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Cellular Phone Business Booming in West Africa - 2003-05-14


Despite instability and many wars in West Africa contributing to poor performance by public services, one service is booming. It is the cellular phone industry, which has taken on some special characteristics.

Public relations specialist Simplice Agnero, is constantly on his cell phone.

To cut down on his phone bill, he usually practices beeping, which means he calls his clients with his cell phone, but immediately hangs up, leaving them with just a beep.

Clients can then call him back at their own expense if they need his help.

Mr. Agnero said the question of who pays for a call is often a business decision, but he said it can also be a personal or cultural one. For instance, Mr. Agnero said girlfriends often beep their boyfriends, so it is the man who pays for the call.

Mr. Agnero said mobile phones quickly found a place in African culture, where people are constantly on the move and always want news of their relatives. He also said it is much easier to get a cell phone subscription than to get a new land line.

In many countries in West Africa, very few people have regular telephones in their homes. In fact, cell phone subscriptions now outnumber land lines in the region.

Some cell phones have even become public phones. On nearly every street corner in Abidjan, there are outdoor stands where cell phone owners sell one-minute local calls on their phone for the equivalent of about 20 cents.

The stands are much more convenient than regular public pay phones, which often do not work.

The cell phones also provide the option of sending text messages, which are less expensive than regular calls. In West Africa, it's called 'texto.'

The booming mobile phone business has led to fierce competition between French and American firms that provide the service.

They are offering new high-tech services such as WAP, Wireless Application Protocol. This gives cellular phone users access to the Internet.

A French-Senegalese joint venture called Manobi is offering real-time market data on cell phones for peanut producers and fishermen in remote areas, so they know at what price they should sell their products.

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