Bahraini-owned mobile operator Bintel has been awarded Gabon’s fourth cellular licence, and plans to launch commercial services in the third quarter of this year with an initial investment in excess of USD50 million, according to its CEO Alawi Baroum. The Gabonese regulator Agence de Regulation des Telecoms (ARTEL) awarded Bintel a 15-year 2G/3G voice and data network operating concession for an undisclosed price. Bintel is targeting a 6% to 8% share of subscribers in the country within its first year of operations, and a 30% share in ten. ‘Bintel is committed to redefining Gabon’s telecommunications landscape by building a state-of-the-art mobile communications network and providing customers the most advanced mobile services,’ claimed Baroum. Bintel launched a GSM network in the Central African Republic in mid-2007 and another in mid-2008 in Somaliland (a republic which has yet to receive international recognition). The company has allocated USD250 million over the next two years to expand its networks and enter at least three new African markets, and has signed contracts with telecoms equipment providers including China’s Huawei and ZTE. Bintel was registered in Jebel Ali in Dubai in 2007, but is headquartered in Manama, Bahrain.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, Gabon had 1.35 million mobile subscriptions at the end of September 2008, giving it approximately 100% cellular penetration. Although ARTEL estimates that the ‘real’ figure based on active subscribers is nearer to 90%, it is still exceptional for Africa. At that date Kuwaiti-backed Zain Gabon had 761,000 customers, or 56.2% of the market, ahead of Moroccan-owned Libertis with 447,000 subscribers (33.5%) and Moov Gabon, backed by UAE’s Etisalat via Atlantique Telecom, with around 140,000 users (10.3%). The three existing cellcos were issued with their GSM licences in 1999 free of charge.