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Africa’s phone network lined up for change

25 октября 2007

A potential break-up of Telkom, South Africa’s former fixed-line telephone monopoly, would create a big bang in the world of African telecoms, which could position Vodafone and MTN as the continent’s dominant players.

Africa’s phone network lined up for changeJohannesburg-listed MTN, which has close links to South Africa’s ruling ANC government, is the continent’s largest and fastest-growing mobile phone operator. Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile group by revenue, is looking to expand in Africa through Vodacom, its 50:50 joint venture with Telkom, South Africa’s largest wireless operator. Tensions between management at Telkom and Vodacom partly explain why South Africa’s leading fixed-line company is willing to countenance a break-up, according to people familiar with the situation.

While Telkom confirmed last month that it is in talks with MTN and Vodafone, industry analysts say it is still too early to predict the outcome of such complex negotiations.
The most likely scenario mooted by analysts, however, is that Telkom sells all or part of its 50 per cent stake in Vodacom to Vodafone, giving the UK mobile group control of the South African wireless operator. Telkom would then merge its fixed-line operations with MTN.

Although Telkom owns the equivalent of a national rail network over which most of South Africa’s fixed-line telecoms traffic passes, it is facing increasing wired competition. Moreover, the best future growth lies in mobile. But Telkom and Vodacom executives increasingly chafe over mobile strategy.

One of Telkom’s grievances centres on a clause in Vodacom’s original shareholder agreement from 1993 that stipulates it cannot enter markets north of the equator.
Whether or not the clause prevented it from doing so, Vodacom has lost market share across Africa by not expanding as aggressively as its rivals. Although Vodacom has investments in Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania, MTN has mobile businesses in 15 African countries.

Vodafone, meanwhile, is looking to expand in north Africa and the Middle East through an alliance with Telecom Egypt, the country’s leading fixed-line telecoms company.
Vodafone established an Egyptian mobile business in 1998, which recorded revenue growth of 40 per cent in 2006-07. It also bought a 35 per cent stake in Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, in 2000. In 2005, Vodafone increased its stake in Vodacom from 35 to 50 per cent, which underlined that Telkom had no path to control of the South African mobile operator.

It also highlighted how Vodafone is looking for growth in emerging markets because its core European operations are grappling with flat or declining sales.
Arun Sarin, Vodafone’s chief executive, made plain last month that if Telkom sold its 50 per cent stake in Vodacom, which is estimated to be worth about R75bn, the UK group would seek control of the South African mobile operator. Even if it does not sell out of Vodacom, Telkom could still pursue a merger with MTN. A Telkom-MTN combination would allow Telkom to gain from MTN’s superior African mobile network. MTN, whose chairman is Cyril Ramaphosa, a former ANC secretary general, last year bought Investcom, a Lebanese mobile group, for R33.5bn. The acquisition gave MTN access to millions of mobile customers in Ghana, Liberia, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau and Benin. The growth potential in such countries is vast and is focusing minds at Telkom. Only 28 per cent of the population of Ghana has a mobile phone. That compares with 93 per cent in South Africa.

In South Africa, a merger of Telkom and MTN would allow the delivery of bundled telecoms packages using Telkom’s fixed-line assets and MTN’s mobile network.
“Buying control of Telkom’s fixed-line assets is an unnecessary distraction for MTN given the opportunities that present themselves in Africa,” says Sean Gardiner, analyst at Morgan Stanley. People close to MTN say shareholders are wary of taking on the baggage of a quasi-public and unionised company such as Telkom. Other people, however, highlight how the ANC government might support the merger of Telkom’s fixed-line assets with MTN.

It would consolidate MTN’s position as a homegrown “pan-African champion” that would embody the commercial success of the post apartheid era.

Источник: Financial Times

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