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By Divine Ntaryike Jr

Cameroon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Board, ART, has sharply contradicted claims by Eto’o Telecom suggesting it is the country’s third mobile telephone operator.

It is nothing more than an airtime retail merchant, a release from the ART states. The document published in the state-owned daily, Cameroon Tribune on January 5, indicates Set Mobile, a subsidiary of Eto’o Telecom, will only eventually resell mobile telephone services obtained in bulk from the country’s two existing operators – MTN and Orange.

The statements, voiced by the agency’s Managing Director Jean Louis Beh Mengue raucously contravene “misleading” pronouncements heard at a heavily-attended presentation of the company and its objectives last December 22 in Douala. 

“We are a mobile operator in the same league as Orange and MTN Cameroon.  In Cameroon, many people own two SIM (subscriber identification module) cards for the two operators, which is an indication they’re not satisfied.  So we’ll emphasize quality and advantageous rates,” Charles Gueret, Set Mobile General Manager declared.

Cameroon’s mobile telephone penetration rate stands at 41.3 percent according to 2009 figures, and far below neighboring Gabon with 85 percent penetration.  Experts blame expensive call rates and high charges for mobile phone internet services, among others.

Within days after the ceremony, media reports mentioned about 50,000 Set Mobile SIM cards had been sold in the economic capital Douala alone.  Subscribers are waiting for the activation of the service on January 21.

“The [regulatory] board has taken note of the ongoing promotion campaign by Eto’o Telecom… and underscores that its activities will consist of reselling telecommunications services via the networks of operators” having concession contracts with the government. 

According to Beh Mengue, some 60 businesspersons across Cameroon have the same entitlement accorded Eto’o Telecom, which basically entails reselling the products of approved operators under a personalized commercial name.  Officials at the Ministry of Posts and Telecoms, electing anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the government department, add that the company applied for a license to function as a virtual operator and that texts approving its deployment afield are still awaiting signing at the level of the Presidency of the Republic.

“Virtual operators do not need installations required to run a proper network.  They lean on installed operators, buy services like airtime in bulk and at cheaper rates which they resell to their subscribers. ART does not approve mobile operators.  Only the Presidency handles applications of that magnitude because they involve aspects linked to national sovereignty,” our source at the Ministry of Posts and Telecoms explained.

In the meantime, insiders hint that Eto’o Telecom will flag off operations with Orange as main partner.  The Indomitable Lions captain once served as publicity ambassador for the French telephony multinational.  Details of the arrangement including profit margins and call rates have been tightly kept secret. 

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