Cote d’Ivoire has emerged the first telecommunications operator to be granted a 3G licence in the francophone country.

The regulatory agency, l’Agence des Telecommunications de Cote d’Ivoire (ATCI) granted MTN its licence at the price of USD 11.9 million with the fee payable within 30 days.

Reports that the issue of the licence follows a bidding process that commenced on 15 February; it remains unclear if any of Cote d’Ivoire’s other mobile operators participated in the tender, or indeed how many concessions were made available by the telecoms watchdog. South African-owned MTN Group announced their success at the press event held to publicise the impending launch of the 14,000km West Africa Cable System (WACS), in which MTN is the principal investor.

MTN Group chief commercial officer, Christian de Faria quipped ‘We are grateful to the governments of Cote d’Ivoire and Benin [which was granted a separate 3G licence earlier this week] for enabling MTN to further enhance the experience of mobile telephony for our customers’.

Reports indicate that the lack of available 3G concessions in Cote d’Ivoire has proven to be a bone of contention for the wireless market’s main players in recent years, with the distribution of an initial pair of 3G licences first mooted by ATCI representatives back in November 2008.

Despite the abundance of 900MHz/1800MHz GSM concessions in circulation – Cote d’Ivoire is currently home to six mobile operators – the main players are keen to differentiate themselves from their rivals, and market leaders MTN and Orange have proven particularly outspoken over the issue.

In November 2011, Orange CEO Mamadou Bamba lamented the problem faced by telecommunications operators in the West African country. He said : ‘The greatest problem lies in the assignment of frequencies, or in other words, quality. Too many operators and too many distributed licences translate into lower quality because the resources in frequencies are not as great … “

“…the development of broadband mobile has been hamstrung by many internal factors.’  He added.

MTN is the largest telecommunications company in Africa and recently emerged as Africa’s most valuable brand and the only African global brand in the 2011 BrandFinance Global 500. Its operations spans across Africa and Middle Eastern countries.

The company recorded a subscriber base increase of 16.2%, closing with a strong market position, despite increasing competition. With revenue at 9.7%, higher on a *constant currency basis, earnings before tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margin  also expanded by 3.4 percentage points to 44.9% in 2011.

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