NAIROBI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Airtel Africa will focus on
growing in the markets where it already operates on the
continent and will not bid for licenses in Ethiopia, where the
nation of 110 million people is opening up its telecoms sector,
the company's CEO said on Friday.
Africa's second most populous nation, one of the last
remaining closed telecoms markets on the continent, plans to
sell a minority stake in state-owned Ethio Telecoms within nine
months and is tendering for two new licenses, a process that was
expected to start last month.
But Airtel Africa Plc Chief Executive Officer
Raghunath Mandava told Reuters that the Africa-focused telecoms
company sees more room to grow in the 14 countries it has
already invested in, including in its biggest market in Nigeria,
the continent's most populous nation.
"We have a lower market share in Nigeria, Congo, DRC,
Tanzania and Kenya. And our entire current focus is on these
countries in order to grow, we are not looking at bidding for
Ethiopia at this stage," he said in an interview.
On Friday, the company, in which India's Bharti Airtel Ltd
is a shareholder, said that its nine-month reported revenue
increased by 13.8% to $2.87 billion, with third quarter revenue
up by 19.5%.
The company reported a slight decline in profit before tax
to $482 million in the period to Dec. 31, 2020 from $501 million
in the period to Dec. 31, 2019. It attributed the drop to a
combination of higher finance costs and benefits from
non-operating exceptional items in the prior period.
Excluding the benefit of exceptional items and the one-off
derivative gain in the prior period, profit before tax rose by
20.4%, it said.
The company said that its Nigerian subsidiary has collected
national identity numbers from nearly half of its customers as
part of a process to adhere to regulator demands to add valid
National Identification Numbers to every SIM card registered in
the country. It was working to verify the data, Mandava said.
"This could require a little bit more time and we will not
be able to complete the full exercise, in which case, after all
efforts if we don't manage by Feb. 9 then we will, I am sure
discuss with the government and request for some extension," he
After Airtel Kenya's merger with Telkom fell through, the
company has "invested solo" on expanding its rural network as a
way to compete with market leader Safaricom.
"We are consistently gaining market share over the last few
years, and we are growing quite handsomely in Kenya on our own,"
"During the last couple of months and the whole of next
year, our big focus will be Kenya and Tanzania where we are
going to roll-out huge networks," he added.
The company still sees voice as crucial to growth in the
future, as huge swathes of the continent are still under-using
their phones, as costs still remain high.
"We all need to work towards reducing this interconnect
costs in some countries," Mandava said.
"The need for telecommunication is far higher, it's a
latent, inherent demand that exists, that we as operators are
not fulfilling enough. And if you can do a good job of it, you
can grow faster."
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed, Editing by William Maclean)