Airtel to expand Africa operations; bids for NetOne

A year after Bharti Airtel entered the Africa telecom market with its $9 billion acquisition of African telecom operator, Zain, the former now plans to drive its stake deeper into African soil. It has now joined the race for a stake in NetOne, Zimbabwe’s third largest wireless mobile network.

NetOne has received four inquiries from large foreign telcos including Bharti Airtel and South Africa’s MTN. NetOne is looking to sell a 60 percent stake to the highest bidder.

NetOne, which has been facing financial troubles of late, was seeking permission from the Zimbabwe government to allow stake sale to foreign entities to boost its revenues. According to estimates, NetOne may need an annual investment of $100 million to aid in its 3G rollout and other expansion plans.  


Meanwhile, Airtel is spreading its 3G presence in Africa. Airtel Kenya is planning to start testing its 3G network this September, according to Rene Meza, MD, Airtel Kenya. The operator would complete all technical and billing tests in Nairobi and Mombasa in the next two months.


Airtel Kenya had earlier planned to launch its 3G services in April, but postponed the launch due to some problems with the equipment vendor.  

In May this year, Bharti Airtel said that it planned to invest $1 billion to expand its operations to 16 countries in Africa. Recently it has hired Huawei, Ericsson, IBM and Comviva to aid in its Africa expansion.


Airtel was in talks with five leading operators in the continent to share telecom infrastructure like towers and fibre to reduce costs. The telecom major also reported revenues of $924 million for its Africa operations in FY2011.

Africa is becoming hot telecom market for 3G services. While currently only Safaricom has a 3G network in Kenya, Orange is also testing its network. Azerbaijan in South Africa is likely to award two 3G licenses to Bakcell and Azercell, stepping up competition to Azerfon in the region.

According to a quote in a recent publication, Ali Abbasov, spokesperson for the South Africa ICT Ministry, “In the next few days, weeks, months we will provide the mobile operators with corresponding license for rendering 3G services. Everything depends on operators themselves, the sooner they solve technical issues the sooner they will get the license.”

South Africa has three GSM operators, and one CDMA operator. At the end of March 2011, there were over 8.3 million subscribers in the country – showing a mobile subscriber penetration level of 99 percent.


By Beryl M

[email protected]