Tunisia - Country Commercial Guide
Telecommunications Equipment & Services
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Overview

Following international trends, Tunisia possesses a buoyant market for telecommunications products and services.  Penetration rates for fixed and mobile phones reached 146% in 2021.  With over 15.6 million mobile lines already, Tunisia enjoys one of the highest mobile phone subscriber rates in Africa.  In 2021, there were about 9.8 million internet subscribers, 86% of them (8.4 million) subscribed through their smartphones.      

Tunisia meets its WTO telecom service sector commitments and provides full market access and national treatment for foreign telecom service providers.  The cellular market opened to foreign competition in the early 2000s; however, no U.S. carrier has actively sought cellular network licenses from the GOT.  Significant business opportunities exist in the telecom sector, particularly with the future implementation of private networks, administration digitization, cybersecurity, and smart cities.

Leading Sub-Sectors

Mobile and Fixed Telecommunication Networks

Tunisia’s mobile services market continues to expand, although at a somewhat slower pace than in previous years.  The playing field for foreign companies operating in Tunisia remains fair, with no evident competitive advantage for the state-owned telecom company, Tunisie Telecom.  Four major operators control the mobile services market.  Tunisia’s largest telecom company is Ooredoo (Orascom Telecom Tunisia).  In 2021, Ooredoo had 41.6% of the market, Tunisie Telecom 31.5%, Orange Tunisie 25%, and Lycamobile 1.8%.

Following the country’s 2011 revolution, the government froze the assets of many former regime members and nationalized their shares in companies.  This included shares of Ooredoo and Orange Tunisie.  In a consortium with Zitouna Telecom, Qatar Telecom bought a portion of these nationalized Ooredoo shares through its subsidiary Wataniya in 2012, bringing its total shares in Ooredoo to 90%.  At that time, the Ministry of Finance announced that the government’s remaining 10% would be sold on the Tunis stock exchange.  This public sale, however, has yet to take place.  Meanwhile, the company continues to operate profitably. 

French-Tunisian consortium Orange-Divona Tunisie’s majority shareholdings in Orange Tunisie, whose capital is 51% Tunisian and 49% French (via France Telecom), were similarly nationalized in 2011.  The company has been managed by a public administrator since being taken over by the government.  Service to its customers, however, continues uninterrupted. 

Internet

Stimulated by the Digital Tunisia 2020 program, a five-year national ICT development plan from 2016 to 2020, several regulatory measures and infrastructure projects have been undertaken to improve internet connectivity all over Tunisia. 

Tunisie Telecom is Tunisia’s leading provider of international internet connectivity.  The company manages three sub-sea cables; one of them, a 112-mile fiber-optic cable, is owned and operated by Tunisie Telecom and connects the city of Kelibia in Tunisia with the Italian city of Mazara.  In 2014, private telecom operators Ooredoo and Orange Tunisie started operating their own sub-sea cable.  These two cables are considered among the most important telecommunications connections in the Mediterranean and ensure the country’s digital independence.  Not only did the cables augment Tunisia’s international internet bandwidth capacity to 780 gigabytes per second in 2019, but they also enhanced Tunisia’s IT connection and broadband capacity sufficiently to enable the delivery of high-speed internet service elsewhere in Africa.  This makes Tunisia a strong potential regional IT hub.  Tunisia is considering various options to further expand its bandwidth and is exploring a new submarine cable project that would connect Tunisia’s northern town of Bizerte to Marseille in France.

In 2009, Tunisia awarded the first third-generation (3G) mobile license to Orange Tunisie, followed by Tunisie Telecom in 2010 and Ooredoo in 2012.  In March 2016, the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy awarded a 4G license to all three operators for a total amount of 471 million dinars ($235 million).

In December 2017, the GOT awarded the first license for an IT infrastructure operator to the consortium Level 4, which was formed by the state-run Tunisian Internet Agency, EO Datacenter (Tunisian data center company), and Iskaya (Turkish telecommunication service provider).  The Level 4 license provides telecom operators and internet service providers (ISPs) high-speed broadband infrastructure.

Tunisia’s Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Transformation announced that Tunisia will launch fifth-generation (5G) licenses by the end of 2023.  Because the introduction of 5G would require additional infrastructure investment, the National Telecommunication Authority (INTT) completed a feasibility study on the social and economic impact of 5G technology and created a 5G security task force to work on a 5G legal framework. 

Opportunities

Offshoring

In November 2015, the GOT launched its “Smart Tunisia” program to promote offshoring, nearshoring, and collocation of foreign investments in the ICT sector, with the ambitious goal of creating 50,000 jobs by 2020.

Call centers represent a new and rapidly expanding service industry in Tunisia.  The country’s communications infrastructure, coupled with skilled, bilingual and multilingual human resources, provides strong support for this industry.  As of 2017, more than 350 call centers were in operation, employing 22,000 people.  They serve primarily French-speaking clients, although some serve the Italian market.  At least one operates in English, serving the UK health sector.  A few U.S. companies operate call centers in Tunisia, primarily to serve European customers.

Cloud

Tunisia aims to continue the digitization of its administration and plans to expedite its transition to a paperless government by implementing cloud-computing technology in ministries and government agencies.  The GOT has begun developing a nationwide private cloud to progressively establish an e-government network with the purpose of improving information sharing among ministries.  Moreover, Tunisia is working on establishing a digital identity platform for individuals and businesses to ensure reliable interactions with government agencies.  In a joint venture, Microsoft and Cisco provided a cloud platform for the GOT in March 2019.  

Business opportunities exist as Tunisia implements its ambitious digital plan, which aims to increase household fixed internet access from 44.5% currently to 60% by the end of 2021.  Tunisia ranked #5 in Africa and #10 in the Arab World in the 2020 Network Readiness Index (NRI).

Through its four telecom licenses for fixed lines and the availability of 3G and 4G (and planned 5G) mobile phone technology, Tunisia has made progress toward high-speed mobile internet and high-capacity data transmission,  creating opportunities for U.S. technology sales.  There are also investment opportunities in new technologies such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence which could lead to further commercial opportunities.

Chinese companies such as Huawei bid aggressively on telecommunications tenders.  Siemens, Alcatel, Nokia, and Ericsson are the major European competitors in the sector.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a substantial challenge for both the GoT and private sector, and the GoT is working on implementing a national cybersecurity strategy to combat electronic crimes.  U.S. cybersecurity solutions are currently in high demand from financial institutions and other large businesses.