Mergers & acquisitions

Operators Tap Into African Growth

Rapid growth in the African mobile market is attracting increasing interest from operators outside the continent looking to tap into what Wireless Intelligence predicts will be a 30 percent increase in subscribers this year.

Mobile connections surpassed 200 million in the first quarter of this year to reach a penetration rate of around 21 percent of the continent’s 900 million people, leaving huge potential for further growth.

The main players with multiple operations in Africa are Mobile Telecommunications Co. (MTC) subsidiary Celtel International B.V. , MTN Group Ltd. , Orascom Telecom , Millicom International Cellular SA (Nasdaq: MICC) , and Vodacom Pty. Ltd. (50 percent owned by Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)). But several other operators are making forays into the region.

Portugal Telecom SGPS SA (NYSE: PT) this week announced a strategic partnership with African private equity firm Helios Investors to help it form a unified operator in the sub-Saharan region. Under the agreement, Helios has acquired a 22 percent stake in Africa Holding, which aggregates Portugal Telecom’s operations in seven countries, totaling 171 million people. (See PT Teams Up in Africa.)

The operators under the umbrella of Africa Holding had a total customer base of 2.9 million at the end of 2006 and had reached 3.4 million by the end of June. With Helios’s local knowledge, Portugal Telecom wants to “selectively expand the footprint in the region.”

Table 1: Portugal Telecom's African Holdings
Country Operator Stake (%) Services Customers (in millions)
Angola Unitel 25 mobile 2
Angola Multitel 40 data
Botswana Mascom [management contract] mobile
Cape Verde CVT 40 integrated 0.18
Guinea Bissau Guinetel 55 mobile
Guinea Bissau Guine Telecom 40 fixed
Mozambique Teledata 50 data
Namibia MTC 34 mobile 0.6
S�o Tom� e Pr�ncipe CST 51 integrated 0.02
Various Directel 100 directories
Source: Portugal Telecom

PT notes that the number of mobile subscribers in Africa is expected to grow at more than 10 percent per year until 2010 -- more than 100 million new customers. Of the top 10 growth markets in the continent, six are in sub-Saharan Africa, namely South Africa, Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Angola, and Kenya.

PT isn’t the only European operator that’s breaking into the market. Orange (NYSE: FTE) also has stakes in seven operators in the region and in recent months has acquired additional licenses in Guinea Bissau, the Republic of Guinea, and the Central African Republic, with the aim of having operations up and running by the end of the year. (See Orange Wins Africa Licenses and Orange Goes to Africa.)

Table 2: France Telecom's African Holdings
Country Operator Stake (%) Services Customers (in millions)
Botswana Orange 51 mobile 0.4
Cameroon Orange 99.5 mobile 1.3
C�te d�Ivoire Orange 85 mobile 1.7
Madagascar Orange 65.9 mobile 0.6
Mali Ikatel (operating under Orange brand) 42.3 fixed, mobile 1.2
Mauritius Mauritius Telecom/CellPlus 40 fixed, Internet, mobile 0.2
Senegal Sonatel Mobiles (operating under Orange brand) 42.3 fixed, Internet, mobile 2.1
Source: France Telecom

Middle Eastern operators have also been branching out into Africa as they look for larger markets abroad to play in. Aside from Kuwait’s MTC and Egyptian company Orascom, United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat is active in the region. It owns 50 percent of Atlantique Telecom, which operates in seven African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Gabon, Republic of Central Africa, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Etisalat also offers mobile services in Tanzania and fixed-line services in Sudan, where it’s going after a mobile license. And Saudi Arabian firm HiTs Telecom is picking up licenses across Africa and plans to invest $1 billion to set up 11 operators by 2010. (See Saudis Unveil $1B Plan for Africa.)

Illustrating the interest in getting a piece of African operators, the impending privatization of Telkom Kenya has attracted Middle Eastern firms Alcazaar (a Kuwaiti consortium) and Libya's LAP Greenet in partnership with BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), along with three from India -- Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) , Reliance Communications Ltd. (RCom) , and Tata Teleservices Ltd. -- as well as France Telecom and Telkom SA Ltd. (NYSE/Johannesburg: TKG). The Kenyan government plans to sell off a 51 percent stake in October and invited the potential bidders to a meeting last week to lay out bid requirements.

Tata's Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) (NYSE: VSL) subsidiary is already present in Africa through a stake in South African fixed-line provider Neotel; and MTNL offers mobile, landline, and long-distance services in Mauritius. India may be the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, but state-owned MTNL is restricted to the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi, while sister company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) covers the rest of the country, so the operator has been looking farther afield for licenses. Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) has also said it's bidding on "a few" licenses in Africa.

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

Be the first to post a comment regarding this story.
Sign In