According to a statement from the Ministry of Telecommunication and Technology, Telesom and SOMTEL have signed a telecom interconnect agreement that will enable users of either network to communicate with each other. The statement does not specify if the interconnectivity will cost the user additional fees.
Telecommunication operators of Somaliland have agreed on February 8th to own equal shares of the fiber optic network in Somaliland, previously owned by SOMCABLE, with a minor share purchased the government of Somaliland at the cost of 1.6 million US dollars.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that Telesom, which dominates Somaliland’s mobile phone and mobile money markets, has been resisting carrier interconnectivity with SOMTEL, but stipulation in the fiber agreement includes clauses that have paved the way for today’s interconnectivity agreement.
“The main challenge is the tough competition between the two leading operators in the country. Their competition covers every side in the telecom, like pricing, subsidization, and the infrastructure. By taking those factors into consideration, the Ministry has developed Interconnection Regulations and roadmap that will guide the telecom interconnection. Similarly, the Ministry has brought together both Telecom operators and has hosted negotiations between the operators to solve issues and start interconnection service. The parties conducted several meetings at the Ministry premises. Therefore, the Ministry is working to enable this service to the Somaliland population soon.” Dr. Abdiweli Abdillahi Soufi, the Minister of Telecommunication and Technology said on interconnectivity.
The success of ZAAD mobile money which is based on the Telesom network is largely based on its market dominance, it’s unclear if the new agreement between Telesom and SOMTEL will affect Telesom’s competitive advantage over SOMTEL which historically struggled to catch up both in cell service and mobile money. The agreement announced by the Ministry of Telecommunication and Technology did not mention if the interconnect will affect the mobile money aspects of the telecom operators.
This is not the first time the Somaliland government has announced an agreement to interconnect telecom operators. It’s unclear the agreement is legally binding and what measures the Ministry of Telecommunication and Technology will take if SOMTEL and Telesom cannot complete the interconnectivity.
Somaliland government maintains little to no leverage over telecom operators, which are also Somaliland’s largest financial institutions and government creditors.
Although cellphone penetration in Somaliland is higher than in many countries in Africa and the developing world, some basic services such as voicemail, call waiting, and 911 equivalent systems to help first responders locate and render emergency services are not deployed by telecom operators.
Attempts to reach the Minister of Telecommunication and Technology, Dr. Abdiweli Abdillahi Soufi, and officials from SOMTEL and Telesom for comments were unsuccessful.