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21.01.2009 Feature Article

Telecom in Ghana – A Game of Multinationals

Telecom in Ghana – A Game of Multinationals
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It is now official that all the operators in the mobile telecom industry in Ghana, particularly the GSM service providers, are multi-nationals.

MTN, TIGO, ZAIN, GLO, KASAPA and GT/VODAFONE as they are ordinarily referred to, are all either wholly or largely owned by foreign multi-national telecom companies.

The simple history of their coming into Ghana is that of either complete buy outs of local interest or foreign-local partnership, where the foreign investor holds the majority shares

Investcom bought 98 per cent of Scancom and changed Areeba to MTN – Everywhere you go; Zain bought Western Telesystems Limited (WESTEL) and changed the brand name Westel to Zain – A wonderful world; Millicom International Cellular S. A. re-branded Mobitel/Buzz to Tigo- Express yourself and Kasapa re-branded Celtel Ghana into Kasapa – The power of 028.

Globacom – Rule your world, obtained a direct licence from the National Communication Authority (NCA) and most recently Vodafone bought 70 per cent shares in Ghana Telecom, but still uses the “linking people everywhere” slogan for the network and “proud to be Ghanaian” and “stay in touch” for the GSM service, Onetouch.

Scramble For Clients

Projections by industry analysts indicate that within the next year or two, the six operators would have a little over two million potential subscribers to compete for.

Even though some industry analysts are sceptical about the invasion of as many as six huge multi-nationals into a relatively small Ghanaian market, the fact remains that the competition is significant because not only would it put all the players on their toes to deliver, but it also promises to bring to the Ghanaian economy the best in telecom innovation with its attendant direct benefits to the people in terms of quality services and tariff cuts.

It would also provide a support base for the speedy realization of country's Information Communication Technology for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy agenda.

For one, each of the players is busy digging wherever they could obtain legal permit to and laying their own fibre optics cables and installing other modern infrastructure to ensure that they are up to the game and the demands of the time.

Fibre optics in simple terms is a sort of glasslike cable technology that transmits voice and data messages faster than the normal wire cable.

Interestingly, whiles the competition promises to be keener in the near future, competitors are also entering into co-location deals to allow each other to serve their subscribers using each other's cell sites (masts).

Co-location allows several telecom companies to locate their transmitters on the mast of one operator in particular areas, to prevent the situation where several operators mount masts within short intervals and create an untidy scene.

At least four industry-related bills are before Parliament, all ultimately intended to re-orient the regulator, National Communications Authority (NCA) and to revamp the regulation system to ensure that it is upbeat with modern trends in the industry.

There is the NCA Bill itself, Electronic Communication Bill, Electronic Transaction Bill and the Information Technology Agency Bill, each of which are yet to be passed into law.

But whiles the industry is awaiting the revamp of the regulatory system and re-orientation of the regulator, the game is on and it is being keenly contested.

Tale of the Figures

It has become necessary at this time to compactly profile the players in the industry and closely look at what they bring to the market in terms of network infrastructure, services and products, social responsibility and engagements with the community, what prospects they have and how they compare with each other. The point of reference is the market leader, MTN.

Data from the NCA ending August 2008, indicated that out of a total of 10,242,916 mobile phone subscribers in the country, MTN has 5,539,065, representing 52 per cent of the market; Tigo following half way with 2,668,316 subscribers; followed by GT/Vodafone with 1,648,544 subscribers; whiles Kasapa trails far behind with a meager 386,991 subscribers.

Glo and Zain are yet to record any GSM mobile subscribers in the country, but Glo made it quite clear at their launch that they would attract at least two million subscribers in their first year.

Meanwhile Zain has actually rolled out an ambitious strategy to capture 150 million subscribers around the globe. One can only imagine what that means for its operations in Ghana.

In terms of their international strengths, the MTN Group has 74.1 million subscribers across 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and remains the market leader in some of the countries where Zain and Vodafone are also players. But MTN's strength compares unfavourably with that of Vodafone in generic terms.

Vodafone is way ahead of MTN in the league, with 269 million subscribers (June 2008) worldwide, employing some 72,000 professional staff. Fact is that Vodafone is a world telecom leader.

In South Africa where MTN is headquartered, Vodafone, through its subsidiary, Vodacom/Telkom South Africa is the market leader with 54 per cent of the mobile phone subscribers, whiles MTN trails with 36 per cent.

Besides, Vodafone also has a commanding presence in parts of Africa with majority shares (40 per cent) in Safaricom, Kenya, which commands over 80 per cent of the mobile phone market in that country and also has 54.1 per cent in Vodafone Egypt.

Zain boasts of some 50.74 million subscribers (June 2008) in 22 countries mainly in Africa and Middle-East and has a staff strength of 16,000 across its operations. Glo has 13 million subscribers in Nigeria, where it is headquartered and is on record as the fastest growing telecom company in that country.

With operations in 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Tigo recorded some 23.4 million subscribers in 2007. Kasapa's international strength is not readily available.

MyjoyOnline, © 2009

The author has 338 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: myjoyonline

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