In the area of mobile communications, Cameroon has leapfrogged other countries in Africa with a US$36.6 million GSM wireless network infrastructure put together with technology from Ericsson South Africa, a unit of L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. Ericsson rolled out GSM installations last week for a local South African-owned mobile operator in Cameroon, MTN Cameroon.

Ericsson South Africa replaced an existing Siemens AG network formerly operated by the defunct Camtel-Mobile, which was bought by MTN. The Ericsson system consists of Nera STM-1 microwave radio rings in the major cities of Douala and Yaounde, complemented by Accelerator Node A111 and Mini-Link E microwave radio hardware. Ericsson’s Integrated Management Application (IMA) will manage the entire network.

The new system has the potential to increase Cameroon’s teledensity tenfold over the next few years, according to Valentine Tah, a local telecom consultant. If appropriate pricing is introduced, even average-income families throughout the country could own portable phones, he said. Ericsson has a good record in Africa, have implemented systems in Swaziland, Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa, he noted. Cameroon, however, now has the potential to surpass these other nations in terms of its mobile communications coverage, he added.

On the eve of the launch of the Cameroon GSM project, MTN has built an ultra-modern switching center in Douala and 86 base stations throughout the country, which has 15.5 million inhabitants and 256 ethnic groups. MTN is interested in providing a variety of value added services as the local market is very receptive to new technologies and is willing to pay for new services, observers said.

Ericsson South Africa and MTN have a long-standing strategic collaboration dating back to 1993, when they first implemented a telecom network in South Africa, according to Thomas Nilsson, senior manager of new accounts at Ericsson. Both companies are working toward a goal of providing mass telephony coverage in Africa. With initiatives from companies such as MTN and Ericsson, along with the liberalization of the African telecom market initiated by the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), countries such as Cameroon are starting play catch-up with the rest of the world in the communications arena.

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