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Eritrea launches its first mobile phone


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Eritrea launches its first mobile phone network

March 26, 2004, 14:47


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 competitiveness."

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 city centre.

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

Article printout courtesy of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
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