Telecoms News - In Brief


- A stampede to gain a mobile phone line hit Ethiopia this week when incumbent cellco Ethiomobile, owned by Ethiopia Telecommuniations Corporation (ETC), put 200,000 mobile lines up for sales. There has been a waiting list to obtain a SIM card in the country for several years, because of the government’s reluctance to liberalise the market. As a result, would-be users have flocked to local markets to buy a handset, where illegally imported phones are widely available.

- A Tanzanian firm has acquired a 50 per cent stake in a publictelephone company in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The firm, LucentCommunications, concluded the deal in Kinshasa late last week under which itwill invest more than USD300m. The joint venture, to be trading asSematel, is the biggest single investment by a Tanzania firm outside thecountry and will be implemented in two phases. In the first phase LucentCommunications will invest about 134m dollars. Elvis Musiba, the chairman ofthe Sematel board of directors, said this investment would serve the DRC andthe Great Lakes Region while overseeing a rapid expansion of affordable landlines to low income earners. It would increase substantially the number oftelephone lines, charge competitive rates and interconnect different serviceproviders, he said.

- The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) has announced that it will introduce mobile number portability in the country by 1 July this year, and portability for fixed line operators by the same date in 2006. The move is expected to boost the level of competition in the country’s telecoms markets, which is currently very low.

- Tel*One has disconnected telephone lines to the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Company (ZEDC), a subsidiary of ZESA Holdings, after it failed to settle a ZD500 million bill. Tel*One, which is in a desperate bid to recover billions of dollars it is owed by several corporate subscribers, last month disconnected ZEDC's Mashonaland East offices in Marondera, Bromley and Mutoko for a period of one week over a ZD700 million debt. Sources privy to the development said ZEDC executives were making frantic efforts to settle part of the debt to have the disconnected lines restored. So far, only the Marondera phones have been reconnected.

- MTN Uganda, the country’s leading wireless operator, reported a 35% rise in revenues in 2004, and attributed the growth to the increasing quality of its customer service and an aggressive marketing strategy. The cellco finished the year with 683,000 subscribers, up from 468,000 at year-end 2003, and said it plans to increase this to a million by the end of 2005.

- South Africa's Telkom says it is likely prices of local calls will rise in the short-term, citing the cost of managing the local loop. A Telkom spokesman told ITWeb that the operator had spent a lot of money on rolling out its network and is still in the process of reaping returns on the investment, a factor that it says would continue to affect its price structure. Prices will rise and remain higher until the company feels it has reaped those returns. The fixed-line operator has seen a jump in long-distance and international traffic since it cut its tariffs in January, but insists it needs to raise prices again to protect its profit. The company has chosen to stay mum on the specifics regarding how long the prices will stay high. The company also declined to comment on the possible migration of some of its subscribers to VOIP service providers upon the increase in tariffs.

Telkom slashed the cost of international calls by almost a third and long distance calls by almost 10% from the beginning of this year as it prepared for the legalisation of voice over IP (VOIP) services in February. At the same time, it raised rental and connection fees by 6.3%, a move that provoked nationwide criticism and accusations of it taking advantage of its monopoly.

- President Yoweri Museveni, has urged Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN) to extend its services to Ruhaama County in Ntungamo district.

- GamTel says it is poised to connect more than 10,000 telephone lines in the Greater Banjul Area as part of its Global Expansion Project to bring telecoms access to both urban and rural communities. In addition the telco has signed a GMD80 million (USD2.82 million) contract with Cerrillion for the implementation of a modern billing system, and is negotiating a GMD168 million deal with Alcatel for 25,000 additional lines in and around the capital. Gambia is currently putting the finishing touches on a new Telecommunications Act which will hopefully give GamTel greater incentive to operate profitably in a liberalised telecoms environment.

- Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom has pledged to spend KEN2 billion shillings on the upgrade of its network in Nairobi. The expansion will involve the set up of 94 extra base station transmitters in the capital, which will help to ease congestion within the city’s central business district. The initiative is part of Safaricom’s wider plan to upgrade and expand its network across the country.

- Telkom Kenya has launched an initiative to modernise its public payphones throughout the country, and cut rates for the service to as low as KEN3 a minute. The telco is also planning to launch a community service called ‘Mzalendo’ with consists of a fixed telephone line being connected to a meter for the resale of calls.

Zambian mobile phone service provider, Cell Z, will in the next few weeks will extend its coverage to Pemba, Mumbwa and Chambeshi in its continued rural expansion drive. ZAMTEL managing director Wood Simbeye said in an interview that expansion works for the company's network catchment has been going on for some time. Simbeye said Cell Z was steadily growing after a Chinese telecom equipment vendor, ZTE, installed expansion equipment. Simbeye said the perceived stagnation that was associated with Cell Z was a result of the expansion works that were going on. He said the company had started selling SIM cards to the public. And the corporation has embarked on an expansion programme for its Cell Z subscriber base to be undertaken in two phases. The first phase will entail increasing the subscriber base by 65,000 and the second by 150,000. ZAMTEL has already acquired a switch for the expansion.

- The costs of international and intercity telephone costs for fixed lines in Tunisia will be reduced by 15%. The decision was announced after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali received minister of communication technologies Montasser Ouaili.