The Maldives has a small population of slightly more than 350,000. By mid-2015 its total mobile subscriber base had passed 700,000 and mobile penetration had exceeded 200%. Most importantly, on the back of this mobile network it had a rapidly expanding mobile broadband capability, with 3G, 3G+ and, more recently, 4G. These mobile options were additional to the small but important range of fixed broadband services, mainly DSL-based. At the same time, the number of fixed telephone lines (including payphones) was around 22,500.

Providing good communications for the Maldives has for a long time been paramount, with its relatively small population living on many islands across the archipelago (over 1,000 islands of which around 200 are inhabited). The nation can claim to have met this challenge with considerable success. It now prides itself on having built one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in the region. With the country’s well-developed national network, the capital Malé is particularly well served, as are the tourist resort islands; this was further enhanced by the provision of a submarine cable connection to Sri Lanka back in 2005; at the same time the opportunity has been taken to provide undersea links between the main atolls, thereby substantially strengthening the domestic connectivity. And a second submarine cable linked the archipelago to India in 2006.

Efficient telecommunications services have been established to all inhabited islands by the national telco, Dhiraagu. Despite having been criticised in the early stages of development for its high tariff structure whilst operating as a monopoly provider, the company has played an undeniably important role in building networks and delivering telephone services across the archipelago. Dhiraagu’s shareholding was opened to public investment in late 2011 when an IPO saw the government sell off some of its stake. In a somewhat surprising move, Bahrain’s Batelco subsequently acquired the whole of C&W Communications’ 52% stake in Dhiraagu.

A second mobile licence was issued in due course, the new operator Wataniya Telecom becoming operational in 2006. Wataniya was acquired and rebranded Ooredoo in 2013.

Despite a slow start to the opening up of the market, the introduction of a level of competition quickly saw a boom in the country’s telecom sector, especially the mobile segment. By 2015 Ooredoo had 300,000 mobile subscribers or around 45% of the total market. At the same time the incumbent Dhiraagu was also continuing to vigorously develop its mobile subscriber base, improving the quality and extending its product range. The market’s attention was shifting to new generation offerings. Both operators had launched 3G and higher services and the take up rate for these new service offerings was particularly strong. There were also moves into 4G/LTE. Not surprisingly, the growth of mobile broadband services has been running hot.

For more information see - Maldives - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband