The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) was under a 30-year dictatorship between 1967 and 1997. Since then the country has suffered from several wars and considerable social upheaval. There remain violent conflicts in the eastern part of the country, exacerbated by considerable corruption within the government as well as by ethnic tensions resulting from disputes among and within bordering countries which have spilled over in the DRC itself. These circumstances have made it difficult for the government to extend its control in these regions.
The economy is heavily dependent on revenue from the mining sector though much economic activity occurs informally and is not reflected in GDP data. The global economic crisis reduced GDP growth to around 3% in 2009, but it grew steadily in subsequent years, peaking at 9.5% in 2014. Since then, though, GDP has fallen to just over 2%, a decline largely caused by the turbulent security situation. It is expected to remain stable at this level for the next two to three years, largely supported by mining, though the accuracy of monitored economic growth continues to be questionable.
Largely due to the country’s troubled history, the national telecom system remains one of the least developed in the region. The national operator, SCPT, theoretically has monopoly rights under 1970 legislation. However, recognising the need for telecommunications infrastructure, the government is only loosely regulating the sector. SCPT has little capital to invest, and so much of the investment in infrastructure is from donor countries or from the efforts of foreign (particularly Chinese) companies and banks.
Mobile network operators are the principal providers of basic telecom services. By 2001 some 16 private operators had been granted mobile telephony licences and the subscriber base grew rapidly. The proliferation of networks, and the poor monitoring of also spectrum assets, caused frequent problems with spectrum shortages, interference and compatibility issues. As a result, the mobile sector has since consolidated. In the latest round of consolidation, Orange Congo completed its acquisition of Tigo Congo in April 2016, which greatly increased its market share. Yozma Timeturns, which had been awarded a mobile licence in 2009, risks having its licence revoked for having failed to launch services. The regulator is minded to reallocate the company’s spectrum to another operator in a bid to encourage market competition lost resulting from the merger of Orange Congo and Tigo Congo.
The development of the DRC’s internet and broadband market has been held back by the poorly developed national and international infrastructure. However, the country was finally connected to low-cost, high-quality international bandwidth through the WACS submarine fibre optic cable in 2013, and SCPT is rolling out a fibre optic national backbone network with support from China. International bandwidth is still limited, and as a result internet pricing is high and backhaul capacity (for both fixed and mobile internet services) is low. An alternative terrestrial international fibre connection exists via neighbouring countries. Broadband access is provided by 3G mobile services and wireless networks using WiMAX and EV-DO technology. The country’s first commercial LTE networks are imminent. Mobile operators are keen to develop mobile data services, capitalising on the growth of smartphones usage, but in mid-2016 their attempts to dramatically increase mobile internet pricing was criticised by the regulator.
Vodacom Congo, Bharti Airtel (Zain, Celtel), Millicom (Tigo), Congo Chine Telecom (CCT, Orange Congo), Africell (Lintel), Société Congolais des Postes et des Télécommunications (SCPT), Tatem Telecom, Gecamines, AfriTel (Starcel), Standard Telecom, Telecel International, Africanus.net, Interconnect (Vodanet), Microcom, Cielux Telecom, Global Broadband Solution (GBS), Afrinet, Congo Korea Telecom, Geolink, ICP Net, Orioncom, Paconet (Pan African Communication Network), RagaNet, Roffe Hi-Tech, Sattel, Société Internet Congolaise (SIC), Sogetel, Liquid Telecom, O3b Networks, Smile Telecom, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei Technologies, ZTE.