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MTN shrugs off competition, grows subscribers

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MTN Group recorded 147,265-million subscribers at 31 March 2011 – a 4% increase for the quarter from 141,598-million subscribers recorded at 31 December 2010.

The group continued to perform well despite aggressive competition and heightened political unrest in certain countries in the Middle East and West Africa.
During the quarter, MTNS’s data business, including SMS, continued its strong growth trajectory. In South Africa, smartphones account now account for 11% of the post-paid and 1,5% of the prepaid base.
In addition, MTN entered into a joint venture agreement with American Tower Corporation to acquire the tower portfolio of MTN Ghana. The joint venture closed on the acquisition of an initial tranche of 400 towers in early May 2011.
Mobile money subscribers increased by 5% to 4,6-million when compared to December 2010. MTN is now active in 12 of its markets, five of which are in pilot soft launch phase. In Uganda, mobile money revenues contributed more than 3,5% of total in country revenue for the quarter.
MTN continues to benefit from its various cable investments. In April this year the high-capacity West Africa Cable System (WACS) linking southern Africa and Europe landed at Yzerfontein, South Africa. The 14 000km long fibre optic submarine cable system has already landed in Nigeria, Cote d`Ivoire and Cameroon and is expected to land in Ghana in early May 2011. MTN is the landing party in the last four countries. Service on this cable system is expected to commence in late 2011.
In terms of subscribers,  South and East Africa (SEA) region contributed 22% (December 2010: 22%) of the group’s total subscribers while West and Central Africa (WECA) and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) contributed 45% (December 2010: 46%) and 33% (December 2010: 32%), respectively.
The SEA region increased its subscriber base by 3,2% for the quarter. The South African operation contributes 58% to the region`s subscribers, increasing by 1,9% to 19,197,000 for the quarter. The growth was slower than expected as a result of higher prepaid disconnections due mainly to seasonality, although some distribution difficulties also contributed. Market share was marginally down following increased competition in the prepaid segment. Uganda increased its subscriber base by 6,9% to 6,908-million maintaining its leadership position in an increasingly competitive market.
The WECA region increased its subscriber base by 3,4% for the quarter. The strong growth in the region was attributable to good growth in Nigeria and Ghana which contribute 60% and 14% respectively.
Nigeria recorded a 4% increase in its subscriber base to 40,211,000 as competitor campaigns and promotions stepped up. MTN responded by introducing new segmented tariff plans and bundled offerings in late January 2011. This enabled MTN to retain its market share.
Ghana also increased its subscriber base by 4% to 9,07-million maintaining its market share as competition intensified. This was due to competitive offers in the market, improved churn management as well as the introduction of attractive data packages.
Cameroon recorded negative net additions of 203 000 following a regulatory requirement to disconnect 306,000 unregistered subscribers at the end of March 2011. The company had secured 91,4% of the revenue by the end of the quarter, however the regulatory requirements negatively impacted distribution efficiency.
Cote d`Ivoire increased its subscriber base only marginally to 5,406-million mainly as a result of the political and social instability. Although there seems to be resolution of the political dispute, the civil unrest has had a negative impact on the country and normalisation of the operation is expected to take some time.
Following a dispute relating to fees allegedly owed to the authorities in Guinea Conakry, a presidential decree has placed the company and its assets under the administration of the regulator. MTN’s operations in Guinea Conakry, Areeba, are negotiating in good faith with the government, and the company is confident that an amicable solution will be reached soon.
The MENA region recorded a 5,5% increase in subscribers for the quarter.
The growth within the region was largely attributable to Iran which contributes 66% to the region`s subscribers and which increased its subscribers by 5,5% to 31,391-million. Iran continued to perform well as its value propositions remain attractive to the market.
Syria increased its subscribers by less than 1% to 4,920,000. The licence conversion process is still on track although it is will be delayed as a result of the present unrest in the country.
In line with previous year`s trends, the year to date first quarter ARPUs show a step change. MTN South Africa`s blended average revenue per a user (ARPU) decreased by 10% to R137. Prepaid ARPU decreased 10% to R101 and postpaid APRU continued on a downward trend declining 9% to R299. This is as a result of continued migration onto lower value packages.
Nigerian ARPU decreased by 6% to $10 as increased usage partially offset lower tariffs. Ghana’s ARPU declined by 5% to $7 mainly due to the impact of currency movements as local currency ARPUs increased marginally. Iran’s ARPU continued to remain relatively stable at $8 while lower usage in Syria reduced ARPU by 12% to $14.