Eritrea launched its first mobile phone network this
week becoming one of the very last countries in the world to install the
system, but enthusiasm for the new technology has been tempered by high
cell phone costs.
At present there are about 40 000 landlines in Eritrea, far below the
actual demand, and it is hoped that 65 000 mobile numbers will be
distributed in the mobile network's first year.
Government officials said the network is entirely state-owned and had been
funded solely by the tiny country. It will be built by Tecore Wireless
Systems and the operator will be EriTel.
"We have been exerting all our efforts to expand and modernise our
telecommunications network," Ali Abdu Ahmed, the acting minister of
information, said. He added: "This mobile network will contribute a
great deal to trade and investment and improve our economic
Experts say that only two countries in the world, Guinea Bissau in West
Africa and the island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific are without any kind
of consumer network.
Rich to benefit momentarily
News of the unveiled network was dampened by the relatively high cost of
over $220 to buy a handset and a SIM card in one of the world's poorest
countries with a per capita GDP estimated at $700 per year.
"The mobile phone is very necessary and very fantastic for the
people," Daniel Gebrelul said while drinking a cup of coffee in Asmara
Mobile phones are extremely popular across Africa, with countries like
war-scarred Somalia which has lacked a central government since 1991
possessing a flourishing network despite the lack of other infrastructure.
Ahmed rejected the suggestion that the Asmara government were reluctant for
a mobile network to be set up, saying: "Why should we block mobile
phones when we allow the internet?"
Despite the improvement in communications calling relatives across the
border in Ethiopia will still not be possible. All phone, postal and air
links were cut when a border conflict broke out between the two Horn of
Africa neighbours in 1998 and Eritrea has no roaming facility. - Reuters