International data gateway sector liberalised

23 May 2013

Gambia has liberalised its international internet bandwidth market by issuing seven international data gateway operating licences to the country’s three private sector mobile network operators – Africell, Comium and QCell – and two WiMAX-based internet service providers (ISPs) – Unique Solutions and Netpage – alongside state-run incumbent telco Gamtel and its mobile subsidiary Gamcel. The Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MOICI) awarded new licences at a ceremony on Tuesday, the Daily Observer reported. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that until this week Gamtel held a monopoly licence for all international gateway services, constraining cellcos and ISPs to originate and terminate international data and voice traffic through the incumbent’s gateway. However, in line with the stipulations of the Communications Act 2009, Gambia’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) worked with an external consultant in January 2013 to finalise the details of new International Information & Communications Service Licences in order to fully open up the international gateway sector – one version for mobile operators, and one for ISPs. GlobalComms adds that Gambia switched on its link to a new international submarine fibre-optic system, the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable, on 19 December 2012, which is intended to provide equal access to bandwidth. A local public-private joint venture, Gambia Submarine Cable Company, holds the country’s stake in the consortium cable, and is 51% privately owned via minority stakes held by QCell, Unique Solutions, Africell and Comium, while the other 49% is owned by the government/Gamtel. Gambia’s largest cellco Africell joined smaller operator QCell in the commercial 3G mobile internet sector in the third quarter of 2012, but in very low-key fashion, while apparently waiting for full bandwidth availability courtesy of its ACE cable stake and gateway licence before publicising a full-blown 3G launch, TeleGeography writes.

Lamin Camara, MOICI deputy permanent secretary, added at the ceremony in Kanifing that, following the liberalistion of international data gateways, ‘hopefully very soon the voice gateway will also follow.’ GlobalComms notes that a previously issued international gateway licence was briefly held by Comium, allowing the cellco to directly route international voice calls, but this was revoked by MOICI in August 2008.

Amer Atwi, managing director of Comium, said at the ceremony: ‘This opportunity given to us as private sector will translate to the average Gambian; we will employ more people as this liberalisation will of course enhance services, make things cheaper, more affordable for the public, but as well create jobs.’