Tweaking Africa’s mobile profile to sustain growth

The importance of bringing Africa’s mobile market up to speed with global counterparts was a hot topic of discussion at a session during the annual Mobile World Congress being held in Barcelona. During a panel discussion, MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa and Bharti Airtel CEO Manoj Kohli highlighted what needs to be addressed in Africa’s mobile industry.

MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa and Bharti Airtel CEO Manoj Kohli (image: Charlie Fripp)

“The growth level in Africa has been great, as Africa is clearly seen as a great opportunity for investment. But Internet penetration is no more than ten percent. That means overall opportunities are significant,” Dabengwa started.

“MTN is looking at very good opportunities for growth, but challenges are there. Whatever we do in Africa, we have to avoid what’s happening in Europe. It’s very important for long term sustainability, from a regulatory point, that we don’t stifle the industry. Africa’s overall market is in a good position, but we have to ask ‘how many operators are sustainable in a single country?’ I’m not sure that many operators in Africa are profitable,” he said.

Kohli added Africa is in a good position, but more needs to be done to ensure that the continent can sustain mobile operators.

“Africa is a great market and frontier, and it’s also a great market to grow voice, data and text. There are very few markets who have all three going for them, but Africa ticks all the right boxes. On the question of how many operators make a profit, there are many who are actually seeing losses. It’s time to turn Africa around into a healthy sustainable region,” he said

Dabengwa added that there has been healthy competition in the industry, but issues like termination rates remain challenges. “Most countries have pushed them down in the hopes of pushing down call rates, but that hasn’t happened. There is no need for a country of only 30-million people to have five or six mobile operators – and it makes the competition very tough. It has done more damage to the industry, actually”.

On the issue of mobile regulators, he added that there has to be a collaborative relationship between the regulators and operators. “Operators and regulators need to have more conversations about what operators are looking for, then make a decision on those priorities. That is one of the gaps that one sees – the commonality of vision.”

Dabengwa concluded by saying that nearly every country has an objective to reach 100% broadband penetration, but challenges still exsist. He said that it is difficult to drive the point home, but if it is a priority for a country, then there has to be rules and regulations that support efforts.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor