government officials to start looking at widespread changes in the regulatory playing field including measures to introduce an independent telecoms regulator and moves to address the high cost of pre-paid cards.