Gabon’s Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications (ARTEL) has awarded a 3G mobile licence to the country’s largest cellco by subscribers, Airtel Gabon (formerly Zain), which is aiming to launch the country’s first W-CDMA/HSPA network and high speed mobile internet/data services. ‘Official sources’ quoted by Afrique Info and reported by Telecompaper said that the 3G licence is the first of its kind awarded in the country, although TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that Gabon’s fourth cellular licensee, Azur, was awarded a combined 2G and 3G concession in February 2009. However, Azur, which launched a commercial network in October 2009, currently offers only 2.5G GSM/GPRS services.
According to GlobalComms, Gabon’s government launched a 3G licence tender in July 2010, but the deadline for submissions to ARTEL passed two months later with no announcement of winners, and the next development did not occur until December that year when Airtel began discussions with the regulator with the aim of obtaining an UMTS concession. In the same month rival Libertis declared that it would be seeking to acquire a 3G licence ‘early in 2011’, following the finalisation of the cellcos’ parent Gabon Telecom’s 100% privatisation. Airtel and its competitors are keen to deploy third-generation services ahead of the January-February 2012 African Nations football tournament co-hosted by Gabon.