MTN subscribers hit 171 million despite loss of market share in Nigeria

DESPITE a loss of market share in Nigeria at the start of this year because of slower network connections, and continued civil unrest in Syria, Africa’s biggest cellular operator, MTN, raised overall subscriber numbers by 3,7% in the first quarter.

Its subscriber base rose to about 171-million in the three months to end March, from about 165-million recorded at the end of last year, the Johannesburg-based company said last week.

By comparison, Vodafone, the world’s largest cell phone operator, has about 382-million subscribers.

Apart from slower connections, MTN’s Nigerian unit was also affected by a nationwide strike in January, as well as "aggressive competition", the group said.

Nigeria, whose customers now make up 25,1% of MTN’s total, saw a 3% rise in subscribers, but average revenue per user fell by 1,1%.

But "corrective measures" enabled the operation to increase network capacity and improve connections later in the quarter, MTN said.

Problems with the Nigerian network were compounded last week when the authorities threatened to impose sanctions on operations because of service disruptions to customers.

Quality of service in Nigeria is an industry-wide problem caused by a combination of factors related to demand outstripping supply, a spokeswoman for MTN’s Nigeria operations, Funmilayo Omogbenigun, said last week.

But a Johannesburg-based analyst, who declined to be named in line with company policy, said the dispute with Nigeria n authorities was "short-term noise" and that all operators were having problems with their networks. "I would argue that it will be resolved amicably," the analyst said last week.

MTN, which operates in 22 countries, last year announced plans to invest R22bn in infrastructure. Nigeria and SA, the largest contributors to group revenue, were expected to grab the lion’s share of the planned roll-out. Cellphone operators on the continent are betting data demand will continue to rise, more than making up for slow growth from voice as more consumers use handsets to surf the web.

MTN’s South African subscriber base contributed 13,3% to overall numbers, reporting a 3,2% rise in the first quarter. But SA’s average revenue per user declined 7,9%, mainly due to lower interconnect fees, the group said. MTN’s Syrian operations, which contributed 3,3% to its subscriber base, lost 23 000 customers in the period, which it blamed on the country’s civil unrest.

MTN’s Iranian operation, which is locked in a dispute with telecoms rival Turkcell, saw subscriber numbers increase by 6,2%. The unit contributes 21,6% to overall numbers, but because it is only 49% owned by MTN, contributes only 11,9% of subscribers. Turkcell is suing MTN in the US for alleged impropriety on MTN’s part in getting a licence to provide cellphone services in the Islamic republic 

By Ron Derby via Business Day South Africa

MTN posts impressive numbers

Nigeria contributes a quarter of the subscriber base