During this year’s Innovation Africa Digital Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, several speakers from across the continent had the opportunity to brief the media on their future plans. ITNewsAfrica.com caught up with MTN’s CEO Sifiso Dabengwa to find out more about their African plans.
* This year’s Innovation Africa Digital Summit focuses on the need to create sustainable national and international ICT ecosystems. What role is MTN playing in supporting this objective?
It is fair to say it’s a complex task and it’s one that will take a number of initiatives in different forms in order to achieve it. But if we look at it from an MTN point of view, I think our real contribution is really around insuring that there is good solid infrastructure being developed. We have taken part in the majority of the undersea cables that have been installed around Africa. Actually our participation goes right around the African continent. So that is a critical part of the development of this ecosystem and if you think back to five years ago there was one cable, but now we have about eight.
* Looking at entering a new market, what is it that you think MTN can bring to the table that is not offered by your competitors?
A starting point is that we have significant experience working across the continent. But over and above that, our strategy is that whatever country we go into, we will make the required investments. We don’t build thin networks — we will always make sure that we will do the required investments to ensure that there is meaningful success, both from a business point of view and from an overall economic point of view. The fact that we have experience and have worked in a number of countries means we do have a better understanding of what are some of the more important things that we have to worry about — even before we get into a particular market.
* What do you see as the number one challenge facing the African ICT sector in terms of extending connectivity?
I think getting infrastructure into the ground is probably the biggest challenge that we face. This is to get backhaul from the cable systems — but there are also cross-border challenges. The cost of satellite and microwave-based communications has been quite high. So the whole issue of infrastructure across boundaries and linking to the submarine system is an important challenge that has to be addressed. We need businesses that are sustainable, that will be able to operate in this environment for a long period. That is part of the deal.
* Why is the African market so important to international mobile operators?
It’s like any other market — it’s important for us, because it is a market we believe we can serve well and it’s a market we know and understand. And it is also important in the sense that there are still opportunities for growth. The issue of growth is regardless of which operator can get into a specific pocket. At the end of the day, with the information revolution that is taking place, telecommunication infrastructure and companies will form the basis for increased access to information.
* Does MTN have any plans to expand further into Africa?
We are continuously looking for opportunities — mainly in Africa and in the Middle East, and it’s just a question of the availability of an opportunity that we believe we can execute effectively- and if it makes sense for us. So we are continuously looking for opportunities.
Charlie Fripp – Online editor