Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, but its economy continues to grow at between 4% and 5% per year. Mobile penetration is less than half the African average, which means there is excellent growth potential once the market moves beyond the duopoly held by Bharti Airtel (formerly Zain) and Telecom Networks Malawi (TNM). A third mobile operator, G-Mobile was licensed in 2008 but the rollout of the new network has experienced delays and the operator is fighting against the revocation of its licence in the courts. A fourth licence was awarded to Celcom in 2011 with services expected to be launched in 2013. To introduce more competition to the market, the government has followed in the footsteps of several of its neighbours and introduce a converged licensing regime which now allows the two fixed-line operators, Malawi Telecommunications (MTL) and Access Communications (ACL) to enter the mobile market as well. Both are already operating CDMA-based fixed-wireless networks which support full mobility and broadband access using EV-DO technology.

The Internet sector is reasonably competitive with 15 licensed ISPs, but the limited availability and high cost of international bandwidth has held back growth and kept broadband prices high. DSL services are available, and several ISPs are rolling out WiMAX wireless broadband networks. The two incumbent mobile networks have launched third generation (3G) mobile services based on UMTS/HSPA technology. A national fibre backbone is being implemented, and the country is set to gain access to international submarine fibre optic cables for the first time when a transit link via neighbouring countries is completed. Provided a suitable regulatory regime is put in place, this will bring down the cost of international bandwidth and deliver a boost to the broadband market.

Market highlights:

•Third mobile network to launch in 2013;
•Converged licensing regime expected to boost competition;
•National fibre rollout;
•International fibre access will boost broadband market.

Estimated market penetration rates in Malawi’s telecoms sector – end 2013
Market Penetration Rate
Mobile 33%
Fixed 1.2%
Internet 5.3%

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