Gabon’s minister for digital economy, communications and postal services, Blaise Louembe, speaking at the first electronic communications forum in the capital Libreville, has announced that 3G W-CDMA/HSPA mobile network technology will be launched ‘by the end of this year’, reports Agence Ecofin. Referring to mobile broadband as part of wider ICT infrastructure development, the minister declared: ‘Before the end of the year, we will see a 3G [service] evolved into place. All mobile phones in Gabon may be used with any value-added services, while keeping their current functions of the 2G … As of 2014, we will be able to watch television on computers, have a mobile videoconference and also have all the services and products offered by the 4G phone.’ The electronic communications forum was organised by the Board of Regulators in Central Africa Telecommunications (ARTAC) and Gabon’s Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications & Posts (ARCEP).
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that Airtel Gabon, the country’s leading cellco by subscribers and revenues, was allocated a 3G UMTS concession in October 2011. ARCEP helped broker an agreement with Gabon Telecom in December 2011 giving Airtel access to the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE high speed international cable, on the basis that Airtel’s upcoming 3G launch only made sense if connected to sufficient submarine bandwidth. The subsequent launch of Gabon’s second undersea cable connection, on the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) system in December 2012, will further support the provision of high quality, affordable mobile internet. However, a commercial 3G launch announcement from Airtel Gabon is still awaited, although in June 2013 the cellco’s parent, Indian giant Bharti Airtel confirmed its commitment to 3G and beyond, announcing that it will invest an additional USD125 million in its cellular network operations in Gabon, including the deployment of 3G and 4G technologies. Meanwhile, the second largest cellco in the country, Libertis, part of Gabon Telecom (itself owned by Maroc Telecom), has been the most prominent of Airtel Gabon’s three rivals in seeking to acquire an UMTS concession.