Algeria eyes telecoms reform

AFTER the relatively late launch of 3G services in 2013, Algeria is now looking to accelerate its rollout of 4G LTE, with a successful speed test conducted earlier this year and a series of base stations being constructed across the country.
The new minister for the post office and ICT, Houda Imane Feraoun, confirmed to local media in late August that the government hopes to see mobile 4G launched in the coming months, with the final draft of the request for tender being evaluated by the sector regulator, the Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Postal Services, and a call for tenders expected early next year.
‘Algeria has succeeded in improving its internet network to a significant degree, despite its late entry and lack of a clear ICT strategy,’ she told media in late July, emphasising the crucial role played by the deployment of fibre-optic cables throughout the country, which has helped to modernise ICT infrastructure.
In late May Ooredoo Algeria – which, along with Algérie Télécom’s Mobilis and Djezzy, is one of the country’s three mobile operators – announced a successful 4G test, which achieved downlink speeds of over 300 Mbps and uplink speeds of 50 Mbps.
Speaking to local media, the company’s director, Joseph Ged, said, ‘As soon as the regulatory conditions are met, 4G mobile will allow our subscribers to benefit from ultra high-speed mobile internet, with positive knock-on benefits for the national economy.’ The company also plans to begin tests on voice over LTE services, Ged added.
While AT launched wireless 4G services to business subscribers in May of last year, the technology was limited to data transmission with no telephony component, and was only offered in fixed mode. Subscribers can access wireless internet using a fixed router and a SIM card, but the service is only available within a limited radius and cannot be used with a mobile handset or portable USB key.
Since the service was launched, AT has been working to modernise its network, building a series of base stations in wilayas (provinces) across the country. Five new base states were opened in Tlemcen in mid-July, with another 10 opened in Ouargla in late September, according to local media reports.
Djelloul Boughendja, operational director of telecoms in Tlemcen, told media in July that AT also plans to launch 4G voice services.
The rollout of 4G is likely to be a boon for operators. As in other emerging markets, Algeria is approaching a saturation point in terms of mobile voice, with value-added data services seen as the key to boosting average revenue per user.
According to the World Bank, 93 percent of Algerians have mobile subscriptions, compared to 132 percent in Morocco, 128 percent in Tunisia, and 114 percent in Egypt – where many people use more than one SIM card.
Restructuring the sector to allow for greater competition continues to be seen as key to the industry’s long-term growth potential, with regulators signalling that a new ICT law, expected in late 2015 or early 2016, could include long-awaited reforms.
The current law dates to August 2000 and is widely seen as outdated – for example, it does not mention the internet. While a previous draft ICT law was submitted to parliament in 2013, it was postponed later that year.
‘We are working on a regulatory plan that will open up competition. There are new measures that will be taken,’ Feraoun said during a visit to Béjaia in October. The government has indicated that a wide variety of options are on the table.
The sector is likely to see a bit of an ownership shake-up in the coming months. According to Feraoun, there is no question of AT being privatised, as it must remain ‘a strategic domain of the state,’ however, she told local media in October that Mobilis’ status as a wholly owned subsidiary of AT is under review, with an initial public offer of a 20 percent stake in the brand on the Algiers Stock Exchange still being considered.
The sector has already seen some new reforms in terms of taxation. In September the government increased the value-added tax on mobile data from 7 percent to 17 percent, while also doubling the tax rate on operator revenues to 2 percent, in a bid to bolster government revenues in the face of weaker oil prices.

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