Libya's civil war crippled the country's economy and disrupted its telecommunications sector. It is estimated that more than US$1 billion worth of telecom infrastructure was destroyed, including about 20% of the country's cell sites. Reconstruction efforts are underway and GDP growth jumped to more than 100% in 2012, but the country fell into another recession in 2013 and 2014 when the civil unrest intensified again.
Under the Gaddafi regime, virtually the entire telecom and internet sector was in government hands, with the unique situation of three government-owned mobile networks supposed to compete with each other. One of these networks will be privatised through an IPO in 2014, and a tender for the country’s first ever private mobile network operator licence will be issued. A new Telecommunications Law has been drafted and the government is in the process of establishing an independent regulatory authority. Since the downfall of the old regime, 25 ISPs have already been licensed to compete with the government-owned former monopoly, as well as 23 VSAT operators.
Despite the destruction, Libya’s telecommunications infrastructure is superior to those in most other African countries. Massive investments had been made by the former government into a next-generation national fibre optic backbone network, the expansion of DSL and WiMAX broadband services, new international fibre connections and upgrades to existing ones, and one of Africa’s first Fibre-to-the-Premises (FttP) deployments. The first terabit international fibre optic cable landed in the country in 2010, followed by a second one in 2013. Investments into telecommunications infrastructure totalling US$10 billion were earmarked for the 15 years to 2020.
With one of the highest market penetration rates in Africa, the mobile voice market is approaching saturation, supported by some of the lowest tariffs on the continent and one of the highest per capita GDP levels. Opportunities remain in the broadband sector where market penetration is still relatively low. So far only one of the mobile networks has launched third-generation (3G) broadband services. Fixed-line penetration has fallen significantly as a result of the war but is also expected to see a renaissance, including fibre, as the demand for very high-speed broadband increases.
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