Cameroon Updates Status of National Fiber Backbone Project

Cameroon’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications updated that the total distance of fiber optic networks in the country has reached to nearly 12,000 kilometers. This was achieved by installing 3,950 kilometers of backbone fiber cables as part of the third phase of the national fiber optic backbone project. The third phase is completed this year. Cameroon started the first phase of the national fiber optic backbone project in 2009. The second phase was started in 2011 and was completed in 2013. The second phase consisted of 3,200 kilometers of fiber cable route. As part of the strategy, the second phase was executed in the northern region of the country.

Cameroon has a land area of 475440 square kilometers accommodating 23.44 million people. Fixed telephone density is 4.4 meaning 44 people out of 1000 have access to the fixed telephone. Similar to any other countries, the mobile density is growing and currently 681 people out of 1,000 have mobile phones. People accessing the internet through fixed landlines are very negligible in the country. 276 out of 1000 people access the internet using their mobile. 137 out of 1000 houses have a computer and out of that 105 houses use computers to access the internet. Internet users amount to 25% of the population, which is approx. 5.86 million. Installation of backbone fiber optic networks throughout the country will be key to the digital transformation of the country. With more fiber laid, internet service providers can offer competitive rates, which will attract more subscribers.

The third phase of the national fiber optic backbone began in February 2015. In February 2015, the total fiber optic network reached 10,600-km. The Telecom minister said that the National Backbone of fiber optics project has made great progress with about 12,000-km of fiber optic cables deployed across the national territory. The Ministry said the Government hopes to layout 20,000-km of fiber optic cables reaching all the corners of Cameroon. In the bid to digitally develop cities in Cameroon, 313 km of urban optical loops have been deployed across major cities in the country. This project was launched by the government in 2011 and was executed to ensure the supply of high-speed internet at very little cost to home-based firms and the entire population.

Similarly, in 2016, 2 Internet Exchange Points were installed in Douala and Yaoundé. In addition to the metropolitan fiber optic networks in Yaoundé and Douala, metro networks are also being deployed in Bafoussam (16.367-km), Ebolowa (16.367-km), Bamenda (26.156-km), Bertoua (13.495-km), Garoua (17.3465-km), and Ngaoundéré (25.1948-km).

In addition to the national fiber optic backbone, the Government of Cameroon is planning as part of the Central African Backbone (CAB) programme to build cross-border fiber optic links to the neighboring countries of Central African Republic, Congo, and Nigeria (see Cameroon: Cameroon Plans Completion Of Cross-Border Fibre Links To Central African Republic, Congo, and Nigeria). According to an African Development Bank (AfDB) document published in June 2015, the project involves the building of five new fiber optic links along roads, totaling 916-km: 1) Mamfe – Ekok (interconnection with Nigeria, 82-km), 2) Bertoua – Batouri – Kentzou (interconnection with Central African Republic, 206-km), 3) Kumba – Mamfe (187-km), 4) Sangmélima – Djoum – Mintom – Ntam (interconnection with Congo, 331-km), and 4) Ndop – Kumbo – Bamenda (110-km).

The ICT sector in Cameroon contributes only about 3.5% of GDP, which is comparatively low for the region. ICT sector requires considerable development for Cameroon to make better use of the digital economy. The government has formulated ‘Cameroon Digital 2020’ program, aimed at improving connectivity nationally. A large number of small ICT projects form part of the overall program. The country will greatly benefit from the SAIL submarine cable providing a direct link to Brazil, and so onto other countries in the Americas. The cable, expected to be ready for service in late 2018, will improve international bandwidth and lead to further reductions in access prices for consumers.

Cameroon was for many years one of the few countries in Africa with only two competing mobile operators, MTN Cameroon, and Orange Cameroon. After some delays, Nextell Cameroon majority-owned by Viettel) launched the third network in late 2014, including the country’s first 3G mobile service. The operator has grown swiftly, signing up more than three million subscribers and claiming a 16% market share. Competition in 3G followed in early 2015 when both MTN and Orange launched services. Mobile broadband based on LTE was established at the end of 2015 and this has been the catalyst for a fast-developing mobile broadband sector. The investment programs among operators over the next few years will considerably boost mobile broadband services in rural areas of the country, many of which are underserved by fixed-line infrastructure.

There are submarine fiber optic cables landing in the country. South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable (SAT-3/WASC) fiber optic cable system provides connectivity to Europe and Asia. Africa Coast to Europe (ACE), cable system connecting countries along the west coast of Africa to each other and to Portugal and France, is progressing. SAIL submarine cable soon to be laid, that will link Cameroon with Brazil.

Chinese firm Huawei has a strong presence in the country. Telecom companies operating in Cameroon includes MTN Cameroon, Orange CM, Camtel, Cameroon Mobile Telecommunications (CMT), Pastel, CamNet, MTN Network Solutions, Matrix Telecoms, Ringo, Nextell Cameroon (Viettel), YooMee.

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