In scarcely three years, Cameroon has out paced its African neighbors in telecommunications and IT, going from having one ISP (Internet service provider) to having seven, with tremendous growth in urban Internet users, direct foreign investors and mobile telephony. At the same time, several local software development firms have launched.
Cameroon's top cities, like Douala and Yaounde, are witnessing a large increase in the number of Internet users as evidenced by the proliferation of cyber cafes and "dual or triple street-corner Internet access points," said Emmanuel Kijem, chief operating officer of Douala1.com, a local ISP.
The surge in Net users has spurred the growth of the ISPs, which are dominantly local and besides Douala1.com include, Cyberix, ICC Net, Cyberbao, Sercom, Newtech Inc. and Camnet, a subsidiary of Cameroon Telecommunications.
Most ISPs in Cameroon are one of two types -- those that use dedicated leased telephone lines and those that use private VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) network or satellite earth stations.
Growth not withstanding, Kijem said that his company has been limited to offering dialup access, although that service "is in a boom with a phenomenal increase in the sale of modems." The development of Internet services has further been hindered by the absence of ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network). As a result, the greatest challenge faced by Internet companies in Cameroon and neighboring nations is improved reliability of services that will boost the market beyond simple Net access, including electronic commerce, he said.
Thus far, there are no e-commerce services planned because it isn't possible to use electronic forms of payment.
Besides the rapidly growing Internet sector, telecommunications overall has shown great potential in Cameroon, according to Derick Fonta-Fru, management information systems (MIS) assistant of Amity Bank Cameroon. Cameroon, he said, is leading Central Africa in telecommunications development.
Currently, Cam Mobilis, a subsidiary of France Telecom SA, has been providing mobile services forover a year, while MTN, a major South African telco is planning mobile telephony services after takingover Mobile Telecom of Cameroon (Camtel Mobile).
Both companies are transforming the rural and urban telecommunications landscapes. The focus is on developing the more developed urban networks and the poorer rural infrastructure countrywide.
Telecom liberalization and the subsequent transformations it brought, coupled with overall IT growth, have improved several sectors of the nation's economy, said Fonta-Fru. As a result, Cameroon is now home to emerging local software development firms like Softec International and Sysoft Inc., as well as several Web content development firms. The local software firms are mainly specializing in developing banking and financial software. Cameroon in is the largest financial market and economy in Central Africa.
Thus far, Cameroon has not faced the severe shortages of IT workers that have plagued other nations, according to Kijem.