Network upgrade: Major expansions and improvements are under way

Only six years after the launch of the country’s first 3G mobile data network, 2016 is set to see the launch of 4G long-term evolution mobile data networks in Tunisia. In March 2016 the results of a tender for licences to offer the new service, with each sold at a cost of TD155m (€71.1m), were announced: Ooredoo Tunisia came in first, with an offer of TD160m (€73.4m), followed by Orange Tunisia with TD156.3m (€71.7m) and in third, Tunisie Télécom (TT), with TD155.1m (€71.1m). The launch of new services in 2016 should make Tunisia the third country in the North African region to launch the service, following Morocco, which awarded 4G licences in March 2015, and Egypt, which launched its own 4G network in the first quarter of 2016.

Connection Speeds & Coverage

The new networks will allow customers to attain mobile internet download speeds up to 10 times faster than those currently available in the country. Under the rules of the licensing round, companies are obliged to provide minimum average connection speeds of 10 Mbps during the first three years of the network roll-out, 20 Mbps in the following two years and 30 Mbps after that. Local tech news website Tunisie Informatique & Technologie reported in January 2016 that Noomane Fehri, minister for communication technologies and digital economy, stated at a government meeting regarding the updates that 4G networks would be available in at least 20% of the country’s territory. He added that his ministry has urged operators to rapidly extend networks into interior regions of the country, which are less developed than coastal areas.

New Operator

All three existing Tunisian mobile operators – Ooredoo Tunisie, Tunisie Télécom and Orange Tunisie – have bid for licences. These providers are already developing and piloting 4G networks in the country. In early September 2015 Ooredoo became the first operator to test its 4G network, reaching speeds of up to 69 Mbps. TT followed suit later in the month and announced that its network had achieved speeds of 149.87 Mbps, while Orange conducted a test of its own in December 2015, reaching around 150 Mbps. The licensing round could also bolster competition in the mobile segment as authorities have said they are open to the possibility of awarding a fourth licence under its auspices should an external operator apply and meet the relevant conditions.

Impact & Uptake

The new 4G network could mark a big improvement to internet infrastructure, which Fehri has described as “poor and expensive.” Omar Triki, head of marketing for the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe at local human resources (HR) management software developer Sopra HR, told OBG, “Internet infrastructure is good in terms of bandwidth and telephony, but there is a need for new technologies such as 4G.”

Uptake of the new service could be substantial. According to a survey conducted by the National Telecommunications Authority in mid-2015, while only 29.7% of respondents said they were aware of 4G technology, 62.8% said they would very likely use 4G services in the future after it had been explained to them. Mobile internet usage is already high, as 81.6% of respondents use 3G as their main form of internet access. However, both the survey and industry data indicate that pricing will have a big influence on uptake, with survey respondents indicating they would not be interested in 4G if it costs more than 20% of the current price of 3G services. “The launch of 4G will create a buzz, but initial uptake will depend on how the operators price it, especially as 4G users tend to end up consuming more data,” Mohamed Ben Rhouma, CEO of local mobile phone manufacturer Evertek, told OBG. “If it costs more than 3G, most people will stay with that as it is fast enough to access most content.”