West & Central AfricaCom

Current market conditions in West & Central Africa's telecommunications are ideal for investors, thanks to low penetration levels (24% against 30% across Africa), fast-growing population population, and regulatory regimes encouraging competition. Analysts at Informa Telecoms and Media forecast that the market will reach 158 million mobile subscriptions by 2012 - a 78% growth.

In this context, international investors are keeping a close eye on opportunities to enter the market or increase their presence in it. In the last year, telecommunications groups have taken advantage of new licences in some of the region's markets, with Middle Eastern companies establishing a new presence in Africa (Etisalat, Comium, HiTs Telecom, and Warid Telecom), and other operators groups making the region an integral part of the global expansion strategy. This is the case for Orange, which launched new operations in four countries in 2007/2008 (Central African Republic, and the three Guineas), and for Zain, whose Celtel operations in the regions are scheduled to re-brand to Zain by the end of 2008.

The group with the largest footprint in the region is MTN, with mobile operations in nine of the region's markets, including the three leaders (Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast) and an expanding portfolio of ISPs. It is no wonder then that the group is attracting the attention of outside investors looking for a way into one of the world's most promising telecommunications markets. Indeed, a piece in London's Financial Times last week claimed that Indian operator Bharti Airtel was about to bid for the South Africa-based group. Although the news was welcomed by the telecoms community, and shares of MTN rose as much as 6.7 percent on the report, it was denied instantly by both parties. A Bharti representative said they were not looking specifically at MTN, but were interested in international expansion, while a statement by MTN said the group had received no specific proposal from their Indian counterpart.

MTN's future strategy will be one of the main interests at West & Central Africa Com, the region's annual telecommunications event to be held in Abuja, Nigeria on 18-19 June. Christian de Faria, MTN Group Vice President for the region, will give a keynote interview in which he will no doubt be asked about possible expansion or plans involving new investors. The event will also include key contributions from representatives of Celtel Nigeria, Vodacom Congo, Alink Telecom Group, Bruno Orange CAR, Telecel Niger, Starcomms and more operators and regulators from the region.

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