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With the slow ending of one of Africa’s largest conflicts, large parts of the DRC are beginning to get back to something more like a normal life. There are bound to be further upsets along the way but the growing peace clears the way for the economy to function more normally again. This change in business climate has opened up a considerable boom in telecoms and as elsewhere in Africa, largely of the mobile variety. Not so long ago Vodacom had only 33,000 subscribers in the country. Now it has 200,000. Nico Tshintu identifies the main players.

The first phase of telecoms development was through L’Office Congolais des Postes et Télécommunication (OCPT) which as elsewhere in Africa was a monopoly. During this period, landline coverage was mainly for the Government’s local administration and only extended to larger population centres. Only a tiny percentage of local government officials and the well-off middle classes had access to a telephone. The majority of the population were simply cut off from this form of communication.

The second phase of telecoms development was marked by the opening up of the market to the private sector and the emergence of public call boxes. This contributed to the connecting up of centres of production and the centres of consumption, the towns. And thus the proliferation of commercial activities drove the process with their need for funds transfers and sending messages (at a cost of US$0.40 for five minutes).

The third phase was when the market was opened to companies like Stracel(ex Télécel) et Comcell who began to exploit mobile telephony. These were the times when the mobile companies were able to take advantage of users. The cost of calling was US$2.50 a minute and only fell to US$1.50 a minute when companies like Tatem Télecom, Lam Télécom, Usan Télécom entered the market.

The fourth phase of growth was marked by the emergence of mobile operators offering GSM, companies like Celtel, Sait Télécom, Sogetel, Vodacom, Congo Chine Télécom. It is during this period that that the mobile telecom habit really became implanted across many layers of society. All Congolese now had the means to buy phones and pre-paid cards. Having bought a phone (at a cost of around US$75) it now cost US$0.24 a minute for local and national calls. Poorer users could now access the same services at the "cabines privées" for US$0.28 per minute. These prices are the lowest they’ve been at any time. But it’s not all good news. Interconnection between different operators costs double the rates quoted above, except for Vodacom.

The complex pattern of telecoms coverage is as follows. The companies listed below wholesale OCPT minutes in Kinshasa:

Those companies offering their own networks (either partially or completely) are as follows: