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3G licenses are raining down on the continent. Burundi, Zambia, Swaziland, Liberia and Niger in recent months, Gabon in a few days and soon Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Algeria … Three-quarters of African countries will soon have opted for the mobile Internet.

A milestone which embodies the opportunity for millions of mobile users to communicate with loved ones via email and social networks, but also to find some value-added information and prospect new clients in transactions administrative or financial.

Also opens a new cycle for operators on the continent for the time remaining focus on providing basic services such as voice and SMS, the source of 95% of their turnover. Now the challenge is for them to find their business model to capitalize on the expected explosion of electronic data interchange.

Meeting in Abidjan on 5 and 6 October 2011 on the occasion of the seventh edition of the Africa Telecom People (ATP), the stakeholders widely discussed the new challenge. A turning point, ideal to take stock of progress since the arrival of mobile in Africa 25 years ago. “Each terminal then cost 3500 dollars and average revenue per user was $ 800,” recalled Joe Gate on the occasion, co-founder with Miko Rwayitare, and the first cellular network in 1986 in Zaire (DRC).

The pioneer days

An era of pioneers which no one had anticipated the overwhelming success of GSM. “At most, the initial business plan had forecasted 20,000 subscribers in the Ivory Coast,” said Arthur Aloco, current director of the regulatory authority Ivorian telecoms. After humble beginnings in the 1990s, take-off sector was confirmed to achieve phenomenal annual growth rates, nearly 50% between 2003 and 2006 for example. A success that has quickly attracted the interest of donors, who now sees, as well as access to water and electricity, as one of the three pillars of development.

Same enthusiasm on the part of African states who see this as a great source of jobs – 3.5 million on the continent – and income in taxes – $ 71 billion between 2000 and 2011 -, dividends or profits at the sale of licenses. Contracts that can reach heights, as in Morocco where Meditelcom disbursed in 1999 over a billion dollars for the 2G.

Towards universal access

First designed for large urban centers, conquering the most profitable customers, the mobile has gradually won the countryside. However, much remains to be done to cover the rural areas. “The transition to 3G should not be at the expense of a portion of the population still private network,” said  Thierry Moungali, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications of Congo. A goal of universal access for which it should raise the funds supplied by the operators – “1 to 3% of turnover” (excluding interconnection costs) in many African countries, says Rémi Fekete, lawyer the firm Gide Loyrette Nouel.

The lawyer also emphasized the urgent need to involve public and private interests to develop fiber optic highways with high speed will need to reveal its potential. An approach that is promoted by ATP, in its traditional awards, awarded the trophy for best government initiative in a project in Sierra Leone for a project of the landing station of the submarine cable fiber optic ACE. A structure which will then be liberalized access to the benefit of private sector actors.