The telecommunication industry has experienced steady growth in the past decade and the communication sector currently contributes 3.8% of the overall country’s GDP, with telecommunication being a major driver. Even though investment (be it direct foreign or local), and the use of Telecommunication services is still at what some would refer to as “early stage” the industry is growing gradually and accommodating new players, development of new products and services, parallel innovation, OTT diversification etc.
The telecommunication industry in Sierra Leone has a total number of 4.2 million users with Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of $3 a month, and a total monthly revenue pool of US$12.6 million.
Majority of these subscribers are multi-SIM users; this usage trend has triggered an intense market competition among operators. Traditional voice and voice- related products continue to take the lead in the industry revenue composition with 65%, while data is contributing 22%, followed by VAS/Content – 12%.
Despite all these trajectories, the market is still at the growth stage, and yet to cover 100% of the country with voice and good internet penetration. 25% (1.7 million people) of the overall country’s population is completely uncovered – of which 78 Chiefdoms are underserved and uncovered. Broadband penetration remains at the low end at 2%. The remaining 11% of the market is serviced via mobile data delivered on cell phones and dongles. Some of the critical challenges that are creating market expansion barriers are the current distribution model of operators – which require microwave as the primary backhaul and the operating cost of running these diesel sites doesn’t commensurate to the micro revenue market pool due to weak rural population cluster, low revenue per user, and shallow digital literacy rate.
The emergence of consumer and business applications that require high-speed internet has led to a significant demand for data usage. The economy is recovering at an accelerated pace from post-election activities - The administration of HE President Bio is actively driving revenue mobilisation and diversification initiatives to position a robust and well- balanced GDP with massive focus on human capital development (Education), tourism, agriculture, mining, technology and entrepreneurship. Like any other enabling infrastructure (road network, electricity, and water supply), data connectivity is an integral element for the country to set the stage for local and International brands.
At SALCAB our primary aspiration is to impulse the ICT sector in Sierra Leone, but doing it in all possible lines of action: First of all, we will work together with operators and government to increase telecommunication services penetration and affordability, especially voice and quality data. Enhance rural network coverage and facilitate service inclusion by providing easy access for everybody.
As a quick win, since my administration took over the management of the Sierra Leone Cable, we have re- engineered the business models of the submarine and the terrestrial infrastructure which churned out a 48% reduction in the cost of bandwidth for IP transit and IP lease circuits. Despite the decrease in the cost per bandwidth, we are very much aware of the fact that transmission and distribution of data remains a critical challenge for the service providers; so we designed and launched packages that are enhancing operators to transmit data using the national fibre backbone and the ECOWAN infrastructure. These initiatives will help operators to significantly reduce the cost of transporting data from our cable landing station to the last mile via the fibre ring at a cost over 1000% cheaper than microwave delivery methodology and with higher bandwidth transportation in gigabits.
Our product development team is continuously driving innovation that will support our clients to increase their quality of service while driving market penetration. We have an extreme investment appetite to de-risk the network; create redundancy rings on our terrestrial network, and multiple routing logic and symmetric redundancy paths on the ACE submarine network. Our network planning team will continue to enhance the network through a constant upgrade of hard and software applications to continually improve our service quality.
Our dream of providing service is not limited to Sierra Leone only; we have aspirations to offer services to the sub- region by attracting CAPEX investment that will allow us to deploy a second submarine cable that will serve as a redundancy to the ACE cable. This capability will enable us to offer regional redundancy service to Liberia, Guinea, and other markets through the ECOWAN network.
We will continue to support the IT industry development, with the creation of a Data Centre where a major interconnection point would be located, and where local and foreign content can be hosted within our country to provide services to our citizens and neighbouring markets.
Our aspiration will assure the development of an ecosystem for local content creation, online services, and new start-up companies to increase the share of ICT within Sierra Leone's GDP and we will provide a vital platform for the implant of E- Government and E-Administration in the country. We will contribute to the enhancement of the educational sector through free internet connectivity to schools, universities and libraries and implanting E-learning platforms.
We are enthusiastic to develop ICT in Sierra Leone and the whole West African region. The opportunities are endless.
Ishmael Kebbay Jr.