The significant contribution that data services, particularly business data services, have made to MTN's results has led analysts to believe that the cellular giant may move beyond its traditional mobile market.
Frost & Sullivan ICT industry analyst, Spiwe Chireka, says MTN's decision to directly take on Telkom Business, Neotel and Vodacom in the business services space is paying off.
"MTN has formed relationships with some of the leading businesses in South Africa to become the telecoms partner of choice in their African expansions," Chireka says. "This has been possible due to the group's geographical presence advantage. It also has the money to lap up any non-cellular operators where it needs to, to ensure that it can deliver additional services.
"Although a latecomer in this arena, the group has the deep pockets to make the necessary investments to ensure that it keeps up with the competition," she adds. "Frost & Sullivan believes this will be the next big growth area on the continent."
Together with the current challenges that are affecting the mobile market in Africa, the opportunities in business data services may lead to a change in approach from MTN. Chireka believes that the group may well focus its short-term efforts on services that are non-mobile focused.
"Mobile voice is nearing critical mass, and while it makes sense to try and raise the average revenue per user (ARPU), the results of such activities can take time," she says. "So rather than focusing only on mobile and trying to increase spending in that area, it may be time for MTN to move away from its comfort zone and move into the world of ICT as a whole."
Chireka points out that MTN has the geographical spread to successfully service multinational corporations within and coming to Africa. The group would, however, need to build brand equity separate from its mobile communications operations, she says.