According to an unconfirmed report by RadioOkapi.net, Netherland British Compagny (NBC) – a relatively unknown DRC-based firm which manufactures and distributes telecoms products – has successfully challenged the issuance of 3G licences this year to mobile operators Airtel DRC, Oasis Telecom (Tigo), Vodacom Congo and Africell. In a judgement delivered on 26 October, the Commercial Court of Kinshasa ruled that NBC alone has the right to utilise the 2100MHz band, following its 2004 receipt of a ten-year operating concession. It is not believed that the telco has actually taken steps to utilise its mobile concession, which would be set to expire in 2014. Representatives of the cellcos affected by the decision say that they have yet to receive an official notification of the regulator’s plans to requisition the frequencies in question. Vodacom launched its 3G network earlier this month to coincide with the 14th annual Francophonie Summit, which was held in Kinshasa between 12 – 14 October.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in July 2012 the Autorite de Regulation de la Poste et des Telecommunications (ARPTC) belatedly issued a number of 3G concessions, that had first been promised in 2010. In the event Airtel, Oasis Telecom, Vodacom and market newcomer Africell each acquired a UMTS licence, paying USD15 million apiece.
The DRC mobile market has witnessed numerous companies fall foul of the government’s notoriously awkward licensing regime over the years; as many as 16 different groups have been granted 2G mobile licences in recent times, only to come unstuck due to myriad legal and financial issues. Indeed, of the aforementioned 3G licensees, only Africell has announced the commercial launch of its GSM network (late-June 2012), almost two years after receiving rights and spectrum to offer wireless services in the country. In the past the ARPTC has gone on record as describing its frequency resources as ‘completely exhausted’.