By Lamin Jahateh, Banjul
Investment in The Gambia’s telecommunication sector has decelerated in 2009, as indicated by the latest report of the sector’s regulatory body.
The latest annual report of The Gambia Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) states that total annual investment in the telecommunication sector was equivalent to D699.3 million in 2009 compared to the 2008 figures of D874 million.
“This shows a 17.4% fall in investment figures in the sector,” the report states. The reported figures show QCell, the latest entrant in the country’s telecoms sector, with the highest amount of investment in 2009.
Before 2009, The Gambia has been experiencing steady growth in the telecommunications sector, especially as the cell phone revolution intensified in the country in the last six years with the coming of Africell, Comium, and QCell in 2009. These developments shot up telecoms investment in the country and spurred competition in the sector by mobile operators.
While unemployment poses a serious challenge to national development, and the government continues to put in place remedial measures to create job opportunities for Gambians, the PURA report indicated that 2,139 people were employed in the telecoms sector at the end of 2009, from the 2007 and 2008 levels of 1976 and 1840 employees respectively. “This shows that the sector has registered moderate 8.3% growth in employment during the period under review,” the report states.
The telecoms sector reported 1,409,732 voice subscribers in 2009 a net addition of 194,732 voice subscriber to the 2008 figures of 1,215, 004 voice subscribers, which represented 3.6% growth.
The number of reported mobile subscribers grew by 16.7% during 2009 compared to 45.9% recorded during 2008; whilst the fixed line subscribers had recorded a decrease in growth rate of -0.8%. “The less impressive growth in the mobile subscribers number in 2009 could be a as a result of the market reaching saturation,” the reported states.
Telephone penetration level
The telephone penetration level, which is measured as the percentage of the population owing a fixed and or mobile services, has been very impressive over the last three years, 2007, 2008, and 2009, registering, 54.47%, 76% and 88.11% respectively. According to the report, the rationale for this impressive performance in the penetration level is as a result of the strong performance registered in the mobile subscriber base. The mobile penetration level constitutes about 94%, 96% and 97% of the total penetration levels in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively.
GSM growth in Africa
Africa is leading in the GSM growth rate, according to the GSM Association Universal Access Report, which maintains that mobile operators are providing universal access in many developing markets, and have done so “at a pace unimaginable’.
The report states that in Africa the growth rate is the fastest in the world and “already contains some very significant success stories”. It also revealed that amongst the 43 African countries surveyed, 10 have achieved GSM coverage greater than 90% of population and a further 8 have coverage of 70% or greater, the report reveals.
It says that approximately half of African countries face a greater challenge to bring greater geographical and population coverage to markets where penetration and affordability are low. It added that these are generally low income countries, mostly with large geographical areas or topographical and electricity supply infrastructures, which contribute to high operator costs, the report indicates.