Ethio Telecom’s new mobile money service Telebirr apparently registered over one million users in the week after its launch. Now, according to some reports, registrations have passed the three million mark.
As Nigeria’s Technext site points out, this figure easily overtakes the total number of mobile money subscribers in the five years between 2015 and 2020 boasted by Telebirr’s predecessor, M-birr. In that time M-birr, owned by Ireland's MOSS Group, registered about 1.5 million people. However, it had to deal with a tough regulatory environment.
By contrast, we are told, Telebirr is able to offer zero-rated transfers and ease of loan access with little government interference. Little surprise then that the country’s population is suddenly embracing the mobile money concept.
The Ethiopian government owns 100% of Ethio Telecom, which entirely operates the Telebirr platform. While a new approach to mobile money is perhaps long overdue, the government has also given itself a free run at the market, refusing to accept any competitors, like M-Pesa, owned by new licence winner Safaricom – at least for now.
Some commentators believe that M-Pesa will enter this huge market next year. However, at its present rate of growth, Telebirr could pass the 21 million customer mark in the next 12 months – that’s estimated to be about 50% of the addressable market. The country – the continent’s second most populous after Nigeria – has a population of nearly 115,000,000.
And Ethio Telecom is also pushing to build its subscriber base for next generation services. It has recently been reported that the operator expanded 4G services into the country’s north-eastern region, covering six cities including Harar, Haramaya and Aweday.
As for end users, while competition might be good for the consumer, that doesn’t seem to be part of the plan at the moment. It will be interesting to see how M-Pesa responds when – and if – it is allowed to compete in Ethiopia’s mobile money market.