So far 2013 has been a year of major change in the MEA region’s telecoms landscape, in terms of both management changes and general developments such as infrastructure investments.
Mostly, these changes have been positive, with new talent bringing a fresh perspective to operators, and an upswing in competition helping propel the sector forward.
In the following pages, we profile the region’s top operators, covering both groups and opcos that have managed to shine in the past year. The companies listed may not always be the biggest operations in their respective markets but they have managed to stand out by implementing winning strategies or even guarding market share in a fiercely competitive market.
1. Etisalat Group - Ahmed Julfar, CEO
There is a strong sense that Etisalat Group regained direction in 2013. Results were up in the second quarter with consolidated net profit after royalties up 6% to AED1.97 billion ($536m).
The company said in a statement that revenue grew 20% to AED9.9 billion in the same period compared to Q2 last year while revenue from international operations grew by 50%.
Etisalat’s aggregate subscribers grew to 143 million. Importantly, revenue from international consolidated operations grew by 50% to AED3.513 billion, representing 36% of consolidated revenues.
The company also made some bold moves, not least its bid for a majority stake in Maroc Telecom. This move, should it come to fruition, would transform the group’s presence in Africa at a stroke. Etisalat’s experience of offering fixed-line services in the UAE could also prove valuable in tapping the potential of Maroc Telecom, an operator with 23 million subscribers, and reversing its current slow revenue decline.
In July, it emerged that Etisalat was also planning to bid for Warid Telecom, a mobile operator in Pakistan, a strategic move that could make an interesting business case when combined with Etisalat’s existing interest in Pakistan’s fixed-line operator, PTCL.
Etisalat is currently present in about 12 countries in the MEA region and Asia.
2. MTN Group - Sifiso Dabengwa, President and CEO
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.
The telco has made a number of important investments in recent months. In September it launched a global Multiprotocol Label Switching virtual private network (MPLS VPN) connecting key points-of-presence in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Djibouti, Tanzania and the UK.
Earlier in the year, MTN Uganda announced plans to deploy an LTE network in Uganda as part of a $70 million investment earmarked for 2013. The group also made some key management changes in recent months, appointing Zunaid Bulbulia as CEO of MTN South Africa and Karel Pienaar as group chief strategy officer.
3. Ooredoo Group - Dr. Nasser Marafih
Ooredoo, formerly known as Qtel Group, has had a busy year. When it was not working on the rebranding of its group operations, which was announced at Mobile World Congress in February, it was focusing its attention on international expansion.
In July, Ooredoo emerged as one of two bidders to win a mobile licence in Myanmar, a South East Asian country with enormous growth potential.
Ooredoo has spent around $3.9bn in the past 18 months, upping stakes in foreign subsidiaries. It now has a majority stake in Iraq’s Asiacell and Tunisia’s Tunisiana, and owns more than 90% of Wataniya.
But it was the group’s second quarter results that impressed analysts. The telco reported a 44% year-on-year surge in net profit in the second quarter, surpassing analysts’ expectations on revenue increases from Iraqi and Indonesian operations.
4. Vodacom - Shameel Joosub, Group CEO
Vodacom, which is majority owned by UK operator Vodafone Group, is a major player in Africa’s telecoms sector. The operator is present in the key African markets of South Africa, Tanzania, DRC and Mozambique and Lesotho, while its parent company has a presence in Qatar, Egypt and Ghana, giving the combined operation’s additional clout.
Joosub took on the CEO role in March 2013, replacing industry veteran Peter Uys. Having previously been CEO of Vodafone Spain, executive director of Vodacom Group and MD of Vodacom South Africa, Joosub clearly had the experience to lead the group, and he has not disappointed.
Despite being present in some of the region’s toughest markets, Vodacom turned in a strong performance in Q2 posting revenues of R17.5 billion ($1.77bn), a rise of 3% year-on-year. Group service revenue was flat at R14.6 billion. Group data revenue increased by 28.2%, with active data customers increasing 23.3% to 19.4 million, the operator said.
Vodacom increased its active customers by 5.3% to 51.5 million across its operations.
International operations delivered service revenue growth of 14.1%, when discounting the effects of currency fluctuations. This was supported by customer growth and increased adoption of data and financial services.
5. Zain Group - Scott Gegenheimer, CEO
Since joining Zain Group as CEO in December 2012, replacing former chief Nabeel Bin Salamah, there has been a growing sense of a telecom group with a renewed sense of direction.
While Zain Group’s revenues and profits for the first half of the year suffered a decline, this was attributed in large part to major currency fluctuations in Sudan, which are estimated to have cost the group the equivalent of $347 million in revenues, $150 million in EBITDA and $80 million in net profit.
But Gegenheimer did not let this hinder his plans to reinvigorate the group. Numerous changes have already been implemented including the restructuring the outstanding $2.3 billion Zain KSA owed on a Murabaha facility. And with a seasoned CEO, Hassan Kabbani, in place in KSA, the mood for the unit is now far more positive.
With an IPO under way in Iraq, and a group-wide initiative to streamline procurement and harmonise other aspects of the operations, such as OSS/BSS, Zain Group looks set to return as a true growth story.
6. Orange MEA - Marc Renard, Head of Orange Africa, Middle East and Europe
France’s incumbent telecom operator, Orange, revealed bold plans to grow in developing markets including the Middle East and Africa when it announced its Conquest 2015 plan back in 2010.
France Telecom has replaced the CEOs for seven of its operations in Africa and the Middle East.
The telecom group, which trades under the Orange brand, said that it had replaced its CEOs in Niger, Madagascar, Mali, Tunisia, Mauritius, Senegal and Jordan, effective from October 1. The appointments fall within the group’s “international mobility policy” and were made at the end of the contracts of the departing CEOs, it said in a statement.
While Orange already has a broad footprint in the region, the telco announced plans to expand its presence in other countries in the region via projects that will leverage the global reputation of group and its assets.
The initiative will include projects such as the launch of online stores selling telecoms-related equipment or airtime; the introduction of flexible travel solutions; or the launch of MVNOs.
Orange’s Africa and the Middle East unit had 84.0 million mobile customers at 30 June 2013, up 9.8% (+7.5 million net additions).
7. STC Group - Abdulaziz Alsugair, Chairman
It’s been a tough year for STC Group, with major management changes and financial results under pressure. But despite this, STC Group remains one of the region’s biggest operators, and continues to turn in a strong performance on its home turf, which also happens to be one of the Middle East’s most competitive markets.
While the telco’s net profit for the first half of 2013 fell by 30% compared to the same period last year, this was attributed to the booking of one-time, non-recurring and non-cash charge of SR1.104bn resulting from fair valuation of its investments in Asia (Aircel and Axis) and unrealised FX losses of SR601m.
STC group chairman and managing director, Abdulaziz Al-Sugair, said: “The financial results for the first half of 2013 were overall good, reflecting STC group capability of delivering high single digit top line growth.
“Revenues from domestic operations during the first half of 2013 increased 5 percent as a result to the growth in business sector and broadband (fixed & wireless) services revenues.”
8. Airtel Africa - Manoj Kohli, CEO, International ops
Bharti Airel, continued to cut its losses in Africa, where it has 17 mobile operations, in the second quarter of the year.
The operator made a net loss of $106 million in the second quarter of 2013, which represented a 14.5% improvement on the same period a year earlier.
The Africa unit’s total revenues for Q2 were 1.06 billion, which was roughly the same as in Q2 2012.
The unit’s operating expenses rose by 5.7% to $551 million for the second quarter as the group deployed new infrastructure and capacity.
Numerous developments also helped give an upbeat assessment of the telco’s progress on the continent. In May, Airtel agreed to fully acquire its competitor Warid Telecom Uganda from Warid Group. The deal will allow Airtel, which already operates Uganda’s second biggest mobile operation, to further consolidate its position with a combined customer base of over 7.4 million and market share of over 39%.
From the start of next year, Kohli will hand over the reigns of Airtel Africa to Christian de Faria, who joined Airtel Africa on September 16, 2013. He will be based in Nairobi and will report to Manoj Kohli.
9. Orascom Telecom - Ahmed Abou Dona, CEO
On the surface, Cairo-based telecom operator, Orascom Telecom, has had a tough year. But a closer look at the the telco’s Q2 results reveals that its performance was better than many people realised. The telco posted revenues of $903.7 million for the second quarter of the year, a decline of 3.3% compared to the same period in 2012.
It attributed the decline mainly to the adverse impact of foreign exchange losses of $86m and financial expenses of $126m. But when excluding foreign currency movements and other factors, the telco’s revenues for the quarter grew by about 1% year-on-year.
The firm , which is majority owned by Russia’s VimpelCom, posted a net loss of $23 million for the second quarter of the year. However, net debt stood at $2.5 billion, decreasing 7% compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. Total subscribers increased 4%, year on year, to about 86 million by the end of the second quarter of 2013.
Orascom Telecom has operations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Sub Saharan Africa and Canada.
10. Millicom international cellular - Hans Holger Albrecht, CEO
With a presence in seven countries in Africa, Millicom International Cellular is a significant player on the continent.
The operator appointed Hans-Holger Albrecht as president and CEO in the fourth quarter of 2012, replacing Mikael Grahne.
Second quarter revenues dipped slightly, by about 1.2% year-on-year, to $236 million. However, with a clear strategy in place to boost the use of mobile data and other mobile-related services, the operator is upbeat about its prospects in Africa.
“We have reinvested in Africa where the business needed support for its networks and brand. We also stepped up our investments to foster adoption of mobile data, with subsidies increasing by 23 % in local currency in the second quarter, primarily in South America. As a consequence, our margins in the first half of 2013 came under more pressure than expected,” Albrecht said.
11. Globacom - Mike Adenuga, CEO
Globacom, which is headquartered in Lagos, started operations in 2003 and has grown to have some 22 million subscribers, according to data from Wireless Intelligence.
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.
In April 2013 it was reported that Nigeria’s Globacom had awarded a $500 million network upgrade contract to ZTE. This news came just days after it awarded a $750 million contract to Huawei, underlining its efforts to continue investing in its network.
More positive news emerged in August with online media reporting that Globacom had consolidated its lead over Airtel in the key market of Nigeria by posting a 4.98% growth rate between March and June 2013.
Data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) revealed that Globacom had 25 million active connections in the months under review, compared with Airtel’s 21.6 million.
Globacom, which is privately owned by the Mike Adenuga Group, consolidated its lead over Airtel in Nigeria by posting a 4.98% growth rate between March and June 2013.
12. Virgin Mobile MEA - Mikkel Vinter, CEO
Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa has already had a significant effect on the region’s telecoms sector by successfully introducing the MVNO model to the region. The company was created in June 2012 after Dubai-based MVNO Friendi Group merged its regional telecom operations with Virgin Mobile in South Africa.
The group manages Virgin Mobile in South Africa, and Friendi Mobile in Oman, Jordan and Malaysia. Earlier this year it emerged as a successful bidder for one of three MVNO licences in Saudi Arabia, while in September, it launched an MVNO in Malaysia.
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.
13. Oger Telecom - Mohammed Hariri, Chairman
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 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. Oger Telecom positions itself in these key strategic markets as the leading full services operator in telecommunications and converged technologies.
14. Batelco Group - Shaikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, chairman
Like its Saudi Arabian counterpart STC, Bahrain’s Batelco has seen its share of management changes in 2013. But the company has also been pro-active in terms of expansion. Indeed, it was back in April that the company announced the finalisation of its acquisition of various companies from Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), which comprise its Monaco and Islands Division.
Batelco acquired the entire CWC interest in Dhiraagu (Maldives), Sure Channel Islands and Isle of Man and CWC operations in Falkland Islands, St Helena, Ascension and Diego Garcia. It also acquired 25% shareholding in Compagnie Monégasque de Communications, which holds CWC’s 55% interest in Monaco Telecom.
The company has also innovated in its home market. For example, Batelco Bahrain launched an LTE-based mobile broadband service for its prepaid SimSim subscribers in August. The launch marked the first pre-paid LTE service in the country, Batelco said.
15. Telkom SA - Sipho Maseko, Group CEO
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 its results for the year ending March 2013, Telkom had 870,505 DSL subscribers, 856,336 calling plan subscribers. Managed data network sites increased 13.9% to 44,328 and active mobile subscribers increased 3.4% to 1.5 million with a blended ARPU of R61.47. Mobile sites integrated increased 47.3% to 1,985 and 651 LTE sites were integrated.
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.
16. Etisalat UAE - Saleh Al Abdooli, CEO
Etisalat UAE remains the main revenue driver for Etisalat Group and despite tough competition from local rival Du, the UAE unit’s results demonstrated a marked improvement in the second quarter of 2013. Indeed, all key metrics were up: revenues increased by 12% year-on-year to reach AED6.303 billion; net profit increased by 3% to AED1.52 billion. EBITDA rose 7% to AED3.6 billion.
The company said the growth in revenues was primarily due to customer acquisition and an increase in the revenues of data and handsets sales.
Since Saleh Al Abdooli started work as CEO of Etisalat UAE in April 2012, the telco has made major efforts to drive up data usage through the launch of packages tailored for the needs various segments of the population.
Al Abdooli served as CEO of Etisalat Misr for five years before moving to Etisalat UAE.
17. Du - Osman Sultan, CEO
Du, the UAE’s second telecom operator, has offered a perfect template of how to start up a second operator, since its launch in 2007. The telco’s second quarter financial results say it best.
Net profit after royalty increased 45.64% year on year, reaching AED 474 million ($129m) compared to AED 326 million in Q2 2012 and AED 468 million in Q1 2013, the telco said. Revenues increased 12.05% year on year to AED 2.66 billion, up from AED 2.37 billion in Q2 2012.
Importantly, Du maintained pace on the mobile data front. Mobile data revenue increased 44.81% year on year to AED 573 million from AED 396 million in Q2 2012. Wholesale revenues increased 33.05% year on year to AED 133 million from AED 100 million in Q2 2012. Du’s total mobile customer base reached 6.6 million active mobile customers, a 16% increase in customers from Q2 2012. Du’s ability to maintain this level of growth has surprised many analysts.
18. Mobily - Khalid Al Kaf, CEO
Mobily was founded in 2004 as Saudi Arabia’s second mobile operator and has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of CEO Khalid Al Kaf. The company, which is 27.5% owned by the UAE’s Etisalat, was the first operator in Saudi Arabia to launch mobile broadband services back in 2006. The operator has put mobile data at the centre of its offering and by offering carefully tailored packages, proved early on that operators can profit from mobile data.
Mobily has also continued to innovate and invest in its network. In 2013, the company has made numerous announcements. In May it selected Ericsson to provide it with evolved packet core network technology in the western region of the country, paving the way for LTE.
The upgrade will allow Mobily’s subscribers to access and use four times more data than the network was previously capable of.
The telco is also eyeing a bigger slice of the enterprise pie. In July it partnered with IBM, which opened a global security operations centre (SOC), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The centre, which is hosted in the data centre of Mobily, is designed to provide businesses in the country with managed and cloud security services.
19. MTN Nigeria - Michael Ikpoki, CEO
With over 45 million subscribers and counting, MTN Nigeria Communications Limited is the biggest mobile operator in Nigeria and West Africa. It is also the largest subsidiary in the MTN Group.
In Nigeria, MTN provides network coverage to 88.8% of Nigeria’s land mass, while 86.2% of the population have access to our services. With 16 service centres and 102 “connect stores” located in every state of the federation, the telco claims that it is “poised to lead the delivery of a bold, new digital world to the Nigerian market”.
MTN has rolled out a record 10,000 base transceiver stations (BTS) across the country and will invest 42 percent of revenue this year on capital projects, reinforcing its position as the largest telecoms network in Africa.
The additional base stations, according to the company, will contribute to significant improvements to quality of service. BTS are a major component of the company’s infrastructure and have a direct impact on network capacity and the experience of customers.
Michael Ikpoki, CEO, MTN Nigeria, said the telecoms company was focused on three major areas, one of them being significant improvement of customer experience.
Nigeria, with a population of more than 160 million, had about 109 million cellphone subscribers at the end of last year, according to the NCC.
20. Zain Iraq - Wael Ghanayem, CFO
While Iraq may be one of the region’s biggest telecom markets – and one that retains huge growth potential – it is also one of the toughest countries to operate in. Security remains a major headache, and regulation is often difficult.
Zain Iraq, which is currently lead by CFO Wael Ghanayem, generates annual revenues of about $1.7 billion, which makes it the highest contributor to Zain Group’s revenues (40% of the Group’s revenues) and the second most profitable operation (estimated $350 to $375 million in 2013) among Zain Group’s eight country operations. Serving 13.9 million customers, Zain Iraq is also the group’s largest contributor to its customer base with 31% of all the group’s customers.
With the forthcoming IPO, Zain Iraq will offer 25% of its shares as per licence conditions. Wael Ghanayem will be in the critical driving seat given the IPO is expected to raise in excess of $1 billion.
21. Econet Wireless - Strive T. Masiyiwa, CEO
Econet Wireless International has a significant presence in Africa. In its key market of Zimbabwe it is the largest provider of telecoms services, providing solutions in mobile and fixed wireless telephony, internet access, mobile money transfer and payment solutions.
Econet launched its Zimbabwe 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 expected to have invest a total of $1billion by 2012.
Econet’s share of the Zimbabwe mobile market is more than 70%, and the operator continues to grow its subscriber base.
In mid-2013 Econet became first operator in Zimbabwe to launch LTE services in the central business districts of Harare, Bulawayo and the town of Victoria Falls. According to local media reports, the operator’s total revenue during to 12 months ended February 2013 jumped by 14% to $694.8m.
22. Etisalat MISR - Saeed Al Hamli, CEO
Egypt, with a population of some 82 million – of which about 32% is below the age of 15 – always represented a huge market potential for a third operator.
In many ways, Etisalat Misr has exceeded expectations for a new entrant. The telco has already earned the accolade of being one of the top-three operations within Etisalat Group, next to Etisalat UAE and Mobily, and is widely viewed as the fastest growing operator in the country.
The telco is understood to have garnered a significant market share in the mobile sector and the country’s broadband market, which it cornered through a series of carefully planned acquisitions at the end of 2008.
This growth to date is perhaps not too surprising given the investment that Etisalat Misr made in Egypt in its first few years of operation and the fact that the telco was the first in Egypt to launch 3G services in May 2007.
23. Safaricom - Bob Collymore, CEO
Safaricom, which was formed in 1997, is the biggest mobile network operator in Kenya. In May 2000, the UK’s Vodafone group Plc acquired a 40% stake and management responsibility for the company.
In the face of tough competition, Safaricom has managed to hold its position as Kenya’s biggest mobile operator, thanks in part to its early moves to introduce mobile money services.
In September, the telco said that it would increase its overall capex by about 8% for the fiscal year ending March 2014.
Collymore said the operator “will have to continue investing in infrastructure, which will rise to KES 27 billion from KES 25 billion,” local media reported. With Kenya’s data usage and penetration expected to overtake that of Egypt in five years, Safaricom appears well-placed to grow.
In August, Safaricom said that it had started laying 6,000km of fibre-optic cable in a bid to expand broadband penetration.
24. Paltel - Ammar Aker, CEO
Paltel, the incumbent telecom operator in Palestine, operates in the region’s toughest telecom market. But this has not stopped the telco from pushing forward with ambitious investments and efforts to eventually bring 3G to the market.
Earlier in the year, CEO Ammar Aker told CommsMEA that the telco was planning to invest a combined sum of about $50 million in its fixed and mobile networks in 2013.
The firm will probably invest between $15-20 million in its mobile network, with $30-35 million earmarked for fixed-line infrastructure, including the expansion of its fibre network.
The telco’s mobile arm, which operates under the Jawwal brand, grew its subscriber base by 7.8% year on year, to reach 2.61 million customers in H1. The data segment achieved a 7.4% growth rate in the number of ADSL lines to stand at 167,000 lines by the end of H1 2012, compared with 156,000 lines as of the end of 2011, and grew by 21.6% compared to H1 2011 where the base was 138,000 lines.
25. Zain Jordan - Ahmed Hanandeh, CEO
Despite operating in one of the region’s most competitive telecom markets, Zain Jordan managed to grow its customer base by 22% year-on-year in the 12 months to June 30, 2013 with more than 0.7 million customers added.
Zain Jordan managed increased its market share to 39% as compared with 38% in the same period of the previous year. This is mainly due to the huge demand on the broadband service, acquiring customers in untapped areas and cross selling other products and services. And also these improvements were a result on the increase in all data revenues by 19% as compared with H1 2012.
Zain Jordan recently selected Ericsson to deploy its Charging & Billing in One (CBIO) solution in a bid to provide more flexible billing options to its subscribers.
The solution will allow both prepaid and postpaid subscribers to benefit from enhanced billing flexibility, which will allow them to try new services without facing unexpected costs.