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Niger: Niger Communication Profile



The telecommunications sector underwent a rather fast transformation over the last few years due to the market being freed up. While only 5 years ago, the only operator in the domain was the Nigerien Telecommunications Company (SONITEL), today the network is shared by four different companies of which three intervene in the mobile/cellular telephone sector. Again with the breakthrough of NTIC, young people evolve in world surroundings by connecting to the "net" thanks to the services provided by various Internet cafés, whose numbers are increasing gradually in all the districts of the city.

Niger is very behind in telecommunications. But the sector has evolved over the last few years. The Nigerien Telecommunications Company (SONITEL) was privatised, with three GSM licenses being granted and development investments are in the process of being executed.

Niger is experiencing a telecommunications breakdown. It has a vast territory that is difficult and expensive to cover. The telephone network has at present on average 0.19 major lines for each 100 inhabitants for fixed telephones; this is considered to be a very weak coverage ratio. This coverage decreases even additional in rural areas, and has a ratio of 0.01 major lines for each 100 inhabitants. To this, one must add that the country has very insufficient telecommunications equipment that is completely dilapidated.
Two new things should redefine the telecommunications industry in Niger: the initial being the development of the cellular network, which is progressing quickly and secondly, the completion of significant infrastructure investments on fixed lines, carried out through the privatisation of the Nigerien Telecommunications Company (SONITEL).

Having been put back repeatedly, the privatisation of SONITEL finally went ahead in January 2001. Since 20th March 1997, following the merger of the ex-OPT and the STIN, its share capital was held by the National totalling 98.18 %25; the company had 1 371 employees, 19 887 subscribers to the fixed telephone service, and 2 537 subscribers to the cellular/mobile one. This amounted to approximately 24 billion CFA Francs of client accounts.

51 %25 of its capital was thus given up to Dataport, a mixed company between the Chinese company ZTE and the Libyan entity LAAICO (Libyan Arab African Investment Corporation). The remaining capital is distributed between the staff (3%25), private investors (11%25) and the National of Niger. The structure of the board of directors includes 9 members, 5 from Dataport (4 from LAAICO and 1 from ZTE) and 4 National representatives, one of whom is a staff representative. Dataport is as well the strategic partner of the subsidiary of Sonitel for the cellular/mobile market, SahelCom.

Dataport undertook a major overhaul in order to accomplish significant modifications in the modernisation of its equipment and infrastructure, where no significant investment had been made over the last twenty years. 30 000 new fixed lines were installed in 2003, to which were added 45 000 additional in 2004. It is thus that the network became 3.5 times larger in 3 years (21 500 lines as of the end of 2000). Its workforce was reduced by 354 agents out of 1 317 in June 2002.

At the same time, a two-phase investment programme was in evolution. With the remainder of the privatisation and the contribution of 10 million dollars paid by Dataport, this helped them to acquire the second telephone exchange offering a capacity of 45 000 lines with exchanges in practically all the suburbs in Niamey. A telephone exchange with a capacity of 10 000 lines in Zinder was as well installed as a replacement to the existing one which was additional than 20 years old and could not provide additional than 800 lines. Finally, the company acquired a digital transmission matrix from Niamey to Zinder, over 900 kilometres, for a total cost of 16 million dollars.

The second phase of investment , spread over 2003 and 2004, which cost 15.6 billion CFA Francs, was financed by a 9 billion loan from the BOAD plus loans from local banks amounting to 4 billion CFA Francs. The remaining balance being self-financed will be centred on making the phone exchanges digital.

All administrative centres for each department will be involved, inclunding Zinder and Niamey and all the administrative centres of each suburb in the major villages. The modernization of digital transmissions of the domestic network in several stations is as well planned, part which Agadez, Diffa, Bilma, and transmission links other than Zinder and Niamey. It is as well expected that Niger will any minute at this time be connected by fibre optics thanks to the SAT3 project in Benin.

Celtel, an ambitious operator

Tenders to bid were launched in 2000 for the transfer of three mobile telephone operating licenses that conform to GSM standards. Telecel Niger and Celtel Niger received these licenses, for the sum of 4.26 billion CFA Francs each. Telecel Niger, a subsidiary of Telecel International, which is present in several African nations, makes use of this licence that it holds since 2003.
Celtel Niger started business activities in October 2001.

The capital of Celtel Niger, worth a total of 1.5 billion CFA Francs, is divided up as follows: 70%25 is owned by the Dutch Mobile group System International / Cellular Investment (MSI / Cl), while the rest belongs to the Nigerien businessman Ibrahim Idi Ango. Next a little additional than a year of activity, Celtel has as a lot of subscribers as fixed telephones (20 500 lines in 2002). It surpassed 30 000 subscribers having invested 15 billion CFA Francs during 2002-2003. According to the requirements specified at the time of the buy out, a total coverage of the country was to be completed over a period of three years. In 2004, Celtel covers the cities of Niamey, Maradi, Agadez, Zinder, Tessaoua, Dan-Issa, Gaya, Dosso, Dogondoutchi, Konni, Tahoua and Arlit.

Celtel has thus taken a large lead in comparison with its competitor SahelCom which began its activities with the coverage of a few cities around the country. Unfortunately, there are no figures for the number of subscribers for SahelCom. Since July 2002, the subsidiary of Sonitel has converted from the analogue system to GSM and aims, from presently on, to cover the whole country.

Mass media

As far as mass media is concerned, Niger has made significant evolution over the last few years, notably that of freeing up media space. Indeed, besides the public media, this liberalisation allowed for the emergence of about twenty private radio stations, countless newspapers and even a private television channel which not only broadcasts in the capital, but as well in the other cities around the country (Dosso and Maradi). The Niger Radio Agency and Television Office (ORTN), which consists of the National Radio Station (The Voice of Sahel) and two television channels (TV-Sahel and TAL-TV) work to strengthen its capacities to ensure and extended coverage of the whole national territory. By presently, Niger’s television viewers greatly appreciate the creation of a second digital TV channel, TAL-TV who offers the public a programme that is directed towards youth which is additional centred on Culture and Society.

There are about twenty private newspapers, by respecting for good or bad the periodicity, aside from the publications from government organisations, there is the National Agency of Publishing and Press (ONEP), which prints a daily and a weekly newspaper.

At the moment, there is a movement to merge these printing agencies.

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