Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone

Regulatory Agency: National Communications Authority (NatCA)

GDP – telecommunications share of GDP: Sierra Leone’s telecommunications sector contributed 3.4% of the GDP in 2020. The sector employs about 10,000 people and provides services to over 8 million subscribers.

Regulatory Journey and Evolution of the Industry: Sierra Leone’s telecommunications industry has undergone several reforms and developments since the liberalization of the sector in 2006. The main regulatory body is the National Communications Authority (NatCA), which oversees the licensing, regulation, and monitoring of telecommunications operators and service providers. The main policy framework is the National ICT Policy 2018-2023 (NICTP), which aims to promote the development and use of ICTs for socio-economic development. The main operators in the market are Africell, the leading mobile and fixed-line operator, Orange, the second-largest mobile and fixed-line operator, QCell, the third-largest mobile operator, and Sierratel, the state-owned fixed-line operator. The main services offered by the operators include voice, SMS, data, internet, and mobile money.

Sierra Leone has made some progress in its digital transformation journey, but still faces many challenges in the areas of internet penetration and access, e-commerce growth, digital payments, ICT infrastructure, startups and innovation, digital skills and education, and government digital initiatives. Some of the key indicators that reflect the extent to which digital technologies facilitate economic, social and public (e-government) interactions are:

  • Internet Penetration and Access: The percentage of the population with access to the internet increased from 2.5% in 2015 to 6.2% in 2020, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The main modes of internet access are mobile broadband and fixed wireless broadband. The average cost of 1 GB of mobile data is $3.3, which is 16.5% of the average monthly income, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). The main challenges for internet access are the lack of affordability, availability, and quality of service.
  • Mobile Connectivity: The prevalence of mobile phone usage, especially smartphones, reflects the accessibility of digital services. The mobile penetration rate was 101.4% in 2020, with 8 million active mobile subscribers, according to NatCA. The smartphone penetration rate was 25% in 2020, with 2 million smartphone users, according to the GSMA. The main drivers for mobile connectivity are the low cost of SIM cards, the availability of mobile money services, and the increasing demand for social media and online entertainment.
  • E-commerce Growth: The volume and value of online transactions and e-commerce activities demonstrate the extent to which digital platforms are used for buying and selling goods and services. The e-commerce market size was estimated at $15 million in 2020, with a growth rate of 20% per year, according to the E-commerce Foundation. The main e-commerce platforms are Jumia, Afrikrea, Afrimarket, and Kaymu. The main challenges for e-commerce growth are the low level of trust, the high cost of delivery, the lack of digital payment options, and the low awareness of online shopping.
  • Digital Payments: The adoption of digital payment methods, such as mobile wallets and online banking, indicates the shift from traditional to digital financial transactions. The percentage of adults with an account at a financial institution or a mobile money service provider increased from 13.9% in 2014 to 21.4% in 2017, according to the World Bank. The percentage of adults who made or received digital payments in the past year increased from 9.5% in 2014 to 15.8% in 2017, according to the World Bank. The main digital payment platforms are Africell Money, Orange Money, Qodoo Mobile Money, and Sierratel Money. The main challenges for digital payments are the low level of financial inclusion, the high cost of transactions, the lack of interoperability, and the regulatory barriers.

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