It’s taken a while, to say the least, but Ethiopia now seems ready to invite another operator into the country.
The plan to bring in two more operators to compete with state-owned incumbent Ethio Telecom faced a number of hitches at an early stage, notably no satisfactory bid for the third licence, leading to the Ethiopian government selling only one of two full-service operator licences that were on offer in May 2021. That went to new player Safaricom Ethiopia.
A second new licence was due to be issued in January 2022. Proposals, according to regulator the Ethiopian Communications Authority (ECA), had to be delivered by 20 December 2021 but the response was not good, leading to some speculation that an ongoing armed conflict in northern Tigray was alarming potential investors. The ECA then suspended the RFP process for the new second license.
In November last year, the government said it had resumed the plan to issue a full telecoms licence for the operator. A peace deal was signed in the same month. According to Reuters, the industry regulator said on Monday that Ethiopia will launch a tender for a second international telecoms licence in June. Further details will apparently be released closer to the launch date.
This will be the third operator alongside Ethio Telecom and Safaricom Ethiopia, but it will have a lot of catching up to do. Ethio has at least 70 million subscribers and has been rolling out many new services including the mobile phone-based financial service Telebirr. Plans are also under way to sell off about 45% of Ethio.
Meanwhile, Safaricom is up and running and its M-Pesa mobile money service will be launched and rolled out over the next few months.