Niger has announced plans to auction two new 3G licences, a move that will lead to the building of the first 3G networks in the landlocked West African country. “These licences can go to any operator who desires them,” said an official statement released on state TV, reports Reuters. “Operators already set up here and who have global licences also have a chance to acquire one.” There are four 2G (GSM) operators in the country: market-leader Bharti Airtel (formerly Zain), Moov (owned by Etisalat subsidiary Atlantique Telecom), France Telecom’s Orange, and state-owned SahelCom. Of these, the report notes that Orange currently offers “a BlackBerry service,” but that none of the operators offer “high speed data services associated with 3G.”
The report notes the country’s operators have all benefited from a “surge” in mobile phone use in recent years, a factor linked to the scarcity of fixed-line infrastructure: there are reportedly just 20,000 fixed-lines serving Niger’s 16 million population. According to Wireless Intelligence data, total mobile connections in the country reached 3.9 million in Q2, with Airtel the clear market leader on 2.2 million. Market penetration is estimated at just 25 percent.