Bharti’s purchase of Zain Africa a done deal

Telecoms

With a deal between two emerging markets giants thought to be in the closing stages, the acquisition of Zain’s sub Saharan African assets represents a landmark deal for both Bharti Airtel and Zain, and for the African region itself.

Indian operator Bharti, which closed financing for the deal to the tune of $8.3bn earlier this week, will be transformed into a major global operating group becoming the world’s fifth largest operator by customer footprint.

For Zain, the deal represents a retrenchment of the company’s strategy as well as good value. The company may have succeeded in transforming its brand and building up an impressive customer base across sub-Saharan Africa, but it has struggled to operate profitability. “Perhaps it turned to the managed services model too late in the day and failed to leverage its supplier relationships so as to build in sufficient economies of scale – this is where Airtel will focus its efforts,” said Nick Jotischky, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, adding that Zain may still look to enter new markets, but within North Africa and Middle East, which it sees as more lucrative in the longer term.

The move also has repercussions for the African region, with the likes of MTN, Orange, Vodafone and Millicom joined by a new and rather different pan-regional operator. Bharti has a heritage of making network sharing and outsourcing deals work and will not be afraid of being aggressive on per minute pricing. The company is also well versed in addressing the difficulties of serving a largely rural, high-churn, low-revenue market.