… as a pioneer of telecoms in Liberia
Chief Executive Officer for Lonestar Cell MTN said this month the company is celebrating 20 years of providing mobile telecommunication services in Liberia.
Mr. Rahul De said, “What an amazing 20 years. From being the first in the market to now leading it, we owe our continuity to our solid network and ensuring Liberians live a modern and connected life through affordable services and access to digital financial services."
Mr. De said the company is using this anniversary to reflect on its achievements, recognize Lonestar MTN Staff participation in the company’s success, and chart the future of Lonestar Cell MTN.
Currently, there are three Lonestar Cell MTN staff who have worked for the mobile network operator for 20 years. Sidney Teah is one of them.
He was barely out of trade school and in his early twenties when he landed a job in 2001 with Lonestar Cell MTN. With a certificate in electronics from the Liberia Opportunities Industrial Complex in hand and a recommendation, he secured a position with the new company along with 21 other new employees.
Sidney had no idea what he was getting into. But the promise of using the knowledge and skills he had gained, in a war-torn country, he felt, was a golden opportunity.
“There were times when bullets were flying, but we had to keep those radio antennas working for the network to remain functional,” he recalls.
A well-functioning network particularly during the war years was crucial for families and businesses to remain in communication with each other.
Lonestar Cell MTN founder Liberian businessman Benoni Urey said the company came together in a rather serendipitous way. He said that he was already in the midst of establishing a GSM company when he received a call from a group of foreign investors, asking for his help in setting up a mobile telecommunications company in Liberia.
“We had just gotten our license,” he said. “We were looking for investors to finance the network infrastructure when these investors told us they wanted to open a GSM business. They said they had a tough time navigating government requirements and asked for our help. I informed them that we already had a license and if they were prepared to finance the network setup, they could own 60 percent of the business.”
Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine his company would be as successful as it is.
It is reported that the Beirut-based Investcom became a subsidiary of the South African conglomerate MTN Group following MTN's acquisition of Investcom in 2006, making MTN the majority shareholder in Lonestar Cell MTN. To date, over 20 countries use the MTN network.
Danielle Urey, who succeeded her father Benoni Urey, is the current Chairperson of Lonestar Cell MTN. She said that providing mobile cell phone service in Liberia was a game-changer.
“There were two other private telecommunications operators here but none of them were GSM,” she told the Daily Observer in an interview.
“Back then,” she continued, “people used to wait in long queues at the Lynch Street Office of the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Telecom, now Libtelco), to make international calls. So when Lonestar Cell came in, we brought convenience to the market. Now our network is providing countless opportunities for people all over the country,” Ms. Urey said.
The company started its operations with the construction of 17 towers that connected Monrovia, Harbel, Brewerville, Kakata, RIA, Paynesville, Virginia, Freeport, and the Freeway now called the Japan Freeway.
Over a 20 year period, Lonestar Cell MTN went from zero to 1.8 million subscribers and has extended its services to all 15 counties including many rural areas.
Lonestar Cell MTN introduced Mobile Money to Liberia ten years ago. Since then, mobile money has contributed immensely to the social-economic development of Liberians through the employment of thousands of mobile money agents and merchants across the country. In addition, mobile money has given the unbanked the ability to conduct financial transactions safely and securely.
The Lonestar CEO thanked the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) for its continued partnership. The CBL supported and continues to support its digital financial services platform. He also acknowledged ECOBANK, the first Lonestar Cell MTN banking partner to provide mobile money services in the country.
“The CBL has been extremely cooperative. We share a lot of our knowledge with them, especially what’s happening in countries like Uganda, Cameroon, and Ghana, where mobile services are advancing. We do share this knowledge with them and say this is what happens in other countries and I believe that we can launch some of these services here, too,” said Raul De.
Regarding the Lonestar Cell MTN Foundation established in 2012, Mr. De said that the strategic focus of the foundation is to give back to our subscribers.
“We have invested millions in corporate social responsibility initiatives, supporting diverse projects in county development, infrastructure rehabilitation, education, health and social welfare, sports and recreation, and disaster emergency response. We will continue to do so, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Mr. De now looks towards the future and the exciting opportunities that it holds. Mr. De expressed his sincere gratitude to MTN customers, staff, partners, and stakeholders for their continuous support over the years.
“Our future is bright,” he said. “We seek to ensure Liberians continue to live a modern and connected life while accelerating growth and unlocking the value of our infrastructure, assets, and platforms.”