The international telecom giant Bharti Airtel has declared its intention to begin offering 3G services across several of its African markets, in the hope that Africa’s relatively young device user base will be quick to adopt mobile internet services.
Several African countries will soon be auctioning 3G licences, and Manoj Kohli, who presides over all of Bharti’s overseas operations, has made clear the firm’s aim to acquire spectrum in African markets including Gabon, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Speaking on the advantages of a younger market demographic, Kohli said "we believe Africa has great potential for 3G, primarily because the median age [of mobile subscribers] is only 17 to 18. We believe that while voice will grow in Africa, Internet will grow much faster.” He also addressed the issue of cost and affordability, claiming that “3G can be very successful in prepaid markets.”
Already the leading operator in India, Bharti last year acquired the Kuwaiti firm Zain’s African operations for US$9.7 billion, establishing itself in 16 African countries. Kohli identified four markets as being at the forefront of the operator’s focus, saying “Nigeria is the biggest market, Congo is a huge market, Zambia is important [and] Tanzania is important. These are the top markets in our [African] portfolio.”
Kholi also welcomed the proliferation of mobile number portability (MNP) across African markets, including Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Zambia, saying “where one player has more than an 80 percent market share [such as Kenya’s Safaricom], customers definitely need a choice and that’s why we welcome the [Kenyan] government’s decision to go for MNP.”