Somalia’s civil war hides steady growth of internet services

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Despite continuing unrest, Somalia has taken the first tentative steps towards establishing a national government and AU peacekeepers have begun to arrive. It’s too early to say whether some sort of peace will take hold but behind the seemingly endless news of civil war, the Internet has been developing apace.

Somalia was one of the last African countries to get connected to the Internet after the country established its first ISP in 1999. But today the country has internet connectivity to almost 53% of the whole area of the country and the Internet business is mushrooming in the country and becoming one of the fastest growing services along with telephony. 

Based on the 2006 report of Somali Telecommunication  Association (STA),  a watchdog organisation that oversees the Policy  development and regulatory framework  of ICT sector in Somalia, by the end of 2005 there were  more than 0.5 million users of Internet services in the country with 22 established ISP  and 234 cyber cafes  with growth of 15.6% per year.

Several types of Internet services are available in the country including dial up services that are mainly provided by the major network operators in the country. The major players include Global Internet Company which is a jointly owned by the three major networks of Hormud Telcom, Telcom Somalia and Nationlink. Global Internet Company is the biggest ISP in the country and the sole provider of dialup services in South- central regions of the country.  While in Somaliland and Puntland, Internet services has been bundled within the network products and services whereby each network delivers Internet dialup services into its own subscribers. Major regional service leaders include Telsom, and Ts in Somaliland regions and Golis and STG in the Puntland region.

Dial up internet services in Somalia is the fastest growing internet services in Africa as Somalia enjoys landline growth of more than 12.5% per year compared to Horn and eastern Africa countries where landline is experiencing a serious decline due vandalism and increase cost of copper cables in the international market. This growth is attributed to the unique services policy adopted by the Somali telcom operators that is based on free local calls within each town of in the country. Landline has become the product of choice and most affordable telecommunication service in the local market. By just  paying a flat rate of US$ 10 per month for unlimited calls and US0.005 per minute for Internet connections, with one time connection fee of US$50.

The other high-flying Internet service in the country is Wireless Internet for corporate, learning institutions, UN, NGO and diplomatic Missions. This service is provided by both dial up and non-dial up ISPs.  Major cities like Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Bosaso, Kismayo  and Galkayo, the services has been delivered at the pricing structure ranging from US$ 150- 300 per month for unlimited internet access with bandwidth rate of 64kbs up and down.

For instance, the capital city Mogadishu hosts the biggest wireless internet services and has largest subscriber base in the country and  Dalkom (Wanaag HK), webtel, Orbit, and Unitel are the major leaders of service providers. The challenges facing the wireless internet providers include the cost of subscriber terminal equipment and electricity supply as well the cost of bandwidth.

Somafone, one of the GSM services providers, has also introduced a GPRS service for wireless Internet in the market. GPRS service has not yet picked up in the local market but it is available in Mogadishu and its neighbourhood regions of Lower and Middle Shabelle.

ADSL and LRE( long range ethernet) Internet services are also offered in Mogadishu,  specially for the business centres and corporate institutions in the city. The services has not been extended to other major cities in the country but expected to be completed in the near future. So far Global internet is the only operator at the moment able to provide ADSL services in Mogadishu.

 In the last quarter of 2006, Dalkom Somalia came up with a programme extending ADSL services throughout the country by providing ADSL equipments to all network operators in the country with a revenue sharing business model, after realising a great shift of Internet connectivity and the huge demand for broadband services in the market. Most of the operators are studying this proposal and expected to be endorsed by this year. It hopes this will help the operators to improve internet usage, increase the subscriber base and connectivity of internet in the country.  Dalkom Somalia says it has technical and resources capacity to roll out countrywide ADSL services in collaboration with all the networks in the country.

The cost of ADSL services in country, believed to be the cheapest in the sub-region. For instant, the cost of the terminals plus the installation is about US$100 while the rate of services is determined by the number of computers that to be connected.  For example ADSL services connected to one computer costs US$30 per month for unlimited Internet access and unlimited downloads.

Internet over the satellite services is also offered in the country especially in the remote areas and the cities that have no either dialup or wireless Internet services. Major clients include UN, NGOs, financial institutions particularly the remittance companies and Internet Cafes. Currently over three hundred satellite terminals, connected to various teleports in Europe and Asia are available throughout the country. This type of services have shown a stable growth of 10-15%  per year.

But the more the broadband wireless Internet increases throughout the country, the less there will be a need for satellite Internet. Therefore the market for satellite Internet has gone down in the past three years in the urban areas of Somalia while this type of services picked up in the rural areas and the demand has been steadily growing up. The Educational centres, media companies and financial institutions have been contributing to the growth of the demand of Internet over the satellite services as these institutions are pushing the extension of services into the remote areas of the country, in order to be able to operate in rural areas.

The biggest challenge for Internet services in Somalia is the cost of bandwidth as most of the customers are currently paying between US$ 2500-3000 per Mbs per month. The Major international bandwidth providers include TAIDE, Skyvision, Etisalat, Sinosat, and Newskies , Eutalsat, Panamsat and Intelsat.

Dalkom, an international gateway and Internet backbone operator in Somalia provides various products and solutions for the internet services providers(ISP), corporate  institutions , learning centres and cyber Cafees include cheap bandwidth through Its backbone, internet over satellite and  Premium routes for the content providers and media operators as well  international voice gateway services for global carriers. 

Dalkom Somalia considers the internet market is one of the fast growing sectors in the country and it will keep on growing in the next two decades as market is shifting into data and Voip services. Most of the ISP are shifting to development of contents, integrated solution of Voice and data, VOIP, hosting and video streaming as e-commerce and media over internet are the deals of the day. Dalkom’s international gateway has a capacity to support the growing internet market demand of country and still trying to source more affordable bandwidth in the international market in order to improve affordability of bandwidth in the local market as bandwidth becomes a precious commodity in the market.  Dalkom Somalia has also plans to expand its international gateway services into regional operators by building a sub-station in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland as well the completion of its commercial national backbone in order to further improve international connectivity of the country and minimise the cost of network operations as the current international gateway supports the network operators in South-central Somalia