News / Africa

South Sudan’s Lack of Infrastructure a Challenge for Cell Phone Industry

Salva Kiir (L) VP and President of South-Sudan in Nairobi (File)
Salva Kiir (L) VP and President of South-Sudan in Nairobi (File)

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  • Michael Lissa, an engineer with the independent cell phone network Mobitel spoke with Clottey

Peter Clottey

Telephone communications in southern Sudan are often difficult because of a lack of infrastructure, says Michael Lissa, an engineer with the independent cell phone network Mobitel.

“We have really a very big problem,” says Lissa.  “We don’t have very good roads down here, so that makes it very difficult for us to expand the telecommunication networks.”

Customers sometimes complain of delays in placing calls, a problem he attributes to Mobitel’s use of satellites for transmitting calls, rather than land lines or fiber optic networks that require roads for installation.

Complicated logistics and dated technologies also lead to delays.  For example, Lissa says international calls to southern Sudan are routed from Khartoum to various switching stations before being sent on to their final destinations.

But things are improving, says Lissa, especially when compared to early efforts at developing a telecommunications system for the south.

“At that time we were limited to the towns not under the control of the SPLM (Sudan’s People Liberation Movement).  So, [during the civil war] we [focused] only in the central regions…that is, in the Upper Nile region and Equatoria,” Lissa said.

In 2006, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded the U.S.-based Louis Berger Group a five-year contract to improve infrastructure. The $700 million contract will help expand transportation, social services, and economic infrastructure in Southern Sudan and three areas straddling the line between the north and south -- the oil-producing area of Abyei and the states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.

Despite the difficulties, says Lissa, there are signs of growth in the telecommunications network.

“We have [expanded greatly], and this was done with the construction of some roads.  Wherever there are good roads, we go and put in the telephone network.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says it has spent $84.2 million in the region since fiscal year 2004. The funds were used for a number of purposes, including clearing land, building new roads and the planning, mapping and electrification of towns.

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