Saturday, July 24, 2010

MTN to Empower Blacks Through Shares

MTN South Africa has announced that it will make 4% of its shares available to black South Africans, in the largest empowerment transaction in the telecoms sector to date.

The stake, which is worth an estimated ZAR8.3 billion (USD1.1 billion), sees MTN follow in the footsteps of rival Vodacom, which sold 6.25% of its operation for ZAR7.5 billion in a similar deal in July 2008. MTN will sell stakes in the business through the National Empowerment Fund’s Asonge scheme. The company will also offer 0.1% of its shares to black employees – excluding management and directors - who have suffered from apartheid discrimination in the past. They will not be required to make an equity contribution.

The transaction, which is dubbed MTN Zakhele, will be offered to the public at the end of August 2010. It will be open for a six-year period, with investors locked in for the first three years; at the end of the three years they will be allowed to sell, but only to other BEE investors. Investors will have to put in a minimum of ZAR2000, for 100 shares. An MTN statement said that there will be no cap per individual investing in the MTN Zakhele empowerment scheme. All valid share applications will be considered, and a bottom-up allocation process will be followed should the scheme be oversubscribed.

The deal will cost MTN in the region of USD301.43 million, which includes USD129.96 million in vendor financing, and USD20.01 million to cover the cost of the employee share ownership programme. Black investors will indirectly own 29% of MTN South Africa. CEO Phuthuma Nhleko said that black economic empowerment (BEE) was ‘integral to the ethos of MTN’.

Etisalt H1 Results Reveal 2% Growth

UAE-based telecoms operator Etisalat has announced its financial results for the six months ended 30 June 2010, reporting 2% year-on-year growth in revenue to AED16.0 billion (USD4.35 billion), up from AED15.7 billion in the same period in 2009. Net profit for the six-month period totalled AED3.9 billion, compared to AED4.6 billion in 1H09.

Meanwhile, revenue generated in the second quarter of 2010 was unchanged year-on-year at AED8.1 billion, while net profit in the three-month period slipped 21% to AED1.9 billion, down from AED2.4 billion in 2Q09, due to increasing competition from the company’s sole rival in the UAE telecoms market, Du. At 30 June 2010 Etisalat recorded 7.8 million mobile subscribers in the UAE – an increase of 90,000 on the previous quarter – as well as 1.28 million domestic fixed line and 1.39 million internet customers. ‘Etisalat has followed a powerful strategy to offset the potential impact of today's global economic conditions which continue to affect the results of companies around the world,’ commented Mohammad Omran, chairman of Etisalat, adding: ‘We have seized opportunities to stand strong and have faced all the challenges and continue to achieve exceptional results.’

Egypt Approves Tripple-Play Service

The Egyptian telecoms regulator, the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA), has given the go-ahead for two consortia to provide triple-play services to residential compounds in Cairo’s suburbs which contain between 50 and 5,000 housing units, Reuters reports. The announcement follows the NTRA’s revelation that it was making two geographically-restricted triple-play concessions available last October. As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in April 2010 two bids were received for the concessions, and commenting on the latest development, Amr Badawi, NTRA CEO, said: ‘The committee has finished its work, and we had two bids, and both bids were accepted.’ It is understood that of the two consortia, one is led by LINKdotNET Egypt, which was recently sold to mobile network operator Egyptian Company for Mobile Services (MobiNil), and includes affiliates of local telecoms group Orascom Telecom. The other licence-winning group is believed to include Vodafone Egypt.

Alongside the announcement that the triple-play concessions had been awarded the NTRA also announced that it had appealed against a court ruling which overturned a ruling it made in September 2008 lowering interconnection rates. Last month it was revealed that a Cairo court had reversed the NTRA’s ruling following an appeal by MobiNil. ‘We've appealed that, and our decision is still on... We believe that we have a just case and we will prevail at the end,’ Badawi said of the matter.

Etisalat In Deal With India's Reliance

According to the Financial Times, UAE-based Emirates Telecomunications Company (Etisalat) is close to acquiring a 26% stake in India’s second largest mobile network operator by subscribers, Reliance Communications (RCOM). Citing people familiar with the negotiations between the two companies, the report claims that in a bid to overcome any potential regulatory obstacles to a deal a merger of RCOM with Etisalat’s Indian unit, Swan Telecom, could be considered.

Under existing Indian telecoms norms no company may own more than 10% in two separate telecoms entities in the country. It is believed that a tie-up between RCOM and Etisalat could come as early as next month, although other sources have suggested that it may take until the end of the year for such a deal to come to fruition.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Zamtel Spends US$34 Million In Fibre-Optic Project

Zambia’s monopoly fixed line operator Zambia Tele- communications Company (Zamtel) claims to have spent approximately USD34 million on laying fibre-optic cable across the country, AllAfrica reports.

The investment figure was revealed by Transport and Communications Deputy Minister Mubika Mubika in Parliament, who in responding to questions about the telco’s future spending plans noted that it remained unclear whether Libya’s LapGreen Networks, which recently acquired a 75% stake in Zamtel, would continue the current fibre rollout project.

LapGreen Networks submitted a USD257 million for the majority stake in Zamtel, and it was announced last month that it had beaten out bids from Russian telecoms investment firm Altimo and Unitel of Angola for the majority holding to win the holding. The government meanwhile has retained the remaining 25% stake, although it may sell this at a later stage through an initial public offering on the Lusaka bourse.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Telkom SA to End9-Year Case With USD 80 Million Settlement

Telkom, South Africa's largest fixed line operator by subscribers, has announced that it will pay USD80 million to settle a nine-year old legal dispute with US firm Telcordia Technologies.

The 2001 warngle involves the supply and installation of a customer management system, which Telkom insisted did not match up to specifications – claiming breach of contract.

In 2000 Telkom terminated its agreement with Telcordia, alleging that the US company had not provided the product to the agreed specifications.

In 2001 Telcordia set in motion an arbitration process with the International Chamber of Commerce. In 2005 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled in favour of Telcordia, but the matter was subsequently taken to further arbitration.

A Telkom spokesman commented: ‘This settlement follows on from lengthy arbitration proceedings, during the course of which two partial awards were made by the arbitrator’. Previous indications suggested that the telco could have been liable for a fine of as much as USD1.5 billion.

Cel C To Sell Its Stake in Virgin SA

South African mobile operator Cell C is preparing to conclude the sale of its 50% stake in Virgin Mobile South Africa, TechCentral reports.
Quoting a ‘well-placed industry source’ the South African technology website suggests that the deal is ‘all but done’. Virgin South Africa began life in 2006, as an equal joint venture between Cell C and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

It is not known who is buying the Cell C stake. Early speculation centred on pre-paid airtime provider Blue Label Telecoms. However, Blue Label co-CEO Brett Levy has said that despite initial talks, his company has no plans to purchase Cell C’s stake. New rumours suggest that a local cellular handset distributor could be close to sealing a deal to purchase the stake.

Virgin Mobile will continue to use Cell C’s network even if a sale goes ahead, and hopes to utilise the 3G network the cellco is rolling out. Although Virgin Mobile had a difficult introduction to the South African cellco market, marketing director Jonathan Newman insists that the company has turned a corner, adding that the company now has 300,000 subscribers, 90% of whom are on pre-paid contracts.

Orascom In Bid To Acquire Polish, Serbian Operators

Orascom Telecom Holding chairman Naguib Sawiris has told Egyptian state-owned newspaper, al-Ahram that his company is looking at acquiring Polish mobile phone operator Polkomtel and Serbia's Telekom Srbija. Sawiris did not reveal details of either acquisition.

Polkomtel is currently 21.85% owned by Poland's largest power group, PGE, while oil refiner PKN Orlen and copper miner KGHM Polska Miedz each hold 24.39%. Polish state-owned coalminer Weglokoks has 5%, while Vodafone Group holds 24.39% of shares. Telekom Srbija meanwhile is 80% state-owned, but in March the government announced plans to sell half its stake. Greece's Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) owns the remainder.

Orascom Telecom itself is majority owned by Rome-based Weather Investments. Sawiris and his family own the majority of Weather, which owns 51% of Orascom Telecom Holding, plus Italian cellco Wind Telecomunicazioni and Greek telco Wind Hellas.

Algeria To Auction 4G Licence

Algeria’s government has announced that it plans to hold a 4G licence tender next year, reports daily newspaper El Khabar.

There are currently three cellcos in operation in the North African nation – state-owned Algerie Telecom Mobile (Mobilis), Egyptian-owned Orascom Telecom Algeria (Djezzy GSM) and Wataniya Telecom Algeria (Nedjima), a subsidiary of Qatar’s Qtel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

NTT Buys SA's Dimension

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) says it will buy the South African IT firm Dimension Data in £2.12bn ($3.24bn) deal.  The move - the biggest purchase yet in sub-Saharan Africa by a Japanese company - will give NTT exposure to fast-growing Africa.

Dimension also provides IT-related services in the United States, Europe and Asia.

NTT will finance the acquisition through cash and debt.  Dimensions shares jumped by 20% on the Johannesburg market.

Fujio Ando, senior managing director at Chibagin Asset Management, said it was a good time for a Japanese company to invest overseas.  "NTT has to expand overseas operations since the Japanese market has almost reached saturation," he said. "A stronger yen provides good opportunities for Japanese companies to buy overseas assets."

Core asset
NTT's president, Satoshi Miura, said Dimension would be a core asset: "Dimension Data has a strong presence in emerging markets, especially in Africa, South America and the Middle East, where NTT has a smaller presence. Its brand power is stronger than NTT's overseas. I want Dimension Data to be the core for NTT's global strategy"

Japanese companies have been slow to enter Africa, which offers huge potential growth in mobile telephony and information technology thanks to rising personal incomes, a growing middle class and improving infrastructure.  Indian and Chinese companies have been far more active on the continent.

Last month, Bharti Airtel completed a $9bn acquisition of mobile operations in 15 African countries.  Also last month, the world's biggest mobile phone company, China Mobile said it was looking to invest in Africa.

Glo Secures Gambia Licence

According to a company statement, Nigerian telco Globacom (Glo) has secured a licence to operate in Gambia. The concession is Glo’s sixth, and comes four months after the award of a licence in Senegal. The company’s other countries of operation are Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire.

On receiving the licence, Glo’s executive director for human resources Adewale Sangowawa said: ‘This adds impetus to our desire to provide the West African sub-region with an excellent communication network and cost-effective voice, data, video and e-commerce services.'

The licence allows Globacom to land its Glo 1 trans-Atlantic submarine cable in Gambia, with opportunities to extend the infrastructure to neighbouring countries. It also gives the company the right to carry traffic for major operators, the government and wholesale customers in Gambia.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Etisalat Hits 4 Million Mark In Nigeria

Mobile operator Etisalat Nigeria has announced it has attracted four million active wireless customers since it launched commercial services in October 2008, local newspaper Daily Champion reports.

The company has gradually expanded coverage of its GSM network, which is currently available in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, Steven Evans, noted: ‘We are glad to be able to make such a momentous announcement like this after less than two years of commercial operations in Nigeria's highly competitive environment, especially given our position as the fifth entrant into the dynamic Nigerian telecoms market.’

Etisalat Nigeria is 40%-owned by UAE incumbent Etisalat, with 30% owned by UAE government investment vehicle Mubadala Development Company, and the remainder by Nigerian investors.

World Cup: It's Been A Boom For South African Firms

With the World Cup done and dusted for another four years, South African mobile operators have reported booming traffic volumes during the 2010 tournament. Vodacom enjoyed a 40% increase in SMS traffic over the month, with 600 million text messages sent.

Andries Delport, Vodacom’s executive director of network and information technology, claimed: ‘In some cases, the traffic on a single base station increased by more than 500% compared to just prior to the start of the tournament’.

Delport admitted that Vodacom committed more than 15,000 man-hours to operational support, in order to keep the company’s network running efficiently, including a dedicated network operations centre.

Elsewhere, Cell C saw its traffic boosted to three times the normal levels on in-bound roaming calls. Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt announced that traffic levels were 70% higher than for the same period last year, pinpointing the periods before and after the matches as particularly busy.

Meanwhile, Cell C’s SMS traffic increased by more than 15% during the tournament. MTN - Africa’s first ever global World Cup sponsor - has not been able to provide any figures as of yet, although it is expecting to show a similar increase to its rivals. During the tournament, MTN sold 600,000 specialised tourist SIM cards, although it has not yet confirmed how many of these SIM cards were activated.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tanzania Wants To Get Back Control of Zain

Bharti Airtel of India, which recently completed the purchase of the African operations of Kuwait-based Zain Group in a deal valued at USD10.7 billion, could be heading into troubled waters in Tanzania, with the news that the government has an acquisition strategy of its own.

Local press suggest that Bharti has put in place a USD11 million bid to acquire the state’s 40% stake in Zain Tanzania, but the government now maintains it will not sell its holding, and will instead look to buy back the majority of the company that it does not currently own. The Tanzanian government claims that the acquisition of the Zain Tanzania operation by Bharti Airtel contradicted the partnership agreement between Zain Tanzania and national fixed line operator Tanzania Telecommunication Company Limited (TTCL).

Alongside its stake in Zain Tanzania the Kuwait group owned 35% of TTCL. However, an agreement signed in April 2010 saw Zain agree to sell its TTCL stake back to the government in order for TTCL to be wholly owned by the state.

Now, in addition to wanting to reacquire Zain's stake in Zain Tanzania, the Tanzanians want to make TTCL a 100% government-owned firm, hoping the company will be able to compete with private operators in the local market. The permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Ramadhan Khijjah, is on record as saying Zain Tanzania’s management did not fully communicate to the relevant government authorities information about the Bharti Airtel deal.

Earlier this month, the country's minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Prof Peter Msolla, told the National Assembly that the government was still in talks with Bharti Airtel concerning the sale. In a debate on the country’s budget for the 2010/11 financial year, Msolla said: ‘We met with the company’s officials on 21 June to discuss the sale… We have told them to finalise the evaluation of the assets so that we can determine whether the payment made to us is satisfactory.’

The minister went on to add: ‘Since the government has shares in the company, it is imperative that it be involved in transactions regarding the sale. The shares we hold in the company are assets that ensure our role is not underestimated.’

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Glo-1 Is Ready For Launch

West African submarine fibre-optic cable system Glo-1, which was developed by Nigerian telecoms operator Globacom and French vendor Alcatel-Lucent, is ready for commissioning, Nigerian newspaper THISDAY reports. The 9,800km cable stretches from the UK across West Africa and has landing points in Nigeria, London and Lisbon, connecting 17 countries to the rest of the world.

End-to-end testing of Glo-1, conducted in London and Lagos, has been successful, and according to Globacom's COO Mohamed Jameel, the commissioning process will begin by mid-July. ‘Glo-1 will provide the needed opportunity for West African countries and indeed Africa to leap forward economically through an excellent communication network and cost effective voice, data, video and e-commerce services across Africa, Europe and rest of the world,’ a statement from Globacom announced.

Globacom contracted Alca-Lu to install the cable system in 2005, in order fill the void of international connectivity in the region. The USD250 million cable landed in Lagos in September 2009 and Accra in Ghana the following month (increasing fibre-optic capacity in that country from 120Gbps to 640Gbps). The cable has ultimate capacity of 2.5Tbps and is expected to provide faster, more reliable internet services at a lower cost.

Zain Kenya Reduces International Call Rates

Zain Kenya has announced a cut in international call rates, with all pre and post-paid customers now able to call certain destinations around the globe for KES10 (USD0.11) per minute.

The KES10 per minute charge will apply to calls made to the US, UK, India and Canada, whilst a KES20 per minute fee will be charged for calls to South Africa, East Africa, China and United Arab Emirates. Calls elsewhere will cost KES30 per minute.

Zain Kenya Managing Director Rene Meza commented: ‘Affordable and effective telecommunication services are the key drivers in spurring international trade. We shall endeavour to ensure that our customers are not left behind in the ongoing global trade boom through provision of reliable communication services’.

Telecel To Launch 3G

Telecel Zimbabwe has revealed it will launch its 3G service within the next three months. Telecel, the country’s second largest mobile operator by subscribers, acquired 3G frequencies in February this year, and if the launch goes to schedule it will become the second domestic 3G operator in the country after Econet Wireless initiated its service last year. The operator said it had constructed an additional 30 base stations across the country to increase network coverage, and will have capacity for 50,000 subscribers at launch.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vodacom To Launch ADSL Service

South African mobile operator Vodacom has confirmed that it will be launching a consumer based ADSL service to complement its current wireless and business offerings.

Vodacom, which is South Africa’s largest cellco, has been actively working towards entering the fixed broadband market since 2007 - initially as a reseller - but also with the intention of providing services using its own bandwidth.

Neotel Launnches Flexible Internet Package

Neotel has launched an uncapped internet access package under the name 'NeoBroadband WiMAX'.

Neotel, which currently has WiMAX networks installed in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban, says that its new offering is a flexible solution that can be upgraded or downgraded to suit the needs of the user; 1Mbps, 2Mbps, 5Mbps and 8Mbps download speeds are available.

Neotel promises a five-day turnaround time for installation.

Bharti To Target Rural Nigeria With USD 600 Million Additional Investment

Indian telecoms operator Bharti Airtel has announced plans to invest around USD600 million in expanding its mobile network in Nigeria, The Economic Times reports.

Last month Bharti finalised the acquisition of the African assets of Kuwait-based Zain Group, in a deal valued at USD10.7 billion. The company has taken over Zain’s operations in 15 countries, including Nigeria, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Manoj Kohli, CEO and joint managing director at Bharti, revealed that the firm will invest in rural telephony in Nigeria and introduce a corporate social responsibility programme that includes setting up of schools that would offer free quality education to underprivileged children in rural communities.

‘We want to be a partner in Nigeria's growth and will work with the government to take the telecoms network deep into all corners of the country to touch the common man,’ Kohli noted.

The Indian company expects to introduce the Airtel brand across its new units by October 2010.

Three Shortlisted For Mozambique's Third Licence

Three out of 22 interested parties have been shortlisted to become Mozambique's third mobile phone operator, the National Institute of Communications (INCM) has announced. The three in question are TMN (the cellular unit of Portugal Telecom), UNI-Telecom (a joint venture between Angolan cellco Unitel and Mozambique's Energy Capital) and a Vietnam-backed bidder named Movitel.

The ownership of the Vietnamese company was not reported. However, Vietnamese military-run GSM operator Viettel previously announced plans to seek investment opportunities in other developing countries including Mozambique, following its recent takeover of the Haitian operator Teleco.

INCM director Americo Muchanga commented: ‘The three have presented required documents. Technical and financial proposals will be evaluated over the next two months after which we will announce the winning bid’.

Mozambique is currently home to Mcel with an estimated 3.7 million customers in March 2010 and Vodacom with 1.49 million at the same date. Wireless penetration stands at 23.8%, leaving plenty of room for growth.

Orascom Sells Off ISP's

Egyptian telecoms group Orascom Telecom has announced the sale of its two local internet subsidiaries – LINKdotNET (Egypt) and Link Egypt – to mobile network operator Egyptian Company for Mobile Services (MobiNil) for USD130 million. According to Orascom, InTouch Communications, a wholly-owned Orascom subsidiary inked a share sale and purchase agreement with MobiNil, with the deal excluding the non-ISP part of Link Egypt's business, while the other non-connectivity business (LINK Development, LINKonLINE, Connect Ads, Arab Finance Brokerage Company and Arpu+) will also remain under the ownership of Orascom.

The announcement followed the revelation that last week MobiNil shareholders had agreed to the purchase, with the acquisition part of an agreement that settled the long-running legal dispute between Orascom and France Telecom, the two major shareholders in the cellco. Orascom had previously postponed the sale until the settlement of its dispute with the French company.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

France Telecom Launches New Plan

Stephane Richard, the Chief Executive Officer of France Telecom (FT) yesterday unveiled an all-embracing five-year project to the press. Dubbed ‘Conquests 2015’, the group-wide scheme is aimed it says, ‘at setting out the challenges and perspectives that lie ahead, clarifying the Group’s business activities and regaining a sense of conquest and pride within the company’. FT’s action plan is centred on the development of its next generation broadband access network, international development, boosting its global customer base by 50% and bolstering a disenfranchised workforce.

FT, which markets its services under the Orange banner, is looking for a fresh start under the guidance of Stephane Richard following a turbulent year underscored by a wave of suicides among its staff.

The broad content of its new so-called ‘industrial project’ may not be new or surprising, but it does mark a shift in emphasis going forward. The state-backed behemoth’s four core tenets, or conquests, centre on: Employee pride, Orange says it aims first and foremost to win over the men and women that form the heart of the company.

The group goes on to say it is committed to offering its employees a beneficial working environment thanks to a new vision of human resources, a new management style and shared values; Networks, in its release Orange ‘reaffirms that its networks are its core business and its future … The conquest of networks means increasing coverage and bandwidth for both fixed and mobile networks, in both mature and emerging countries. In France, Orange will invest EUR2 billion by 2015 to deploy a new fibre-optic network. This will guarantee coverage for 40% of households through coverage in every region of mainland France by 2012 and in every departement by 2015 (including the three overseas territories).

'In addition, the Group has the necessary technological expertise and is ready to launch LTE as soon as the regulations are in place. Orange will also invest in the monetisation of mobile data traffic as well as in the deployment of ‘green’ networks such as the Oryx programme of solar-powered mobile telephone masts in Africa’; Customers, the Group says its long-term ambition is to offer a ‘superior customer experience’ compared to other operators. This includes the analysis and anticipation of needs, technical support, assisted migration to new services and control over expenses, etc … Orange is also developing products in healthcare and education as well as mobile payment or money transfer services such as its Orange Money programme in Africa; and International Development, Orange has also set its sights on reviving what it terms ‘a spirit of growth through international development’.

The telco’s approach will be based on a sound acquisition policy and rules out any ‘transformational’ deals, it said. Sales are expected to double over the next five years in emerging markets. Finally, Orange plans to grow from close to 200 million customers at present to 300 million by 2015 across its entire footprint.

SEACOM Cable Fails

SEACOM has confirmed that services between Mumbai and Mombasa have been down since yesterday morning, after a repeater failed. The cable operator has confirmed that the fault will take 'an extended period of time' to fix, possibly as long as eight days.

Most ADSL service providers which use SEACOM bandwidth have already started to re-route international traffic via SAT-3/SAFE. The failure affects traffic towards both India and Europe; traffic within Africa is not affected. ‘SEACOM has initiated emergency repair procedures to replace the repeater. Once mobilised, the repair ship is deployed to the location of the fault to pick up the cable. The cable is then brought on board to undergo the repair — the faulty element is replaced with a new repeater — before being put back in the water,’ an official statement read.

It is not the first time that the SEACOM cable system has experienced connectivity issues in recent months; it suffered a major outage in April. SEACOM is a Mauritian-based company, owned 76.56% by African investors. The remainder is owned by Herakles Telecom, an international development group based in New York City.

Malawi Authority Delays 4th Licence Over wa Mutharika Link

According to a report by local daily Nyasa Times, the board of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) is unsure whether to declare Comium Malawi the successful bidder of the country’s fourth mobile licence, as the company has links to President Bingu wa Mutharika’s daughters. ‘If this goes ahead it will be corruption of some sort, Comium Malawi should not get it because it was not the best company,’ a top level MACRA source said.

MACRA launched an international tender for a fourth wireless licence earlier in the year, after two previous attempts to introduce new players in the market failed. The country’s third mobile licence holder, Global Advanced Integrated Networks (GAIN, or G-Mobile), is currently facing the revocation of its permit after repeatedly missing the rollout deadlines stipulated by its licence, while in October 2009 the government suspended two licences – awarded to Lacell of Singapore and the UAE’s Expresso Telecom in April 2009 – following legal concerns that the regulator had issued a pair of concessions, but had only advertised one for sale.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bharti To Invest USD 100 Million In Niger

Indian telecoms operator Bharti Airtel plans to invest around USD100 million in Niger to improve the reach and quality of its network in the West African nation by the end of 2012, Reuters reports.

Last month Bharti finalised the acquisition of the African assets of Kuwait-based Zain Group, in a deal valued at USD10.7 billion. The company has taken over Zain’s operations in 15 countries, including Malawi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

The Indian company expects to introduce the Airtel brand across its new units by October 2010. ‘We are going to start our activities in Niger in October and, by 2012, we will invest USD100 million in expanding the network, improving quality and the coverage in the rural areas,’ commented Manoj Kohli, chief executive of the group's international business, adding: ‘We will ensure that telecoms becomes more accessible in terms of price and the quality of the service improves.’

Zain Niger is the country’s largest cellco by subscribers, with 1.58 million users at the end of March 2010 (a market share of 61%), followed by Orange Niger with 563,000 users, Moov Niger (341,000) and SahelCom (105,000).

Nigeria Urged to Approve NITEL Sale

The chairman of Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Privatisation, Ayo Arise, has said the government should approve the sale of ailing incumbent fixed line operator Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) to New Generation Telecommunications, the consortium which emerged as the preferred buyer for the telco after bidding USD2.5 billion. ‘I do not see why we cannot go ahead [with the sale],’ Arise told Bloomberg in a telephone interview, adding: ‘The bidding process appeared to be quite transparent.’

The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) announced New Generation as the preferred buyer for NITEL in February 2010, stating that the company was backed by Dubai-based Minerva, local firm GiCell and China Unicom. However, the Chinese firm quickly denied the BPE’s claims and insisted that its involvement only extended to an interest in offering technical and managerial support.

China Unicom’s denial cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity of the process, prompting President Goodluck Jonathon to form a seven-member panel in March to conduct due diligence on the bidders and investigate allegations of financial impropriety surrounding the sale process. Originally mandated with investigating the sale of NITEL within one week, the panel’s report took three months to compile after the new president reshuffled his cabinet in March.

Last month, local press reported that the panel had made two recommendations; firstly that New Generation be allowed to pay USD750 million as a deposit within ten days, and secondly that the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) negotiate with the second and third preferred bidders – British Virgin Islands-registered Omen International (which bid USD956 million) and Brymedia (USD550 million), respectively – to reach a preferred price for NITEL. However, no further decisions on the fate of NITEL have since been made public.

CCK Insists On SIM Registration Deadline

Sierra Leone Extends SIM Registration Deadline

Sierra Leone’s telecoms regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), has extended the deadline for the country’s mobile subscribers to register their SIM cards by 60 days, local daily Awareness Times reports.

According to the regulator, the date has been pushed back as only 52% of wireless subscribers met the original 30 June 2010 registration deadline. NATCOM also said it received a large number of calls from the country’s subscribers and its mobile operators for the commission to reconsider the original deadline.

Wireless users have now been given until 30 August 2010 to register their SIM cards, or face the disconnection of their service.

Sierra Leone was home to around 2.34 million mobile customers at the end of March 2010, at which date Lintel SL (Africell) was the largest operator by subscribers with a market share of 37.5%.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tanzania Retains 40pc Stake In Zain

The government of Tanzania is set to receive TZS15.4 billion (USD11.2 million) and to hold on to its 40% stake in fixed and mobile operator Zain Tanzania following the sale of the telco to India’s Bharti Airtel.

Last month the Indians finalised the acquisition of the African assets of Kuwait-based Zain Group, with the deal valued at USD10.7 billion. Under the terms of the deal, first announced in March 2010, Bharti will pay USD8.3 billion upfront, followed by a further cash payment of USD700 million after one year, while it will also take over approximately USD1.7 billion of Zain’s debt.

The Citizen now reports that the country's minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Prof Peter Msolla, told the National Assembly that the government is still in talks with Bharti Airtel concerning the sale. In a debate on the country’s budget for the 2010/11 financial year, Msolla said: ‘We met with the company’s officials on 21 June to discuss the sale… We have told them to finalise the evaluation of the assets so that we can determine whether the payment made to us is satisfactory.’ The minister went on to add: ‘Since the government has shares in the company, it is imperative that it be involved in transactions regarding the sale. The shares we hold in the company are assets that ensure our role is not underestimated.’

Bharti has taken over Zain’s operations in 15 countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The Kuwaiti company’s subsidiaries in Morocco and Sudan were not included in the sale.

KDN Expands Into Six Countries

Kenya Data Networks (KDN) has expanded its network reach to six major countries in sub-Saharan Africa, enabling it to deliver cost effective services to Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Malawi. This year KDN is expanding its subscriber base which is prevalent in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret to provide high-quality broadband services to customers in the cities and rural areas of Kenya.

KDN has said that it aims to reach 80% of Kenyans with its data networks by the end of 2010.

Kenya Introduces MNP

Following years of delay, Kenyan mobile phone users will be able to switch networks without changing their numbers by the end of the year, following the award of a licence to manage the service.

Mobile number portability (MNP) has long been a contentious issue in Kenya, and it was not until March 2010 that Porting Access of the Netherlands was awarded a contract to supply, install, commission, and manage MNP services. At the licence handing over ceremony this week, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) director-general Charles Njoroge commented: ‘This award is expected to bolster the level of competition in the mobile telecommunications market to the benefit of consumers’.

In November 2004 the CCK announced that MNP would be introduced on 1 July 2005. The deadline was later pushed back, and in 2007 MNP was postponed indefinitely after operators complained about the high costs involved in setting up the system. In April 2010 the CCK announced that the country’s four cellcos - Safaricom, Zain, Orange and Essar - would be required to start offering MNP from July this year, a date which has since been put back a further six months. Those wishing to switch operators while retaining their numbers will pay a one-off fee of KES199.80.

Ghana Begins SIM Registration

Ghana yesterday implemented its controversial mobile SIM registration scheme. Under the National Communications Authority (NCA’s) new policy, no one can buy a SIM card without first providing personal details backed by an official national identity document. According to the industry watchdog, the SIM card registration will help curb crime and also help to control an unwanted rise in unsolicited text messages.

Main One Goes Live

Main One Cable Company has announced the launch of its high capacity fibre-optic cable system, which links West Africa to Europe, on time and within budget.

The cable spans 7,000km and has landing stations in Nigeria and Ghana with branching units in Morocco, Canary Islands, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. Main One said the cable system will deliver 1.92Tbps of much-needed international capacity into West Africa, more than ten times what is currently available; in the past rapid growth in telecoms in the region has been blighted by limited global connectivity.

‘Today is a historic day for West Africa. The arrival of the Main One cable proves that much good can be done by Africans for Africans. We are pleased to realise the fruit of our dedication and commitment in the past 30 months,’ noted Fola Adeola, chairman of Main One Cable Company, adding: ‘More importantly, we are happy to be a channel for driving growth in Africa and changing the status quo for the average African as reliable internet connectivity becomes easily accessible and affordable for all.’ Wholly African-owned, the Main One cable is the first privately-owned submarine cable system in West Africa.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

22 Eye Mozambique's 3rd Operator Licence

22 Mozambican and foreign companies have acquired contract documents for the tender of the country’s third mobile telephone licence, the director-general of Mozambique's National Communications Institute (INCM) has announced.

A year ago, the government approved the introduction of a third wireless operator to ‘meet demand’. The government now has 60 days to evaluate the proposals and select a winning bid. The successful applicant will be permitted to launch operations within 30 days of licensing, with an obligation to enter the market within a year.

Under the terms of the tender, the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications (MTT) has set a USD25 million minimum bid for the 15-year licence. The regulations also require bidders to operate one or more networks with at least two million customers and to have a local partner. The government has said it will place more value on a bidder’s technical proposal, than its financial one.

Mozambique is home to two wireless network operators: Mcel with an estimated 3.8 million customers at the end of 2009 and Vodacom with 1.63 million at the same date. Wireless penetration stood at 23.8% in March 2010, leaving plenty of room for growth.