Ethiopia has begun rolling out a mobile phone network that will be operated by the country’s largest telecom operator and offer free calls and texts.
The new service, called M-Net, will be rolled out to about 3,000 people and covers a broad area of the country.
It will be the countrys first mobile service to be launched in New Jersey, the second city to launch its own mobile service.
It also joins an emerging network of mobile phones operated by international carriers such as Ericsson and Telefonica.
Ethiopia has long relied on a mobile network in the past, but M-Fi is the first to offer a nationwide service.
“M-Net is an example of a successful project that is making a real impact on the lives of Ethiopians and their families,” said Keren Shalev, Ethiopia’s mobile operator, in a statement.
The countrys mobile network was built in partnership with the Ethiopia Telecommunications Company, a subsidiary of Ethiopian telecommunications firm Teneo.
The company’s CEO, Mohamed Abdi, said the new service would provide the nations rural population with an affordable alternative to traditional dial-up and mobile service options.
“This is a huge milestone in the country and one that will not only improve the quality of life for the rural population, but will help to strengthen Ethiopia’s national identity and strengthen its national economy,” he said.
The Ethiopian government has long been working on the development of a nationwide mobile network.
In 2016, the government launched a national mobile phone plan that offers low monthly costs and is expected to reach nearly a quarter of the population by 2020.
M-NET will cover about 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population, according to Teneon.
“Our goal is to bring the service to as many people as possible and the success of this project will not be dependent on any particular technology,” Teneos CEO Nour Burak told Reuters.
He said the project would be funded by a US$1 billion grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The government is also funding the construction of M-net’s first data network, according the news agency.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Communications is also expected to invest in M-nets development, said Teneyouni Gebrek, the country s telecommunications minister.