Algeria saw the launch of the country’s first 3G networks in late 2013, after similar rollouts by its neighbours Tunisia and Morocco. However, the country has quickly made up for lost time, with the introduction in October 2016 of 4G LTE networks by all three of Algeria’s mobile network operators, with all 48 of the country’s provinces expected to have coverage by 2020.
Preparing To Launch
In January 2016 the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Autorité de Regulation de la Poste et des Télécommunications, ARPT), the sector regulator, launched a bidding round for 4G LTE licences. All three of the country’s mobile operators – Mobilis, Ooredoo and Djezzy – applied, and were subsequently awarded provisional licences for their networks and began testing them. For example, in July 2016 Ooredoo announced that it had carried out pre-launch tests of its 4G network in Tlemcen, achieving speeds of up to 70.25 Mbps.
Unlike in the case of 3G, when Djezzy entered the market six months after Mobilis and Ooredoo, all three operators launched their 4G networks more or less simultaneously, unveiling their commercial packages in October and November 2016.
While operators were given exclusivity in some wilayas (provinces) for periods of between one and two years when 3G was rolled out, this will not be the case with 4G. According to local press reports, the executive decrees approving the operating licences categorise 15 wilayas, namely Adrar, Béchar, Biskra, Djelfa, El Bayadh, El Oued, Illizi, Ghardaïa, Khenchela, Laghouat, Naâma, Ouargla, Saïda, Tamenrasset and Tindouf, as priority areas for the rollout of the service. The decrees also assign each operator three wilayas in which they must provide at least 10% network coverage within the first year. For Djezzy these are Constantine, Djelfa and Sétif; for Mobilis, Algiers, Oran and Ouargla; and for Ooredoo, Béchar, Tizi Ouzou and Tlemcen. Three or four wilayas will be added to each operators’ minimal coverage requirements every year over five years. However, the country’s mobile operators appear set to roll out their networks significantly faster than that. Ooredoo has suggested that it could launch its service across all 48 of the country’s wilayas within a year, while Djezzy was present in 16 provinces as of December 2016 and expected to have coverage in 20 cities by the end of the year. The ARPT has also said that it expects the rollout to go faster than planned, if on a slightly slower schedule than these forecasts. According to the regulator’s deployment schedule, it expects 4G services to become available in 33 wilayas within a year of the launch of the first networks, rising to 41 provinces after three years and all 48 by mid-2020, though only 13 provinces are predicted to host networks from all three operators, with 17 covered by only one operator each. The regulator expects Ooredoo to roll out the service in 31 wilayas within the first year, ahead of Djezzy on 20 provinces and Mobilis on 14. Djezzy has said that is expects to offer at least 20% coverage in the cities in which it has a presence by the end of 2016, and has already reached 90% in some areas.
Speed, Pricing & Uptake
Actual commercial 4G download speeds are expected to be five to 10 times faster than those available on the country’s 3G networks, while operators have said that data volume prices will be the same as those for 3G, though the faster speeds will enable customers to consume their data packages more quickly. Some operators believe the uptake of 4G will be slower than that of 3G, as many customers will have no need for ultra-fast connections and/or do not currently have 4G-capable handsets.
However, relatively slow connection speeds mean that the difference 4G can provide to a user’s experience is significant; Algeria had the slowest mobile internet connections of all the countries covered by content delivery and cloud services provider Akamai in its “State of the Internet” report published in mid-2016, at 2.2 Mbps compared to 29 Mbps for leader South Korea, which was reported to have the fastest speeds.