In a ceremony held on 20 March 2014 Gabon’s Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications & Posts (ARCEP) officially handed over a ten-year 3G/4G mobile licence to the country’s largest cellco by subscribers, Airtel Gabon, for a one-off fee of XAF5.5 billion (USD11.55 million). As reported by Agence Ecofin, ARCEP president Lin Mombo formally awarded the licence to the Indian-backed operator two months after the adoption by the Council of Ministers of a draft decree granting the authorisation, ‘subject to compliance with specified associated costs and terms of reference’. Airtel Gabon’s CEO Antoine Pamboro said upon receiving the concession: ‘The 3G/4G licence that was given to us is a major innovation, not only for our company but for the entire mobile market in Gabon. These technologies allow users to navigate very high speed web pages, view streaming video, make video calls between two users, and also to watch live TV on their phone.’
As reported last week by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, Airtel Gabon has begun operating the country’s first 3G/3.5G W-CDMA/HSPA+ network, with three types of mobile internet/data services now advertised under the ‘3.75G’ banner – having previously been based solely on 2G/2.5G standards. In the most recent announcement, Airtel confirmed that it has launched ‘pilot’ 3G services to coincide with the formal handover of its licence.
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that in October 2011 Airtel Gabon was allocated the country’s first 3G UMTS concession by ARCEP’s predecessor, l’Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications (ARTEL), although the payment and formal receipt of the licence has been delayed until this month, with the ten-year licence duration to run until March 2024, while the concession’s technology scope has been ‘upgraded’ from 3G to 3G/4G – matching the concession awarded to rival Gabon Telecom (Libertis) earlier this month.
In a note to users on its Facebook social networking page, Airtel Gabon accompanied pictures of the 3G/4G licence award ceremony on 20 March with the statement that ‘all commercial details (price, conditions…) will be announced in just a few days’. A Twitter message followed which announced that Airtel was ‘the first national operator to launch 3G in Gabon, March 20, 2014.’
Back in October 2011 when the original 3G licensing agreement was signed (by the Gabonese regulation board, Airtel Gabon’s former MD Louis Lubala and Emmanuel ‘Mamadou’ Koulade, chief regulatory officer of parent division Airtel Africa), it was announced that Airtel’s 3G service would be made available in the capital Libreville before being expanded to the rest of the country. Initial network coverage details have not yet been released.
GlobalComms adds that Gabon’s fourth and most recent cellular licensee, USAN Gabon (Azur), was allocated a ‘2G/3G’ concession in February 2009, although Azur, which launched commercial 2G/2.5G services in October 2009, has struggled to make a major impression in the market and has not since negotiated a formal commercial 3G permit.