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The mobile sector has experienced strong growth in the past few years, largely reflecting the poor state of the fixed-line infrastructure, with competition between five GSM networks. Some consolidation has taken place, and in October 2014 Comium had its licence suspended following its continued inability to pay licence fees or creditors. The state-owned fixed-line incumbent Sierratel has entered the mobile market with a CDMA2000 1x network which it uses to provide fixed-wireless access and broadband internet services following an upgrade to the EV-DO standard. This development saw it become the country’s first 3G mobile network operator. Other 3G services based on HSPA technology were launched in 2011 and 2012.The regulator has in recent years responded to customer complaints of poor service by obliging mobile operators to improve services and network capabilities. In this area they are competing with a significant number of wireless broadband network operators that have emerged as providers of converged internet and VoIP telephony services. Sierra Leone depended entirely on satellites for international connections until February 2013 when it was connected to the ACE submarine cable. This has considerably improved bandwidth capabilities and is expected to bring down the price of broadband which has hitherto been extremely expensive.

There are procedures to register sim cards by filling up the appropriate application and presenting a valid ID or passport at the mobile phone provider. 

Telephone Services

Is there an existing landline telephone network?

No

Does it allow international calls?

No

On average, number and length of downtime periods

n/a

Mobile phone providers

Africell SL

Airtel

Comium Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company

Estimated availability and coverage
(Approximate percentage of national coverage)

44%

Telecommunications Regulations

The National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) aims to ensure a world-class telecommunications sector in Sierra Leone. NATCOM is the country’s independent telecommunications regulator, but it also plays a key role in spurring on information and communications technology (ICT) development.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 2007, there is an obligation to acquire a licence to operate any telecommunications network in Sierra Leone. The National Telecommunications Commission may, after consultation with the Minister, make exemptions to this requirement. At this point in time, no special exemption procedure is granted to international relief operators. The Commission allocates the frequencies required for the operation of any telecommunications network, and any applications to use them must be addressed to the Commission. In allocating the frequencies, the Commission takes availability and fairness into account, but emergency situations are not mentioned. A license is also required for the use of a radio transmitter. A special arrangement is available for diplomatic missions, but not for disaster response actors. Activities in breach of these regulations may lead to a fine or a prison sentence up to two years.

Regulations

Regulations on usage or import of:

Yes / No

Regulating Authority

Satellite

Yes

NATCOM

HF Radio

Yes

NATCOM

UHF/VHF/HF radio: handheld, base and mobile

Yes

NATCOM

UHF/VHF repeaters

Yes

NATCOM

GPS

n/a

n/a

VSAT

Yes

NATCOM

Individual Network Operator Licenses Required

Yes

Frequency Licenses Required Yes