(Business in Cameroon) - Cameroon weighs heavily in the telecoms industry in the Cemac region, which also includes Congo, Gabon, Chad, CAR, and Equatorial Guinea.
According to a report recently issued by the central bank Beac, Cameroon alone accounts for 50% of mobile phone subscribers in the region. By the end of 2022, the country had a total of 24.5 million subscribers, out of the 48.2 million in the entire Cemac zone. Its mobile subscriber base thus doubled that of Chad, ranked 2nd, with only 12.5 million mobile subscribers by the end of 2022. With only 5.5 million subscribers, Congo surpassed Gabon (2.9 million), CAR (1.8 million), and Equatorial Guinea (848,000).
When it comes to smartphones, the Cemac zone totaled 26.19 million devices as of December 31, 2022; 15.18 million of them (57.7%) were in Cameroon, 4.8 million in Chad, 3.2 million in Congo, and 2.2 million in Gabon. The strong interest of Cameroonians in smartphones (only 8.3 million basic phones were recorded in the country, half the smartphone market) also makes them the leading users of mobile internet in the CEMAC region.
There is a preference among internet users in this country for 4G, the latest-generation technology deployed in the CEMAC zone. According to the central bank's report, Cameroon has 8.5 million 4G subscribers. This represents 77% of the total number of subscribers (11.5 million) in CEMAC, nearly eight times more than in Chad (1.38 million) and Congo (1.1 million).
9.9 million 3G subscribers, accounting for over 52% of the total (19.9 million subscribers) across the CEMAC region, were in Cameroon. However, the country is surpassed in the 2G network by Chad, which has the highest number of subscribers to this technology. Specifically, Chad's 2G subscriber base reached 6.5 million by the end of 2022 (out of a total of 16.7 million in CEMAC), compared to Cameroon's 6.1 million. This reflects the advancement of more sophisticated technologies in the latter country.
Indeed, with five undersea fiber optic cables to which it is connected (SAT3, WACS, ACE, SAIL, and NCSCS), Cameroon is positioned as a sub-regional hub for telecom infrastructure. This gives the country, more than other CEMAC states, significant leeway in the development and modernization of the telecom sector.
However, despite its comparative advantage, the country struggles to realize the full potential of this sector, as revealed by a report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on the state of the digital sector in the country. "Only around 15% of the capacity of the SAT3 cable and 30% of the capacity of the WACS cable have been used since their launch 17 years ago," the IFC noted. This underutilization of infrastructure contributes to keeping substantial portions of the country offline. In Cameroon, the "fiber gap," referring to areas where fiber optic has not yet been deployed or is not yet in use, still affected around 14 million people in 2020, more than half of the country's population estimated at over 25 million inhabitants.