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Africa’s top 500 companies: telecoms firms duel over data

By Mark Anderson
Posted on Friday, 2 March 2018 09:41

Africa’s telecoms sector is the second biggest on the continent by turnover, according to this year’s ranking of the Top 500 companies. The 52 largest telecoms companies raked in a combined $64bn in revenue in 2016, an amount second only to the continent’s energy sector.

South African telecoms giants MTN Group and Vodacom Group continue to battle over the sector’s top spot. MTN’s most profitable business, MTN Nigeria, gained two places in this year’s ranking, demonstrating a successful turnaround after settling a $1.1bn fine with regulators. Rob Shuter, MTN’s new CEO, says MTN Nigeria will list on the Lagos stock exchange in the first quarter of 2018.

Vodacom is searching for new markets in its quest to compete with MTN outside of South Africa. Vodacom South Africa outperformed MTN South Africa in this year’s rankings, des­pite falling seven places. Amid a downturn at home, Vodacom is looking to develop new markets.

Maroc shows its fibre

North African firms continue to be well-represented at the top of the rankings. Groupe Maroc Telecom, which has 56 million subscribers in 10 countries, is investing in upgrades in its domestic market as well as in a cable project that will provide fast internet as far away as Burkina Faso. Egypt’s Global Telecom Holding, formerly known as Orascom Telecom, fell two spots in this year’s ranking.

In East Africa, Kenya’s biggest operator, Safaricom, is expected to begin its long-awaited regional expansion. A Kenya-focused company under its previous management structure, Safaricom has now been given the green light to look for new opportunities abroad. Ethiopia, where state-run Ethio Telecom is struggling to keep up with its sur­ging subscriber base, is rumoured to be Safaricom’s primary target for expansion.

Bharti Airtel is turning to strategic partnerships to bolster its businesses. Its best-performing African companies are towards the bottom of our ranking: Airtel Uganda, Airtel DRC, Airtel Tanzania, Airtel Zambia and Orange Burkina Faso, formerly Airtel Burkina Faso. The company is interested in pursuing opportunities in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. In December, it signed a deal with Millicom to buy its Rwandan business, which boosted its market share in the country.

Demand for data services is expected to grow. Last year, Bharti Airtel said its data traffic grew by 80-90% year on year. This industry-wide trend is expected to continue. In more developed markets, most notably South Africa and Morocco, the rise of mobile broadband will create more earnings for the biggest telecoms companies. South Africa’s Telkom said the number of its mobile broadband subscribers had jumped by 44.6% in the year ending 31 July 2017.

This article first appeared in the February 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine

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