MTN Cote d’Ivoire has reportedly been granted a 3G licence by L’Agence des Telecommunications de Cote d’Ivoire (ATCI), making it the first operator in the country to receive such a concession. According to Agence Ivoirienne de Presse (AIP) the licence has been priced at XOF6 billion (USD11.9 million), with the fee payable within 30 days. Further, AIP reports that the issue of the licence follows a bidding process that commenced on 15 February; it remains unclear if any of Cote d’Ivoire’s other mobile operators participated in the tender, or indeed how many concessions were made available by the telecoms watchdog. South African-owned MTN Group announced the news at the press event held to publicise the impending launch of the 14,000km West Africa Cable System (WACS), in which MTN is the principal investor. Christian de Faria, MTN Group chief commercial officer, told South African website Business Live: ‘We are grateful to the governments of Cote d’Ivoire and Benin [which was granted a separate 3G licence earlier this week] for enabling MTN to further enhance the experience of mobile telephony for our customers’.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the lack of available 3G concessions in Cote d’Ivoire has proven to be a bone of contention for the wireless market’s main players in recent years, with the distribution of an initial pair of 3G licences first mooted by ATCI representatives back in November 2008. More recently, in September 2011 communications minister Bruno Kone confirmed that ATCI was poised to award its first 3G mobile licences by the end of the year, without providing any further details regarding the distribution of the concessions. As before, the stipulated date passed without any further progress, and the long-coveted third-generation licences remained in limbo until now. Despite the abundance of 900MHz/1800MHz GSM concessions in circulation – Cote d’Ivoire is currently home to six mobile operators – the main players are keen to differentiate themselves from their rivals, and market leaders MTN and Orange have proven particularly outspoken over the issue. In November 2011 Orange CEO Mamadou Bamba commented: ‘The greatest problem lies in the assignment of frequencies, or in other words, quality. Too many operators and too many distributed licences translate into lower quality because the resources in frequencies are not as great … the development of broadband mobile has been hamstrung by many internal factors.’