Burundi remains one of the most attractive telecom markets in Africa for investors. The country has a high population density with relatively low, yet fast growing, mobile market penetration. This provides considerable potential for revenue growth in coming years. Nevertheless, investor reticence is still evident given the country’s low economic output and the fact that outside the main urban areas fixed-line infrastructure remains poor. To overcome these difficulties, the government, supported by the Word Bank, has backed a joint venture with a number of prominent telcos to build a national fibre backbone network, offering onward connectivity to submarine cable infrastructure landings in Kenya and Tanzania. The first sections of this network were switched on in early 2014.

Since 2012 Burundi has had improved access to international cables, thus ending its dependence on expensive satellite connections. The higher international bandwidth made available has resulted in lower retail prices for consumers.

Market limitations have delayed the launch of services among some players: in late 2012 two GSM licensees had their licenses withdrawn after having failed to launch services. Two of the remaining mobile operators have launched 3G mobile services to capitalise on the growing demand for internet services. The number of mobile subscribers has grown rapidly in recent years, with penetration approaching 50% by early 2016. Nevertheless, this remains low by regional standards, suggesting considerable room for further growth. A new player, Viettel Group, which received a licence to provide mobile services in early 2014, launched 2G and 3G services in June 2015 and claimed to have signed up 600,000 subscribers within the first month. This placed the operator as the third largest in the country. Trading as Lumitel, Viettel aims to become the largest operator in Burundi, and to complement its mobile operations with fixed-line services. These developments, coupled with the relatively take-up of telecom services thus far, make Burundi is one of the most attractive growth markets in Africa, despite the limited size of the population.

The long-established plans to privatise the national telco Onatel (which also operates one of the mobile networks), have been delayed several times, but the government since 2013 has made efforts to kick-start the process.

For more information see – Burundi - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses