MTN recorded "disappointing negative movement" in its South African subscriber base for the latest quarter, seeing a significant decline from 17,23-million local subscribers to 16,41-million as at 30 September. It blames the drop on the new RICA (Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act).
In fact, the challenges of implementing RICA are so severe that the cellular network provider will be forced to revise its current expectation of zero growth in the South African market downwards.
Frost & Sullivan ICT industry analyst Spiwe Chireka comments: "While there has been a drop in the subscriber numbers in the South African operation, there is no need to be too concerned about this. It is clearly an effect of the implementation of RICA on 1 August 2009.
"When prepaid subscriber registration was introduced in Senegal in 2007, Sonatel – the market leader there – lost 6% in subscriber growth numbers and in DRC the practice has been suspended following the negative impact it had on operators' net additions capabilities, among other things.
"Therefore, Frost & Sullivan believes it's quite expected that we should expect the same trend in South Africa. In Senegal, the operators have since recovered. However, operators there have struggled to regain their previous growth levels and this may be expected locally as well."
MTN Group recorded 108,46-million subscribers at 30 September 2009. This is a 5% increase for the quarter from 103,18-million subscribers recorded at 30 June 2009 and a 19,6% increase for the year to date.
The proportional subscriber contribution between the regions remains relatively unchanged to that as at 30 June 2009. South and East Africa (SEA) region contributed 23% (June 2009 – 25%) of the group's total subscribers while West and Central Africa (WECA) and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) contributed 46% (June 2009 – 46%) and 31% (June 2009 – 30%), respectively.
The SEA region increased its subscriber base by a very modest 0,5% for the quarter, primarily due to the disappointing negative movement of the South Africa subscriber base which contributes 64% to the region.
The WECA region increased its subscriber base by 5% for the quarter, driven mainly by Nigeria which accounts for 58% of the region's subscribers.
Nigeria recorded a 5% increase in its subscriber base to 28,75-million, mainly due to continued network rollout, innovative product offerings and the effectiveness of the distribution channels implemented earlier in 2009. Ghana maintained its market share and increased its subscriber base by 2,6% despite aggressive competitor activity. Both Cameroon and Cote d`Ivoire increased their subscriber bases by 4% and 5% to 4,18-million and 4,21-million respectively.
The MENA region recorded a 9% increase in subscribers for the quarter. This was largely due to continued growth from the Iran operation, which contributes 62% to the region's subscribers and increased its base by 8% to 20,70-million. Iran's growth was attributable mainly to expanded network coverage and continued promotional activity.
Syria increased its subscriber base by 13% to 4-million, well above expectations. Afghanistan, although a relatively smaller operation, has been steadily contributing positively to the region's growth and has gained the number one position in the market from number three at the beginning of 2009.
MTN has revised its subscriber net addition guidance for the year for South Africa to zero and for Syria to 550 000, but it expects to achieve the total group subscriber net addition guidance for 2009 of 22,6-million.
MTN South Africa's blended average revenue per user ("ARPU") increased by 1% to R138.00, mainly due to the negative net connections of 750 000.