South African-backed MTN Benin has announced that it is the first to receive a 3G mobile operating licence amongst the five GSM operators in the West African country. The Benin government has granted MTN a universal (technology and service neutral) licence allowing 3G, 4G (LTE or mobile WiMAX), public Wi-Fi as well as VoIP services. The company’s CEO Eric Tronel confirmed that MTN Benin was the first in the country to win a 3G/4G licence, adding that the concession ‘presents a great opportunity to improve business communication solutions and other services to our customers, both in the consumer and the corporate sectors. Customers are already eagerly waiting the launch of new services using the new technology, and MTN Benin is working hard to ensure that our customers are not disappointed.’ TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that 3G data services based on CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev A technology are offered in Benin by the Kanakoo division of Benin Telecoms, marketed as a fully mobile internet access service, although the actual extent of 3G-speed mobile coverage is not clearly stated by the state-owned company.
Following MTN Benin’s 3G/4G permit, further licensing announcements are expected, with concessions potentially going to MTN’s two close rivals in the GSM segment, Moov and Globacom, as well as Benin Telecoms’ struggling GSM division Libercom, which could be used by the state as a bargaining chip in its long-running negotiations with France Telecom to privatise the state telco. The country’s independent regulator, the Transitional Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRPT), was known to be formulating a strategy for introducing UMTS (W-CDMA/HSPA) technologies following a tender launched in mid-2010 for consultants to help with the process, but has not yet made any official announcements on next-generation licensing. Mr Tronel told reporters in Beninese capital Cotonou that MTN paid USD99 million for the universal licence and plans to invest ‘millions’ in upgrading its network, which served 2.4 million 2G GSM/GPRS mobile users at the end of December 2011, according to GlobalComms.
MTN Group simultaneously announced its 3G licensing in Benin with a similar concession win in another West African state, Cote d’Ivoire, with Christian de Faria, group chief commercial officer, saying: ‘We are grateful to the governments of Cote d’Ivoire and Benin for enabling MTN to further enhance the experience of mobile telephony for our customers.’