Wireless Services Expand Net for Sierra Leone

Though the purchasing power of many young Sierra Leoneans is still a limiting factor, the advent of wireless services in Sierra Leone has enabled more people to embrace the use of the Internet.

Many young people are opting for the most affordable services offered by major ISPs (Internet service providers) in the country.

In all, there are nine ISPs in Sierra Leone, and their charges vary according to the quality of service provided. They are FGC Wireless, Accesspoint, Multinet, Limeline, Iptel, Celtel, TiGo, Comium and Afcom.

Competition among GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) service providers forced some of them to start Internet services. According to market research conducted by FGC Wireless, the ISP that claims it launched the first citywide Wi-Fi/ WiMAX network connection in Africa last year in Freetown, there is a subscriber base of about 2,000 users in the country.

Market forces such as the quality of services, extent of coverage and efficiency of equipment have started determining the level of usage of the services, and have also regularized prices.

Internet cafes served by some of these ISPs have sprung up in parts of Freetown. Cafeterias and hairdressing salons are now being partitioned so Internet services can be offered to patrons. The cost of browsing the Internet for an hour has dropped to slightly over US$1. For customer convenience, it is also possible to browse the Internet by specifying usage times of 10, 20, 30 or 45 minutes.

Though it is obvious that the Sierra Leonean market does not have enough of a subscriber base to sustain all these companies, the deputy managing director of FGC Wireless, Prince Ahmed Abe-Osagie, believes that with the coming of a constant electric power supply to Freetown, which has been lacking for the past few years, the subscriber base is expected to multiply by five.

"The standard evolving out of this benchmark set by wireless Internet services would form the baseline for Sierra Leone's rapid technology growth," Abe-Osagie said.

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