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Double Digit Subscriber Growth in Southern African Mobile Markets

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The mobile communications markets of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all experienced subscriber growth over ten percent in the last five years. This has created a powerful network effect, which continues to drive market growth, albeit at lower levels. Value added and data services are increasingly becoming revenue drivers, particularly in competitive markets such as Botswana and Namibia, which have high mobile penetration levels.

Analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that Zambia currently contributes almost half of all revenues in these four countries, followed by Botswana with 26 per cent. This is expected to change by 2015 when Zambia's share will reduce to 38 per cent, but Zimbabwe will contribute one third of the total revenues.

"These countries differ significantly in the state of their mobile communication markets," notes Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Protea Hirschel. "Botswana and Namibia are characterised by high mobile penetration rates, which is more than 100 per cent in the case of Botswana. The small addressable markets in these two countries constrain long-term growth and the average revenue per user (ARPU) for voice is declining due to greater competition. Therefore, mobile operators are focused on retention strategies and extending data offerings to protect their market shares."

However, Zambia and Zimbabwe have much lower mobile penetration rates with a high demand for voice services, particularly in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a special case as it has recently emerged from a record-breaking hyperinflation. This has resulted in degraded network infrastructure as little investment was made.

"Consumers in these four countries have looked to mobile communications as an alternative to fixed line networks," Hirschel says. "These have been not been extended appreciably over the last ten years. Additionally, consumers are likely to look to mobile operators for Internet connectivity."

Third-generation (3G) networks are already well established in Namibia and Botswana paving the way for mobile operators to offer advanced data and value-added services. So far, only one operator in Zimbabwe has launched 3G, while in Zambia, 3G will be launched in 2010.

However, new subscribers are increasingly poor, resulting in a decline in the average blended voice ARPU, exacerbated by challenging global macroeconomic conditions. At the same time, operating costs for mobile operators have soared and profit margins have come under pressure. For instance, inadequate power grids require mobile operators to have backup generators, which are adversely affected by the rising fuel prices.

"Value propositions take on special importance in markets where poverty levels are high and ensure that subscriber growth rates and revenues are maintained in the face of increased competition," explains Hirschel. "Additionally, up-to-date network technology and alternative power generation combined with infrastructure sharing allow for costs to be controlled."

In more mature markets such as Botswana and Namibia, mobile operators have identified business as a lucrative sector and are using innovative telecommunication solutions to maintain blended ARPU levels. Network infrastructure that supports broadband speeds is a vital component of this strategy.

"While ARPU levels for pre-paid subscribers are lower than for post-paid customers, innovative retention strategies and increasing consumer participation in mobile communications with subsidised handsets can ensure low price elasticity even in a competitive market," concludes Hirschel. "This will allow operators to migrate subscribers towards a higher value."

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Tags: backup  Botswana  Namibia  Zambia