Market Opportunity, or Not: Bharti wants in but Zain wants out

Jennifer Belissent, Ph.D.

My colleague, Mike Cansfield, just posted a blog on the new “scramble for Africa” among telecommunications companies. Bharti Airtel, an Indian company, just finalized a deal to take over most of the African assets of Zain, a Kuwaiti company.  As Mike mentions, Bharti has been dogged in its efforts to enter the African market with two previous attempts to forge a deal with South Africa’s MTN Group. 

Bharti sees significant opportunity on the continent where just 36% of the population owns a mobile phone – yet many more use mobile phone services through resellers who offer use of a phone by the minute in the local markets.  Originally part of the informal sector, MTN has actually launched a program to legitimize the sale of on-demand phone services through its Y’ello Zone Payphone initiative.   MTN originally pledged to install 7,500 community pay phones across the countries in underserved areas.  To date, over 11,000 have been installed.  As part of the program, MTN offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to operate these Payphone kiosks, and provides the skills training to run a successful phone shop.  The program contributes to job creation, especially among women and youth, with more than 3,800 retailers already benefitting.   But, I digress . . .   

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