Magazine article New African

Sierra Leone: The Quiet Revolution; When Thinking of Booming Mobile Phone Markets, Sierra Leone Is Not the First Place That Springs to Mind, but the Country Is Going through Something of a Telephony Renaissance. Nick Smith Reports from Freetown

Magazine article New African

Sierra Leone: The Quiet Revolution; When Thinking of Booming Mobile Phone Markets, Sierra Leone Is Not the First Place That Springs to Mind, but the Country Is Going through Something of a Telephony Renaissance. Nick Smith Reports from Freetown

Article excerpt

When looking for the excitement surrounding the launch of wireless telephony, most heads turn to Europe. But new countrywide GSM wireless services, launched by the UK-based Gateway Communications and Datatel GSM, are having a very real impact on Sierra Leone's economy at a time when the country is benefiting from substantial growth, driven by political stability and considerable foreign investment.

Liberalisation of the country during the last five years by a forward-thinking government has led to the deregulation of the national phone company, Sierratel, and created the thriving telecom market that the country is currently experiencing.

The new license is also opening up the country by enabling the people to forge closer links with those living in the provinces--for some it will be the first time they have been able to communicate with friends and family in the countryside.

Traditionally, pan-African landline services have been the preserve of the chosen minority because of high usage charges, long delays on implementation and poor standards of service.

"Sierra Leone is coming alive with people and business moving fast," says Christian Ogoo, managing director of the Freetown-based Datatel GSM. "In the last three years, Sierra Leone has undergone significant economic development and social change through greater freedom of movement and overseas investment. As a result, there is now a growing awareness of wireless telephone services as people in Freetown and the provinces demand reliable and cost effective telecommunications."

With landline penetration of under 0.5%, Sierra Leone typifies the traditional African market for telecommunications. The development of fixed line communications is still constrained by a number of factors including most notably the speed of deregulation within the African continent. But all this is beginning to change in Sierra Leone.

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The use of mobile phones in Africa dramatically exceeds that of fixed line devices, and such is the perceived value of mobile phones, even by those on low incomes, that a significantly higher portion of their household earnings is spent on communications costs than in the developed world.

Recent statistics show there are around 36 million pan-African mobile phone users, a figure that is growing at a rate of 135% a year, numbers that are reflected in Sierra Leone. …

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