Mustapha K Darboe
According to IT News Africa, one of the leading news sites on tech news in Africa, the Africell parent company which has its base in Lebanon has secured a 35 million dollar funding to support the expansion and upgrading of its mobile networks in The Gambia, the DRC, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The Gambia is a country with a population of about 1.8 million people but it has four GSM companies thus making competition for customers stiff.
And of the four, Gamcel, Comium and Qcell, Africell is the biggest cellular company with subscribers of little over one million people, according to the Gambia Regulatory Authority, PURA.
As in 2013, Africell is said to have had its market share of active subscriptions at 58%, leaving the other three companies sharing the remaining 42%.
IT News Africa, the news site that prides itself of being Africa’s technology news leader, reported that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) revealed that it will invest USD 35 million in the telecom operator, Africell.
IFC revealed to the media that the investment is intended to support the expansion and upgrade of mobile networks in Gambia, the DRC, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Report said the IFC’s investment is part of a syndicated loan of USD 150 million, arranged by Deutsche Bank and supported by the Public Investment Corporation SOC acting on behalf of Government Employees Pension Fund, Banque Libano Francaise, EcoBank RDC and other investors.
Africell is an emerging telecommunications operator, with a customer base in some of Africa’s most challenging markets.
Since its launch in 2001, Africell has become the leading mobile network provider in The Gambia and in Sierra Leone, and is expanding rapidly in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda.
The IT News Africa said the new financing will enable Africell to expand its coverage and services.
However, the Africell media consultant in The Gambia, Musa Ceesay, told Thegambia360 that they could neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the story.
“We cannot confirm the story- it must have been a deal with the investors and Africell Gambia is just one branch of the many the company has,” he said.
The cellular companies have always struggle to have a good quality network all over the country and even Africell that is the biggest has failed over the years to reach certain remote areas in the country.
Though the company has reached most parts of the country, in some few places like Salikenni in Central Baddibou District, its networks, like other cellular companies, is quite weak.
Africell is the second cellular company in the country, after Qcell, that claims to be on 4G networks but all companies including Comium and Gamcel, the state own, offers mobile internet services.
In their 2013 annual report presented to the Public Accounts and Public Enterprise Committees (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly early this year, the Public Utilities and Regulatory Authority, the institution that regulates services providers in the country, said it receives complain from customers of all GSM companies about “poor network” and “network coverage”.
PAC/PEC is a National Assembly committee that scrutinises public offices in the country.
Other reported issues with all the networks include poor internet connectivity and some bogus calls but the highest category of complains came from Africell subscribers.
As of the year 2013, the Africell has made the biggest investment in The Gambia’s telecommunication industry, investing D208 million of the total D329 million spent in the sector that year.
However, subscription of customers, according to the regulatory authority, for all companies, continues to increase in the country despite the stiff competition.
It said the total mobile cellular subscription for all companies grew from 1, 900, 936 in 2012 to 1, 986, 490 in 2013 representing a 4.5% growth.
The regulatory body also said that prepaid subscriptions continue to dominate the mobile subscription mix, accounting for over 99% of total subscriptions with post-paid subscriptions at just less than 1%.
According to available data from the regulatory, as of 2013, active mobile subscriptions were approaching a two million mark in The Gambia.