Vodafone Cameroon was forced to shut down their service on 14 September 2017, following investigations into the company’s wireless broadband operation. Vodafone Cameroon - an Afrimax-Vodafone joint company began offering wireless broadband services in Cameroon in September 2016.
In November 2014, Afrimax, an African wireless broadband operator and telecoms management company, entered a strategic partnership agreement with Vodafone Group that allowed the two companies to enter new African telecommunications markets, launching mobile and wireless broadband services in Uganda, Zambia, Ghana and Cameroon.
Through the Partner Market Agreement, Vodafone was able to extend their global footprint whilst Afrimax gained continued access to a range of Vodafone products, networks, and services. In all four countries, services are offered under the Vodafone Country brand and the company entities are being referred to as part of Afrimax Group.
Afrimax-Vodafone originally entered the Cameroon telecoms market in January 2015 following the issuance of a temporary licence that allowed the operator to trial wireless broadband services before acquiring a full licence.
In 2016, Afrimax acquired local Cameroonian Internet Service Provider (ISP), Northwave Sarl, absorbing their assets and operating licences. Following the acquisition, Afrimax and Vodafone Group then launched Vodafone Cameroon in September 2016, providing fixed wireless LTE services in Cameroon’s two main cities, Yaoundé and Douala, with the original Northwave Sarl acquired licence.
Within Cameroon’s regulatory framework, Cameroon’s Telecoms Regulatory Agency (Le Agence de Régulation des Télécommunications – ART) can only issue temporary licences. Whereas, The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL) is responsible for issuing full telecommunications licences and approving of the transfer of previously issued licences.
Reports of Vodafone Cameroon’s licencing issues surfaced in November 2016, when the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Minette Libom Li Likeng) addressed the licencing speculation following complaints from other mobile operators that feared Vodafone Cameroon was providing mobile network services whilst they had not applied for that licence.
Minister Likeng insisted Vodafone Cameroon did not have a licence to use their 4G network to provide voice services, then declaring that Vodafone Cameroon was also operating without a full licence to offer wireless broadband services. The licence Afrimax Group had acquired that was issued to Northwave Sarl was non-transferable without MINPOSTEL approval and the initial licence given to Afrimax in 2015 was a temporary licence that did not give permission to operate a fixed wireless LTE network.
ART initially defended the issuance of a temporary licence as a standard practice within the telecoms industry, which allowed Vodafone Cameroon as a new entrant to trial their services before applying for a full licence. However, MINPOSTEL’s investigation found that the operator was not operating legally as neither of the licences allowed the operator to provide fixed wireless LTE services.
Moreover, prior to acquiring a full ISP licence, Afrimax expanded Vodafone Cameroon’s network by signing a network sharing agreement with incumbent operator, Camtel to use their network to increase Vodafone Cameroon’s fixed wireless LTE coverage to 10 new cities, thus going beyond the initial temporary trial licence. Afrimax therefore failed to follow the formal process of applying for the correct licence resulting in the ART requesting (under the MINPOSTEL’s directive) for Vodafone Cameroon operations to be shut down.
In a press statement issued on Vodafone Cameroon’s website, the company explained that their services will be shut down as requested whilst they enter negotiations with the ART and MINPOSTEL to come to a resolution of the licencing issues.