Telecoms will help lead Africa's growth, says Etisalat CEO


Despite being one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world, there are large swathes of Africa that are under-served and represent opportunities for further penetration, according to the CEO of the UAE’s Etisalat Group.

Africa is one of Etisalat's largest international markets, where it operates in 13 countries across the continent. Out of the group's total of 170 million customers, 40 percent of are in Africa, he told the Arabian Business Forum on Tuesday.

"We had a very small investment outside the UAE, in Africa, in 1997 and that was the seed for our international expansion,” said Ahmad Julfar, CEO of Etisalat Group. “Africa is bigger and richer than what we think and the opportunities in Africa extend far beyond the northern and southern edges of the continent,” he added.

He said tens of billions has been invested on a yearly basis by telecom operators in Africa over the last decade. With 329 million mobile subscribers - one in three people – it is one of the lowest when it comes to subscriber ratio rates in the region, but he said it “has witnessed the best growth globally.”

There are issues with regard to coverage, however, with specialised stations that can cover up to a ten kilometre radius - primarily charged by diesel generators – helping to extend its reach into rural areas.

Quoting statistics from a recent survey on mobile phone usage in Africa, Julfar said 80 percent use the phone to send text messages, 30 percent to make and receive financial payments (one of the highest globally), 21 percent get their news from their phone, 19 percent use it to access social media, 17 percent for health information and 14 percent to look for jobs.

"People who did not have access to telephones less than a decade ago are now using it for every possible lifestyle, from finance to healthcare, to looking for jobs, and that is why I firmly believe the big opportunity for Africa will be led by the telecom sector,” he claimed.

With a large section of the African population classified as living in poverty, Julfar said subscribers have been resourceful when it comes to mobile phone usage.

“Some 300 million people in Africa - one in three - are classified as poor, living on less than $1 per day. Anther 120 million are termed as ultra poor, living on less than 50 cents per day. How then are they going to benefit from the mobile connectivity? Where do they find the resources to invest in a handset, let alone a smartphone? One might have to spend half their monthly income to buy the cheapest mobile phone in some nations, as they found in Niger,” he said.

“The solution for Africa was simple - community-sharing of mobile phones. According to the report, one in three people in some Kenyan communities share the handsets, using different sim cards. Then there are mobile phone booths, where you are charged by the call you make.”

He said it means that the mobile phone users in Africa in reality is higher than the mobile subscription rates as outlined in studies and surveys.

Julfar said in order for the full potential of mobile to be realised, the population needs access to both mobile broadband networks and affordable devices and services.

“This is precisely the areas where Etisalat is making a big difference in Africa,” he said.

“One thing we are sure of is that we understand Africa. We see ourselves as partners in the economic development and empowerment. For us, Africa is not just another market of opportunity. We are building on our role in promoting inclusive growth through the power of telecom,” Julfar added.

The Etisalat CEO identified three areas where the continent will find its growth in the coming years: “Africa has rich natural resources, a youthful population and a fast-growing technology landscape. These three forces will drive Africa growth from being the land of opportunity, to hopefully a continent that has unlocked its true potential.”
Source: Arabian Business . com 10 November 2015