Africell is using equipment from Nokia in what will become Africa's newest mobile network when it launches in Angola later this year.

Mary Lennighan

July 12, 2021

3 Min Read
Digital mainlands from space. Cities and countries connected by plexus light lines. Virtual continents. Creative technology,

Africell is using equipment from Nokia in what will become Africa’s newest mobile network when it launches in Angola later this year.

The Finnish vendor on Monday announced that it is deploying a multi-standard radio network that supports everything from 2G to 4G – and will be upgradable to 5G via a software update – in the Angolan capital Luanda in the first phase of Africell’s network build.

Amongst other things, Nokia said it will roll out its AirScale Single Radio Access Network (S-RAN) across up to 700 sites, its AirFrame data centre solution to run cloud-based applications, and cloud-native core technology that will give Africell the flexibility to address its as-yet unknown customer needs.

“Africell is a competitive and highly differentiated player in the African telecoms market. Our vision is to offer superior voice and data services in an expanding footprint across the continent,” said Africell’s chief technology officer Younes Chaaban. “To achieve this, we need reliable technology partners whose network technologies and support services give us the best platform from which to serve our own customers,” he said.

Angola will be the fifth market in Africell’s African footprint. It already offers services in Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. When it formally picked up Angola’s fourth telecoms operating licence in February, Africell said it aimed to launch services before the end of the year, and it certainly appears to be taking steps in the right direction.

Last month the telco named seasoned telecoms executive Christopher Lundh as the new chief executive of Africell Angola. Lundh, an emerging markets telecoms consultant, spent a number of years as managing director and CCO of Afghanistan’s Afghan Wireless, and his CV also includes roles at Telecel Congo, Africa Online, and Gateway Communications.

“Africell has a track record of raising network standards, reducing prices, and introducing technology innovation across Africa,” Lundh, a US citizen, said.

“Angola is a country of extraordinary potential, and we believe that Africell can help unlock this potential by supporting the creativity and enterprise of the Angolan people with our mobile products and services. With a team of skilled local employees, I look forward to growing the Africell brand in Angola and earning the trust and affection of millions of Angolan consumers,” he said.

Africell’s plan is to offer affordable data-centric services and smartphones, as well as mobile financial services. The latest figures from regulator INACOM (Instituto Angolano das Comunicações) put the number of mobile users in Angola at 14.8 million at the end of 2019, which equated to a penetration rate of just 49%. Subscribers will likely have risen since then, but nonetheless, there’s a pretty clear growth opportunity.

Africell certainly thinks so.

“Angola is amongst the most attractive investment destinations in sub-Saharan Africa and an African leader, so we see this as the logical next step for Africell as we continue to grow our network and deepen our footprint across the continent,” said Ziad Dalloul, chairman and CEO of Africell Group, in February.

At the time Africell said it planned to invest “several hundred million dollars in infrastructure and services” in the first phase of network rollout, pledging to subcontract a significant portion to local firms. Its funding is coming from the US though.

The company agreed a US$100 million loan facility with the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), then known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, in May 2019, and agreed update terms in two months ago.

“The successful amendment and restatement of the Africell-DFC loan agreement indicates DFC’s continued backing for Africell’s long-term strategy and demonstrates the US government’s ongoing commitment to investing in Africa,” the telco said, reminding us that it is the only US-owned mobile operator in Africa and the first to receive financing from DFC. Without opening a political can of worms, that perhaps explains why a Western vendor like Nokia, rather than a Chinese company, was selected to roll out the company’s infrastructure.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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