Tunisia: Telecoms targeted for growth
A wave of initiatives is planned to be rolled out across Tunisia’s telecoms industry as the country moves towards achieving the targets laid out for the sector in a vision drawn up to spearhead its expansion. In an effort to facilitate increased access to services, real estate developers and telecoms operators will soon be obliged to ensure planned building developments include the necessary infrastructure for fibre optic capacity.
The Tunisia Broadband Strategy (TBS), released in September 2012, maps out the government’s plans to accelerate growth in the ICT sector through a broad range of measures that include driving up fixed-line and mobile broadband penetration and enhancing fibre optic (FO) capacity.
The strategy, which was developed by the telecoms regulator, the National Authority of Telecommunications (Instance Nationale des Télécommunications, INT), over a two-year period in consultation with the local Telecommunications Study & Research Centre and UK-based networking analysis firm Epitiro, also highlights what it sees as the main strengths and weaknesses of the sector.
Positives identified include healthy competition between internet service providers (ISPs), the top broadband penetration rate in the region, high levels of ICT literacy, low cost for the service and Tunisia’s small geographical area. In contrast, the TBS cites Tunisie Télécom’s monopoly on fixed-line voice services, a digital divide between cities on the coast and those in the interior, poor cooperation between operators and a lack of local content as issues weighing on the sector.
ICT already plays a key role in Tunisia’s economy, with the industry now accounting for around 5% of GDP, although a large portion of this is a result of cost-sensitive services such as offshoring. The measures outlined in the strategy confirm the government’s plans to keep the sector in the spotlight, with the focus now expected to shift towards infrastructure construction.
While Tunisia recorded a 5.1% fixed-line broadband penetration at end-2011, the INT is looking to push the figure up to 40% by 2016 and 60% by 2020. The authority also aims to increase the mobile broadband penetration rate from its current rate of 3.9% to 35% within the same timeframe.
The TBS calls for mandatory cooperation on infrastructure installation, which the authority believes should improve efficiency in the sector while allowing companies to focus more resources on developing new products and services. Consolidation of infrastructure should help reduce costs for existing operators, although it will also allow the entry of new competitors such as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) into the market.
Efforts to improve fixed broadband infrastructure will focus primarily on enhancing FO capacity. The TBS plans to develop the FO backbone by integrating the existing telecom network with the services currently used in other sectors such as electricity and transportation. The authority also plans to ensure companies are able to take advantage of the improved capacity by imposing set costs for leasing FO.
In a bid to facilitate access, the strategy obliges real estate developers and telecoms operators to cooperate on ensuring the infrastructure is put in place for FO services. The INT has said it would draft a new law that will require real estate companies to complete the civil engineering work needed for FO installation, while planned building developments will be legally required to include pre-wiring for FO connection. Under the planned legislation, FO operators who have installed building access infrastructure will be obliged to give competitors access to the connections.
A key component of the strategy’s plans for the sharing of fixed infrastructure is a pledge to unbundle the local loop and end Tunisie Télécom’s monopoly on fixed-line voice services. Besides paving the way for newcomers to enter the fixed-line market, the unbundling of the local loop will allow ISPs already using the copper lines for ADSL offerings to provide voice services and market “multiplay” packages to consumers.
Cooperation among service providers will also be required in the mobile broadband segment when 4G licences are awarded. The strategy indicates that operators applying for a licence for 4G, which is expected to be rolled out in 2014-15, must agree to provide cellular coverage to a share of the country’s remaining cellular service dead zones.
The INT is expected to impose sharing for both mandatory radio access network and mobile infrastructure as part of a bid to reduce unnecessary duplication in the sector and encourage more efficient use of the limited frequencies available. It also outlines other initiatives aimed at making it easier for operators to enter the broadband sector, such as lowering the costs involved in developing infrastructure.