Despite significant consolidation in the past decade, the telecoms sector in the Middle East and Africa retains a vibrant mix of different telecom groups that are responsible for offering the region’s mobile and fixed line services. CommsMEA assesses the top players.
With competition increasing year on year in the region’s telecoms sector, the number of different telecom groups has declined, as a result of industry consolidation.
Indeed, operators that are part of a bigger group realise cost savings and other advantages that can give them an edge over independent players. But as this powerlist amply demonstrates, there remain a good number of telecom groups and independent players in the region, and homegrown operators such as Etisalat, MTN and Qtel continue to offer stiff competition to their rivals from other continents, such as the UK’s Vodafone Group and India’s Airtel.
The list also highlights some of the success stories that have helped propel some of the operators into this list. Indeed, in Africa, new services in the field of mobile banking have had a profound effect on revenues that may otherwise have been in decline.
The list is also a reminder of the need to look outside the markets in which we live to learn more about the relative size of different operator groups, and to keep a check on the competition. Indeed, some of the operators and group’s in the list are seek less publicity than others, but this does not neccessariy means that they will have less success in the market. A less known player today could well become a major competitor tomorrow.
1. MTN Group, South Africa
With GSM licences in 21 countries and internet service provider businesses in 13 countries, spanning three continents, MTN Group is a true telecoms powerhouse. With units across Africa, the company operates in some of the world’s toughest markets. This is factor that has helped the operator to adapt to other difficult markets outside its home continent, including Iran and Afghanistan. MTN Group posted revenues of R66.4 billion ($8.1bn) in the six months to June 31, representing a rise of 12.5% on the same period in 2011.
MTN Afghanistan is set to launch 3G services this year after being granted a licence by the Afghan Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MoCIT) last week. MTN Afghanistan, which is part of South Africa’s MTN Group, paid $25m for the licence.
In June, MTN Group and MFS Africa launched an online money transfer service MTNMMO.com, allowing MTN customers can now receive international remittances directly on their mobile phone. The service is available in Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire and will be available soon in Benin, Cameroon and Ghana.
Key Metrics Q2 2012:
Group net profit: Not disclosed
Group revenue: Estimated R33.2 billion ($4bn), based on H1 revenue of R66.4 billion ($8.1 billion)
Customer base: 134.7 million
South Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, Syria, Cyprus, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Guinea Conaky, Guinea Bissau
2. STC Group, Saudi Arabia
STC Group, Saudi Arabia’s incumbent operator, posted impressive results in the second quarter of the year, although the success has been tempered somewhat by the departure of a number of directors throughout the year.
The telco posted a 6.7% rise in profits for Q2, beating analysts’ estimates, according to data from Reuters. STC posted a net profit of SR2.41bn ($642.7m) in the three months to June 30, up from SR2.26 billion in the year-earlier period, the telco said in statement posted on the Saudi stock exchange website. The telco attributed the profit growth to an increase in its domestic broadband, business services and wholesales services sales, as well as higher revenue from international operations. STC’s operating income rose 13.5% to SR3.16 billion and its revenue from services rose 4.9% to SR14.56 billion, according to the report.
While STC was relatively late to begin its international expansion, the company has made significant inroads in the Middle East and beyond. Its operations in Kuwait and Bahrain, where it operates under the Viva brand, have managed to carve a niche for themselves despite facing the tough task of entering the market as third operators. Indeed, at the end of Q2 2012, Viva Kuwait had some 1.2 million subscribers according to Wireless Intelligence, while Viva Bahrain had 637,000 subscribers. Not bad considering it launched operations in Kuwait at the end of 2008, and in Bahrain in March 2010.
Key Metrics Q2 2012:
Group net profit: SR2.41bn ($642.7m)
Group revenue: 2.88bn (Q4 2011)
Customer base: 58.2m (Wireless Intelligence)
Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and South Africa, as well as Kuwait and Bahrain
3. Etisalat Group, UAE
Etisalat Group, the UAE’s incumbent telecom operator, has expanded rapidly in the past few years and now has a footprint spanning the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. While the telco’s international expansion has slowed in the past couple of years, there are clear signs that the operator is placing more emphasis on consolidation, focusing on developing the assets it already has.
Speaking at a telecoms event in Dubai earlier in the year, Ahmed Julfar, group CEO, Etisalat, stated that the operator was “revisiting” its international portfolio. “We have a very good portfolio in very good markets. Within this portfolio we have a few markets which we are revisiting: should we stay in this market or should we consolidate or should we divest,” he said.
“The main focus is to refocus on the existing portfolio and that will be on growth opportunities, innovation as well as efficiency. This is the name of the game over the next two to three years which is the medium term in the telecom sector,” he said.
This has clearly been the case in the past few months. Etisalat sold a 9.1% stake in PT XL Axiata, an Indonesian mobile telecommunications provider, in September.
The sale of the 775 million shares to institutional investors capitalised on the recent rally in XL Axiata’s stock price and resulted in gross proceeds of AED1.870bn ($509m) for Etisalat. The telco said that it would use the proceeds from the sale in Indonesia to boost networks in core markets.
The operator is also raising its game in its home market. Since the appointment of seasoned telecoms professional Saleh Al Abdooli as CEO of Etisalat UAE in April, the UAE operator has noticeably upped its game with numerous offers and promotions aimed at luring higher value post-paid customers.
Key Metrics Q2 2012:
Group revenues: AED8.252bn ($2.2bn)
Net profit after federal royalty: AED1.9bn ($517m)
UAE, KSA, Egypt, Tanzania, Nigeria, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Benin, Gabon, Togo, Central Africa, Niger, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka
Vodacom, which is majority owned by UK operator Vodafone Group, is a force to be reckoned with in Africa’s telecoms sector. The operator is present in the key African markets of South Africa, Tanzania, DRC and Mozambique, Lesotho, while its parent company has a presence in Qatar, Egypt and Ghana, giving the combined operation’s additional clout.
In its Q2 results, Vodacom reported that its group service revenue grew by 8.7% while group revenue was up 9.3%. Subscriber numbers were up 29.2%, to 50 million.
Pieter Uys, CEO of Vodacom: “Overall this was a good quarter with a particularly strong performance from our International operations supporting group service revenue growth. The connectivity revolution is well underway with close to 16 million customers actively using data, up 43% from the prior year.”
He added that in South Africa, one of the key advantages is the size and reach of its network. “Given the increasingly competitive environment, quality and capacity both set Vodacom apart and give us the means to compete with targeted value promotions,” he said.
In its Q2 results, Vodafone stated that in Egypt, service revenue increased by 4.7%, despite the challenging macroeconomic and political environment. This growth was mainly driven by strong data revenue growth. In Qatar the introduction of promotional campaigns, a revised data pricing strategy and growth in the customer base delivered service revenue growth of 20.3%, despite a competitive pricing environment. Service revenue in Ghana grew by 24.5% due to sustained strong growth in the customer base.
vodacom - Q2 metrics:
Subscribers: Vodacom 50m (Vodacom numbers), Wireless Intelligence 41.2m
Revenues: $2.06 bn
South Africa, Tanzania, DRC, Mozambique, Lesotho
Vodafone - key metrics:
Combined subscriber base: 43.17m
Vodafone Qatar Q2 revenue: QAR 350 million ($96.1 million)
Vodafone Egypt Q2 revenue: $498.7m
Egypt, Qatar and Ghana
5. Orange group
With a presence in Jordan, Niger, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Kenya, Madagascar and Senegal, France Telecom-Orange has become a regional telecoms powerhouse.
The French operator stated its aim to grow in the MEA region back in 2010. Indeed, back in April 2010, CEO Stephane Richard said that the company was is sizing up acquisitions and new licences in the Middle East and Africa as part of an effort to double the amount of revenue it generates in emerging markets. He added that the group may invest as much as $9.3 billion in the region by 2015.
In February 2012, Orange signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to acquire Orascom Telecom’s stake in Egyptian mobile operator ECMS, the holding company for Mobinil.
Revenues from the MEA region reached EUR1.02 billion (($1.3 billion) in the first quarter of 2012, an increase of 5.4% compared to the same period in 2011.
In the Middle East in Q1, Orange Jordan, managed to increase its net profit to JD 20 million ($28.2m) at end of March 2012, a rise of 2.5% compared to the same period last year.
In Q1, Orange said that its operations in Africa and the Middle East saw revenue growth of 6.8%, with recovery in Côte d’Ivoire and Egypt.
Revenue (Q1 2012): $1.3bn
+83%: Mobile broadband revenues up year-on-year in AME
Egypt, Jordan, Niger, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Kenya, Madagascar and Senegal.
6. Qtel Group, Qatar
Qtel Group, Qatar’s incumbent operator, is well known as one of the region’s well established heavyweights, and even an 11% slip in Q2 profits did little to detract attention from the company’s strengthening position.
In August, Qtel received approval from the Kuwait Capital Markets Authority to acquire the remaining 47.5% stake it does not already own in its Kuwait-based unit, Wataniya Telecom, for KWD 622.4 million ($2.2 billion).
In mid-2012, Qtel also stated its aim to increase its stake in its Iraqi unit, Asiacell, to 60%. Qtel also shored-up its finances in August when it repaid a $3 billion syndicated term loan from existing funds.
In its most populous market, Indonesia, Qtel also worked towards reducing opex and improving profitability. Indeed, PT Indosat Tbk, the Indonesian subsidiary of Qatar’s Qtel Group, has completed a sale and leaseback deal worth $406 million with PT Tower Bersama Infrastructure (TBIG), a specialist tower management company. The deal will see TBIG take over the management of 2,400 of PT Indosat’s towers.
Qtel appears to be making progress in Qatar despite tough competition from second operator, Vodafone Qatar. It has also started testing an LTE network in parts of Doha, and confirmed its intention to launch commercial LTE services by the end of 2012.
Key metrics Q2 2012:
Group net profit: QAR 641 million ($176m)
Group revenue: QAR8.4 billion ($1bn)
Customer base: Consolidated customer base stood at 83.7 million at the end of Q2 (Qtel figures) or 87 million according to Wireless Intelligence.
Key mobile markets for Qtel and Wataniya: Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Oman, Palestine, Indonesia, Philippines, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan
7. Airtel Africa
Indian telecoms giant Bharti Airtel made a big splash in Africa’s telecoms sector in 2010 when it acquired most of Zain Group’s telecom assets in a deal worth $10.7 billion.
“We continue to grow as the most loved brand and currently serve 55.9 million customers across these geographies. We offer wide range of services to our customers, which includes post-paid, pre-paid, roaming, One- Network, Airtel Money, internet services, content, media & entertainment and other non-voice services,” the company said.
Airtel has been focusing on deploying 3G in numerous sites across its footprint to increase its user base. It now offers 3G services in seven 7 countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Congo B and Sierra Leone.
It has also thrown its weight behind mobile money services. The ‘Airtel Money’ brand allows its customers to enjoy the convenience of banking on their mobiles with secure features and more stable platforms. Four countries launched Airtel money in recent month: Congo B, Niger, Chad and Sierra Leone, taking the total number of countries to 12.
Q2 Key metrics:
Subscribers: 55.9 million (Airtel figures)
Revenues: $1.06 billion
EBITDA: $275 million
Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo B, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Niger, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda.
8. Zain Group, Kuwait
After shedding most of its African assets to Bharti Airtel in 2010, Zain Group increased its focus on maximising the value of its Middle East operations and Sudan. The telco’s attractive portfolio of assets has also caught the attention of potential suitors, including Etisalat, which staged a failed $12 billion bid for the company in the first half of 2011.
Since then, Zain has continued to push ahead with initiatives to increase efficiency and profitability, and improve services. For example, Kuwait’s Zain Group and UK-based Vodafone Group announced in early September an agreement that will provide Zain customers with greater support in Vodafone’s global footprint and significantly expand Vodafone’s presence in the Middle East. The agreement will see Vodafone work with Zain companies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq to provide customers with advanced roaming voice and mobile data services.
But the past few months have also seen their share of drama. Last month, Zain changed its management structure, creating the positions of deputy chief executive and chief operating officer. Hisham Akbar was appointed to these two roles, having previously been acting chief commercial officer, while Jawdat al-Dajani has been named permanent chief commercial officer.
Key metrics Q2 2012:
Group net profit: KD 70.97 million ($254.5 million)
Group revenue: 1.2 billion
Customer base: 41.4 million
Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan, Morocco, Lebanon
9. Orascom Telecom
Orascom Telecom, which is headquartered in Cairo, Egypt, returned to profitability in Q2 with a net profit of $27 million, compared to a loss of $58 million in the same period last year.
The operator, which is owned by Russian telecom group, VimpelCom, posted revenues of $934 million in Q2, up 9% year-on-year.
Across its operations in Africa, Asia and North America, Orascom’s subscriber base reached some 83 million customers, a rise of 15% on the same period in 2011.
Ahmed Abou Doma, CEO, Orascom Telecom, said: “Group EBITDA growth once again surpassed consolidated revenue growth, another testimony to strong operational excellence initiatives across all of our operations, leading to profitable growth for yet another quarter.”
In Bangladesh, Banglalink exceeded the 25m subscriber mark, a 26% growth year-on-year. In Algeria, Djezzy grew its subscriber base by 11% year on year. In Pakistan, Mobilink increased its subscriber base by approximately 8%, despite intense competition in the market.
Telecel Globe subscribers increased by 34% in Q2, driven by additions to Zimbabwe’s subscriber base and supported by market leadership positions in Burundi and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Key metrics Q2 2012:
Revenues: $934 million
Subscribers: 83 million (Orascom figures),
Algeria, Canada, Central African Republic, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Bangladesh
10. Millicom International Cellular
With a presence in seven countries in Africa, Millicom International Cellular is an often overlooked presence in the region’s telecoms sector.
The operator recently appointed Hans-Holger Albrecht as president and CEO, effective from October 31 2012. Hans-Holger replaces Mikael Grahne, who notified the board of directors of his intention to step down after almost four years as president and CEO, and eleven years with the company.
Millicom, which is based in Luxembourg, recently settled a long-running dispute with the government of the Republic of Senegal, which had previously disputed the validity of the telco’s licence to operate in the country.
Under this agreement, the validity of Millicom’s Senegal subsidiary’s licence was recognised by Senegal and the telco was also granted a 3G licence. Millicom also confirmed that it will receive licences to offer fixed line, WiMAX and cable TV services, in addition to additional spectrum and a 10-year extension of the term of its current licence until 2028.
Q2 Key metrics:
Subscribers: 17.6 million
Revenues: $239 million
Ebitda: $91 million
Having retained its status as an independent operator, Globacom has also maintained its status as a home-grown African success story. The telco, which is present in six countries including its home country, Nigeria, has defended its position in its markets against tough competition from global players.
The telco, which is headquartered in Lagos, started operations in 2003 and has grown to have some 22 million subscribers, according to data from Wireless Intelligence.
The company was also behind an $800 million subsea fibre-optic cable, Glo-1. This was the first submarine cable to connect the United Kingdom to Nigeria.
Globacom is privately owned by the Mike Adenuga Group.
Last year, Globacom said that it was planning a major upgrade of its core network that will allow it to expand its operations and prepare for developments including mobile number portability and LTE.
Subscribers: 24.4 million (for Nigeria, Benin and Ghana only, according to Wireless Intelligence)
Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gambia
12. Maroc Telecom
Maroc Telecom, Morroco’s incumbent telecom operator, may have been losing market share to its competitors, Inwi and Meditel, but with about 23 million subscribers, it remains a significant player.
Maroc Telecom is 53% owned by French company Vivendi, a factor that has helped the former state-run monopoly to compete effectively in one of North Africa’s most competitive markets.
Earlier in the year, Maroc Telecom completed the deployment of an international high speed fibre optic cable between Morocco and Spain.
In August, the Moroccan government cancelled the sale of part of its 30% stake in Maroc Telecom for the second time in less than a year, according to a Reuters report. The government intended to sell about 7% from its total 30% stake in Maroc Telecom.
Subscribers: 23 million (Wireless Intelligence)
Revenue: $559.6m as of Q4 2011. (Delta Partners)
13. Oger Telecom
Oger Telecom is an emerging markets telecommunications group controlled by the Saudi Oger (Group), one of the Middle-East’s most prominent multi-sector organisations. The company is further supported by its second largest shareholder STC Group, in addition to institutional investors.
Oger Telecom is a provider of telecoms services in Turkey, operating fixed-line, mobile communications and Internet access businesses in these markets. Oger Telecom also owns a major regional ISP (Cyberia) which operates in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan.
Oger Telecom is a headquartered in Dubai International Financial Center, UAE, and is one of the region’s leading full services telecom conglomerates.
Oger Telecom operates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey.
41 million: Lines under management (Oger figures)
Subsidiaries: Turk Telekom, Avea, Cell C, Cyberia
14. Telkom SA
Telkom is an integrated communications services provider based in South Africa with a presence across the African continent. The operator offers a range of fixed and mobile services for residential and business users.
The company offers mobile services, including mobile broadband, through a separate brand, 8ta.
In the year ended March 31, 2012, the company had consolidated operating revenue of R33.1 billion ($3.87bn) and profit for the year from continuing operations of R179 million.
As of 31 March 2012, we had approximately 4.0 million telephone access lines in service and 99.9% of our telephone access lines were connected to digital exchanges.
The telco offers services including fixed-line subscription and connection services, fixed-line traffic services; interconnection services, and fixed-line data centre operations and internet services. It also offers W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access), a 3G next generation network, including fixed voice services, data services and nomadic voice services.
Revenue: (year to March 31: R33.1 billion) $3.87 billion
Subscribers: 8ta: 1.7 million (Wireless Intelligence)
South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe
15. Batelco group, Bahrain
Batelco may not have the extensive pan-regional footprint enjoyed by some of its peers, but the telco has been forced to adapt to genuine competition in its home market, and also continues to scout for opportunities overseas to complement its four existing foreign units. For example, just last month, Batelco confirmed that it was in talks to acquire the Monaco and Islands business unit of Cable & Wireless Communications’ (CWC), a UK-based telecom operator.
The company has also continued to innovate in the competitive Bahraini market. For example, in September, the telco introduced its first cloud service ‘IMaaS’, a software as a service (SaaS) platform.
In the second half of the year, Batelco’s net profit for the first six months of 2012 fell 11% compared to the same period last year as competition in its home market intensified.
Key metrics Q2 2012:
Group net profit: $48.8 million
Group revenue: $205 million
Customer base: 3.9 million (Wireless Intelligence)
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen
Du, the UAE’s second telecom operator, has made serious inroads in the country’s telecoms sector since it launched mobile services back in 2007.
At the end of July, Du’s share of the UAE mobile market stood at 46.5%, according to the company, citing Telecommunications Regulatory Authority data.
In its Q2 results, the telco reported a 57.1% increase in profit before royalties compared with the same period a year earlier. The company said net income in the first three months of the year increased to AED651 million ($177m) from AED414 million in the same period a year ago.
“There are clear signs that the company is entering the next phase of its evolution,” Osman Sultan, CEO, Du, said at the time. “Delivering value for our shareholders remains our priority and we will consistently seek to do this through a continued emphasis on driving efficiencies, and a sustained focus on innovation and the introduction of new customer-centric products and services.”
Q2 Key metrics:
Revenue: AED2.5bn ($680m)
Subscribers – Mobile: 5.7 million, fixed-line: 546,600.
17. Econet Wireless
Econet Wireless Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe’s largest provider of telecommunications services, providing solutions in mobile and fixed wireless telephony, internet access, mobile money transfer and payment solutions.
Econet launched its network on the 10th of July 1998 and listed on 17th September 1998. It is one of the largest companies on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in terms of market capitalisation. Econet expects to have invested a total of $1billion by 2012.
Econet a share of the Zimbabwe mobile market of more than 70%, and continues to grow its subscriber base. The company continuously upgrades its network to carry more subscribers and enhance service quality, and to further widen its geographical coverage, which is already the most extensive in Zimbabwe, it said in a statement.
The operator said in September that it had passed 7 million subscribers and has the capacity to increase the number to 8.5 million. This marked an increase from 6.4 million in February, after it increased capacity and caught up on a backlog in demand for its prepaid Buddie service.
REVENUE: (Full year ended 29 Feb 2012): $611.1 million
Net profit: $161 million
Subscribers: 7 million (Econet Wireless figures)
18. Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa
Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa was created in June 2012 after Dubai-based MVNO Friendi Group merged its regional telecom operations with Virgin Mobile in South Africa.
The new group manages Virgin Mobile in South Africa, Friendi Mobile in Oman and Jordan, and an outsourced partnership with Zain Saudi Arabia.
The group also manages Eris Telecom, the international carrier unit of VMMEA.
VMMEA has more than 1 million subscribers across its operations and is headed the CEO Mikkel Vinter, who also founded Friendi Group.
The operation has significant potential for expansion, not least because the region’s telecoms regulators and operators are increasingly coming to see the value of the MVNO model to spur competition and maximise the use of existing infrastructure.
VMMEA said that it has plans to launch into more markets across the Middle East and Africa, and is targeting a regional customer base of over 5 million subscribers by 2015.
As the incumbent operator in Palestine, offering fixed-line and mobile services across the West Bank and Gaza, PalTel faces more challenges than most of its regional peers.
PalTel continues to develop its infrastructure and service offering as it competes with second mobile operator, Wataniya Palestine, not to mention illegal competition from Israeli operators that locate cell cites close to the borders.
Earlier in the year, Paltel announced plans to invest $70-$80 million in its fixed and mobile networks across the West Bank and Gaza in 2012.
Paltel, which competes with rival mobile operator Wataniya Palestine, experienced strong growth in 2011. Its net revenues grew by 9.4% to reach $522 million, while net profits rose by 5.1% to reach $128 million. But challenges including unfavourable currency fluctuations eroded growth in the first half of 2012. The telco posted revenues of $258 million for the first half of the year, representing growth of just 0.3% growth compared to the same period last year.
H1 Key metrics:
Subscribers: Mobile: 2.61 million, Fixed-line voice: 392,000, ADSL lines: 167,000 lines
Revenue: $258 million
Oman’s incumbent telecom operator, Omantel, has staged a real turnaround in the past year. After ceding significant market share to second operator Nawras since 2005, Omantel has managed to up the ante and begin growing its markets share again.
In the second half of the year, the operator posted solid first half results, with a net profit of RO 61.2 million ($159m), an increase of 11.8% compared to the same period last year.
The telco posted group revenue of RO 234.5m for the first half of 2012, an increase of 5% compared to the same period in 2011.
Both service revenues and wholesale revenues recorded a growth of 4.2% and 8.4% respectively. The increase in wholesale revenue was mainly driven by an increase in external administration revenues and revenue from capacity sales.
Omantel commanded a 47.6% share of the mobile market at the end of H1. Omantel’s early support for the MVNO model paid off. Indeed, according to its H2 results, Omantel said that the total mobile market grew by 11.8% as compared to Q211. Omantel Mobile, including mobile resellers, achieved a growth rate of 18.7%.
H1 Key metrics:
Revenue: RO 234.5m ($609m)
Subscribers: Mobile: 2.4 million