Senegalese Sonatel snaps up West African mobile licences


France Télécom (FT) has announced that its 42.33%-owned Senegalese subsidiary Sonatel has acquired two mobile phone operator licences – one each for Guinea-Bissau and Guinea in West Africa. No financial details of the awards were disclosed.

In January this year Sonatel won the tender to operate the third mobile phone network in Guinea-Bissau, beating off rival bids from four other firms, including US-based Global Voice. At the time, Sonatel director Fernando Lacerda said his company's proposal was adjudged to be better than bids from Global Voice, Teylium of Mauritius, Lintel Africa (based in the Cayman Islands) and local company 3 Tel. Sonatel’s newly created Orange Bissau unit will compete with incumbents Guiné Telecom (Guiné Tel) and Spacetel Guinea-Bissau (Areeba). Orange Bissau hopes to launch services by the middle of the year.

In Guinea, Sonatel has acquired the GSM licence formerly held by Spacetel Guinee for a renewable term of 15 years; it aims to launch commercial operations before the end of 2007. Wireless services are in great demand in Guinea. The country is home to four operators, the more recent of which, Areeba, the local arm of Lebanese wireless holding company Investcom (which itself was acquired by South African cellco MTN in 2006), launched commercially in April 2006. Within just two months of launch the company claimed to have signed up over 100,000 customers, making it the second largest operator in the country and placing it only marginally behind market leader Sotelgui and considerably ahead of its better established rivals Intercel and the seemingly defunct Spacetel Guinea, which has long been the subject of an ownership wrangle over Investcom’s involvement in the company. Taha and Najib Mikati, the owners of Investcom, have claimed they hold a 'significant indirect interest' in Spacetel Guinee, causing a conflict of interest with their principal investment in Guinea, Areeba Guinea.