Malian MVNO Aidou Telecom set to launch later this year with cheaper prices and LTE – The African MVNO bandwagon starts moving?

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MVNOs have hardly made a dent on African markets. A number of regulators have talked about issuing MVNO licences but it largely remains talk. However, an influential Malian is now setting about launching one in a country that needs more competition. Russell Southwood spoke to Dr Adama Traore about the MVNO he wants to launch, Aidou Telecom.

Dr Traore’s involvement in telecoms in Mali goes back many years and took some time in the telling. National incumbent SOTELMA was once a monopoly and got all the usual rights and privileges of that status from government. But when Orange was given a licence as a competitor (then called Ikatel), Dr Traore says that the then Government (at the highest level) shifted its allegiance to Orange.

In response, Dr Traore set up the Reseau Malienne Consommateurs de la telephonie mobile (REMRCOTEM) in order to represent the individual complaints from consumers to the operators. Subsequently SOTELMA was put up for sale and eventually bought by Maroc Telecom, now sold by Vivendi to Estisalat.

During the bidding process, Dr Traore was contacted by MTN and according to his account, it was this conversation with them that led to the idea of forming an MVNO, what subsequently became Aidou Telecom:”MTN advised me and indicated the way…It was a learning experience for MTN. In France there are 15 MVNOs.”

He approached the regulator with the idea and was asked to prepare a business plan which he did with equipment vendor Alcatel Lucent. This was in 2009 and the licence was premised on a change in the regulatory framework but “the text did not follow.” The regulator said it wanted to also introduce number portability so Dr Traore waited as this would also be helpful for a new MVNO.

The text went to the last Minister who lost his post in the recent Government reshuffle but the New Minister has said yes to the text. So when that agreement is formalised, Aidou Telecom will be cleared for take-off and could launch as early as July or August.

So what’s the vision for Aidou Telecom? Aidou Telecom wants to be a full MVNO with two distinguishing features. Firstly, it wants to deliver voice and data services at 30-40% cheaper than the existing two operators. Secondly, it wants to be a locally owned, Malian company with at least a 50% local shareholding. If the latter works as in say Kenya where national feeling is strong, this could be a strong card to play.

Its technical offer will include LTE coverage, which would be a new service in the market. It would also launch an overseas diaspora MVNO for Malians living in places like France with mobile money transfer services.

If Dr Traore’s Aidou Telecom can get off the ground, it will give much needed competition in the Malian market and as an MVNO, set an interesting precedent for the rest of Africa.

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