PoliticsNews & AnalysisTelecoms - A change is in the air (waves)


Posted on Monday, 25 February 2013 13:56

Telecoms - A change is in the air (waves)

Telkom workers consider a new career as mime artists/Photo©OBIE OBERHOLZER/FOTOGLORIA-REAThe price war is waning, and telecoms giants are looking to mobile internet and banking for ways to make customers spend more.


As African consumers start edging away from voice, telecoms companies – particularly fixed-line incumbents – are having to seek out new revenue streams to boost profits.

An aggressive price war, started by the entrance of India's Bharti Airtel in 2009, looks to be waning as operators start realising the economics of network building does not allow for cheap calls and good coverage.

"This year a few regulators have been tougher in terms of quality of service," says Thecla Mbongue, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

In December, Ghana's regulator barred MTN Ghana (#187) from selling new subscriptions because of network quality problems.

In November, the Nigerian regulator banned mobile operat- ors from staging promotions until their services improve.

This follows $7.3m of fines paid by operators in June. Operators blame power problems and infrastructure issues – such as cuts and theft of their fibre, and slow regulatory procedures to lay new fibre.

Profit Paradox

Profits surprisingly continued to rise, even as overall turnover fell slightly.

The net profits of Africa's top 50 telecoms firms grew by 5 percent from $6.8bn in 2010 to $7.1bn in 2011. Turnover fell 2 percent from $78.2bn to $76.5bn over the same period.

Data from Informa shows average revenue per user (ARPU) has continued to fall, from $9.2 per month in September 2010 to $7.3 in September 2012.

Mbongue explains that since 2010 operators have focused on controlling capital expenditure and reducing operational expenditure, hence the rise in profits.

MTN (#4) remains the largest operator on the continent, with 182.7 million mobile subscribers in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In the group's interim results for the first half of 2012, MTN Nigeria almost caught up with MTN South Africa as the biggest contributor to revenue, with Nigerian revenue at R19.3bn ($2.3bn), compared to R19.9bn for South Africa.

It has been a tricky legal period for MTN, which is fighting a $4.2m suit in the US over claims by Turkish operator Turkcell that MTN bribed its way to its licence in Iran.

A decision on the case is due in early 2013.

In South Africa, the big excitement of 2012 has been the arrival of Long Term Evolution (LTE) highspeed mobile broadband.

Launches of the technology by Vodacom (#8) and MTN targeted the post-paid segment – which at around 20 percent of subscribers is unusually high for an African market.

Elsewhere, operators are weighing the cost and benefits of LTE.

Regulation concerning the frequency available will hold back its roll out, as will the affordability of new handsets.

It was a tough year for Telkom (#37) – 39.8 percent of which is owned by the South African government – as its share price slumped 43 percent in 2012.

Investor confidence dropped after the government's decision to reject a bid by Korea's KT Corp for 20 percent of the company in June.

That was followed by chief executive Nombulelo Moholi's resignation in November and an 80 percent drop in headline earnings between April and September.

Analysts predicted the government may step in to help the ailing company.

Algerian Interests

In North Africa, Vimpelcom, the Russian company that owns 51.7 percent of Egypt's Orascom Telecom (#43), decided to set up a joint venture called Optimum Telecom Algérie with the Algerian government.

This may put an end to the two-year long wrangle over Orascom's profitable Djezzy operation.

France Telecom (FT) made the largest merger deal in Africa in 2012 when it paid $2bn to increase its stake to 94 percent in Egypt's Mobinil (#88).

It could also be one of the bidders in the highly anticipated planned sale by French group Vivendi of its 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom (#42).

FT already owns 40 percent of Morocco's second-largest operator Meditel (#195) and has been linked to the bid, as have KT Corp, Qatar's Qtel and the United Arab Emirates' Etisalat.

However, in Kenya, FT is facing mounting losses at fixed-line op- erator Telkom Kenya, in which the state retains a 49 percent shareholding.

Other companies to watch are Econet Wireless (#226), the Zimbabwe arm of entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa's Econet Wireless Group, which jumped 45 places in the Top 500 list.

In December, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe bought a majority stake in TN Bank, with which it had teamed up for its EcoCash money-transfer service.

Binta Drave, equity analyst at Exotix, says Econet is cash rich and could be looking for more acquisitions.

As a growing ecosystem of application developers and content providers evolves, the next battles will be over revenue-sharing deals for mobile content, which can often be as much as 80 percent / 20 percent in favour of the operators●

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