According to online news portal Agence Ecofin, regional mobile operator Africell is poised to launch commercial services in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), almost two years after receiving rights and spectrum to offer wireless services there. Africell, a subsidiary of Lebanese firm Lintel Holding, already operates mobile networks in Sierra Leone and the Gambia, and has now been authorised to launch in DRC by Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and New Information Technologies and Communication, Tryphon Kin-Kiey, on 18 June. Speaking at Africell’s launch ceremony, Kin-Kiey advised the newcomer to ‘innovate’ by deploying its network infrastructure over a wider footprint than those of its rivals, and by rolling out base transceiver stations (BTS) in less profitable areas, rather than concentrating on major centres and provincial capitals.

The news agency notes however, that the cellco’s commercial launch is not actually expected to take place until next month, with a three-tiered rollout mooted by the firm. The first stage will encompass Kinshasa and the provinces of Bandundu, Bas-Congo and Katanga, followed by a second phase rollout in the provinces of Kasai Occidental and Kasai Oriental; the third and final batch of deployments will take in the Eastern Province, Ecuador, and north and south Kiwu.

Agence Ecofin’s report describes Africell as the DRC’s ‘sixth mobile operator’, although it remains unclear when a fifth mobile operator actually inaugurated commercial services in the country. Airtel DRC, Vodacom DRC, Tigo DRC and Congo Chine Telecom (CCT) are widely acknowledged as the country’s four established mobile operators, but over the years as many as 16 companies have been granted wireless licences, only to come unstuck due to myriad legal and financial issues, muddying the waters somewhat.

As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in October 2010 Africell launched a tender process to identify a vendor to roll out a mobile network using 2×9MHz of bandwidth in the 1800MHz band as well as 2×4MHz of 900MHz band spectrum; a provisional launch date of April 2012 was later suggested.

Source: Telegeography