In the Congos

Airtel Forks Out USD 42 M For Congo DR’s 4G Expansion

By  |  June 7, 2022

Africa’s second-biggest mobile telecoms operator, Airtel, has acquired a license to expand its 4G connectivity services in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a reported USD 42 M. The newly purchased spectrum of 58 MHz cuts across 900, 1800, 2100, and 2600 MHz bands and will only be renewed in the next 10 years.

This development comes roughly 6 months after Airtel Africa threw in the towel during the bid for a 5G spectrum license in Nigeria, the telco’s largest market in the continent, As one would recall, MTN Nigeria and lesser-known Mafab Communications won the rights to launch fifth-generation connectivity in Africa’s largest economy and most populated country. 

Though Airtel operates in 14 African markets, the Democratic Republic of Congo exists as its largest by coverage area and second-largest in terms of the population count. The operator’s biggest market (by the number of subscribers) remains Nigeria, but having lost the license bid and already launched 4G in the market, it makes sense why the company has decided to set its sights on the DRC project. 

“This additional spectrum will support our 4G expansion in the market for both mobile data and fixed wireless home broadband capability, providing significant capacity to accommodate our continued strong data growth in the country… This investment reflects our continued confidence in the tremendous opportunity inherent in the DRC, supporting the local communities and economies through furthering digital inclusion and connectivity,” Airtel said in an official statement. 

It might seem ironic that the 4G talk is still pretty prevalent given how fast the rest of the world is moving on to 5G and looking forward to the next generation of internet connectivity. However, it is important to note that when it comes to Africa, fifth-generation capacity is on an apparently long journey to overall coverage given that most people are yet coming online for the first time. 

DR Congo, a central African country of about 90 million people, is technologically at an earlier stage compared to Ghana, Uganda, and Tunisia. According to Data Reportal, as of January 2021, there were only 21.14 million internet users in the country, having increased by 29 percent from the previous year. With internet penetration at just 23 percent, there is an undebatable need for not only Airtel but also Vodacom, Tigo, Orange, and Africell to expand the existing network infrastructure. 

Vodacom Congo was the first mobile operator to launch 4G services in the DRC, after rolling out the services back in May 2018. Since the start of the pandemic, the need to stay connected has become more pressing, which is why there are movements toward the expansion of this service. Generally, Sub-Saharan Africa’s 3G coverage expanded to 75 percent in 2019 (compared to 63 percent in 2017) and 4G doubled to almost 50 percent (during the same period). 

A few weeks ago, Airtel Africa reported that its net profit for the year which ended on March 31st increased by more than four-fifths, thanks to the increment in revenues. Its turnover went up by 23.3 percent to USD 4.7 B, buoyed by its data and mobile money services. Nigeria, East Africa, and Francophone Africa are responsible for the biggest chunk of the telco’s underlying revenue growth. 

Meanwhile, do recall that Taara, the airborne internet connectivity project which picked up from where Alphabet’s Loon left off, has earnestly begun its [first] mission to connect the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo; precisely from Brazzaville to Kinshasa. Using the tech spun from Loon, the Taara project is broadcasting internet waves across the Congo River to establish a beam-based viaduct between two of Africa’s least connected countries. 

In as much as there are bits of remarkable progress, Sub-Saharan Africa’s coverage gap is the highest in the world, as the region is home to 67 percent of a global population that is yet to be covered by mobile broadband. 

Featured Image: VDC Telecom

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