The only operator present in Ethiopia is Ethio Telecom, also known as Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) and owned by the government. It's the only telecommunications services provider in Ethiopia at all, providing internet and telephone services on landlines and mobiles. It was managed 2010-12 by France Telecom, but is now back under the full control of the government.
State of service
Penetration of mobile phones is low in the country: only about 4.5% of Ethiopian population own one. The mobile service is unreliable and often interrupted. The system is frequently out of work or overloaded, callers using both the landlines and mobile network are unable to connect, the situation is made worse by inclement weather. Frequent power outages and damages to fibre optic cables add to the problems. But there is no open discussion or anyone admitting that the coverage and service is below par. Furthermore, there is no competition to the only operator as the govenment wants to retain the monopoly of Ethio Telecom to generate funds to build a railway line to Djibouti.
Opening of the market
The monopoly of Ethio Telecom will come to an end soon. In 2019 Ethiopia will award 2 telecoms licenses to multinational mobile companies. The government will also offer a minority stake in incumbent operator Ethio Telecom. This approach is similar to Myanmar when it opened up its market less than a decade ago.
The government expects the winning companies to start operations in 2020, initially using Ethio Telecom’s infrastructure to run their networks while building up own infrastructure.
Coverage is very low outside the capital and provincial towns. 3G services started in 2008 only in major towns so far. The target of the govenment has been almost reached in 2015: 95% of the population are now in a 5 km radius to the next available phone line (being either a landline or within mobile coverage). Nevertheless, the maximum distance that people from rural communities have to travel for being able to use telecom services decreased from 30 km to 5 km within the last 10 years. This is in contrast to 725 base stations built in the capital Addis Ababa alone.
Use of VoIP services such as Skype and Google Talk was prohibited by telecommunications legislation in 2002. Personal use of these services was again legalized in 2012. But Ethio Telecom has revealed in a statement in 2016 that the company will implement a tool allowing it to charge for VoIP over-the-top (OTT) services such as Viber and WhatsApp. It's still unknown when and how this is to be done and whether it can be bypassed by a VPN.
For a prepaid SIM card you need to be registered. As a visitor you need a photocopy of the face site of your passport, one or two passport sized photographs and to fill out their Customer Application Form (CAF) which can take a while.
Users reported that some Ethio Telecom stores don't ask for a passport copy or photos. They will take a picture of you at the store instead and scan your passport. This makes the process easy.
Ethio Telecom is introducing Equipment Identity Registration (EIR) to control the importation of untaxed mobile handsets. This technology allows the registration of a mobile phone’s IMEI once a SIM card is inserted. This information will be stored in a database which would allow Ethio Telecom and customs and revenues authorities to track and block or lock untaxed or stolen devices. In September 2017 the new system was started and all IMEI numbers will be linked to a SIM card from now on. They have promised to block smuggled phones in the future. This may lead to problems for travellers as they have usually not 'imported' their devices.
The Ethiopian government through Ethio Telecom imposes nationwide, politically motivated internet filtering. Any attempts to circumvent Ethio Telecom surveillance and censorship of the internet can be considered as a criminal offense carrying a prison sentence of up to 15 years. However, most blocked sites are run by those Ethiopians abroad, who are highly critical of the government.
Since 2016 mobile internet access has been disabled periodically up to a few weeks. In 2017 access to social media sites were banned to prevent national exams papers leaking online. This caused a widespread internet disruption, affecting both mobile network and fixed line internet services.
As mentioned Ethio Telecom remains the only player in the country. 3G up to HSPA+ is on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE was launched in Addis Abeba only in 2015 on 1800 MHz (B3). 4G/LTE is available for prepaid in the capital.
Ethio also operates a network in CDMA/EVDO technology, that is not compatible with GSM technology.
A SIM card costs Br. 30 and contains Br. 15 starter credit. It's available in Ethio Telecom shops . For the mandatory registration you need a copy of your passport key page and a passport photo. Some stores are able to take a photo and copy a page, but you should not rely on it and can speed up the process by bringing yours.
Usually only standard and micro size SIM cards are available, nano size may be harder to find. Often the store or a different cell phone shop has a cutting device to cut you SIM to size. Ethio in Bole charges Br. 20 to cut the SIM card to nano size.
There is shop available at the airport and around the city. However, there are touts at the airport or on the streets asking US$ 15 or more for a SIM card registered on someone else. You'll pay 15 times as much as the official price just to save some time. Furthermore, it's illegal and your SIM may be shut off anytime.
Recharges and validity
Recharge vouchers are available all over the country in Br. 5, 10, 15, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000.
|Days of validity||5||10||15||25||50||100||120||120||120|
The maximum to be accumulated validity period is 120 days.
After that your line will be open only to incoming services for 11 months. After another month of grace period without a top-up, you line will suspended forever.
To recharge your account use command *805*<voucher code>#. For balance inquiry press *804#.
Alternatively, you can recharge your prepaid number via global online portals such as swiftrecharge.com which allows to buy recharges from anywhere in the world using foreign bank cards along with crypto currencies like bitcoin, ethereum or usdt.
Data feature packages
The default rate is Br. 0.20 per MB and you can activate these data packages:
|25 MB||24 hours||Br. 3|
|45 MB||Br. 5|
|100 MB||Br. 10|
|200 MB||Br. 15|
|500 MB||Br. 35|
|500 MB||7 days||Br. 50|
|700 MB||Br. 60|
|1 GB||Br. 80|
|1 GB||30 days||Br. 100|
|2 GB||Br. 190|
|4 GB||Br. 350|
|8 GB||Br. 600|
|10 GB||Br. 700|
|20 GB||Br. 1,300|
|30 GB||Br. 1,800|
Use the following steps to buy mobile internet packages: Dial *999# ----> enter 1 for package offer ----> enter 1 for yourself ----> enter 2 for internet package ----> package type (enter 1 for daily, 2 for weekly & 3 for monthly) ----> then select your preferable package offer. You can subscribe to any particular package repeatedly.
2G customers can subscribe only packages less than or equal to 500 MB. 3G customers can subscribe all packages. 4G customers can subscribe only monthly packages. Taxes of 15% are included in prices above.
When your consumption level reaches 75% and 100% of the package you will receive a usage notification. You can check your package balance any time via *804#.
For the night hours from midnight to 6am, they launched these new packages:
- 50 MB: Br. 3
- 100 MB: Br. 5
- 160 MB: Br. 7
You can buy the packages anytime during the day and must be used on same day from midnight up to 6:00am in the morning. You can buy different packages at a time but unused amount will expire at the end of the validity period. You will receive notification message confirming the purchase of the package. First dial *999# → Select 1 for Package Offers → Select 1 For yourself→ Select 2 for Internet package → Select 4 for Night package → then select your preferable package offer.
For weekends these packages are offered:
- 500 MB: Br. 35
- 1 GB: Br. 60
- 2 GB: Br. 100
- APN: etc.com with username etc and password etc
- Website in English: http://www.ethiotelecom.et