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Voice revenues were affected by ban on promotions in Nigeria, says Airtel Africa CEO Christian De Faria

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Airtel Africa’s voice revenue and overall growth suffered because of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)’s ban on conducting sales promotions in Nigeria, Airtel Africa CEO Christian De Faria mentioned during Bharti Airtel’s Q2-FY15 earnings conference call.

This ban had come into effect on March 31, 2014 and was lifted on October 31, 2014. Besides Airtel, Globacom, MTN, InterCellular NIG, Etisalat & Multilinks Telecoms were the other telcos banned from sales promotions. “We were not the only one affected in the voice decline in Nigeria and so that means of course that other operators were also affected. Etisalat was the only one which has not been affected and has been aggressive enough to capture this momentum.”

De Faria mentioned that now that the ban has been lifted, “we do hope this will augur well for growth in Nigeria. Also, we have not declined in proportion compared to our competitors in this market. So, I think we have all the strategies of product now to regain the momentum. In voice, our strategy may have not been in one or few markets, adapted to the condition and we have been really adjusting, in the last two to three months, a lot of strategy around the customer-centric organization and a segmented approach. Data growth I must say is a good story.”

Focus on data: “You have to understand that we came from a very low side two years ago, and I must say that in every market data is representing a growth momentum. We have a lot of strategy in terms of pricing of data to make sure we are not only mark-to-market, but are also driving the right vendor with the right pricing for the right segment. So I must say overall in some of the data markets, we will continue to be very aggressive and especially as you know penetration of smart phones is still relatively low in the countries where we operate and we have a very nice strategy put in place and we will really get momentum here.”

Airtel Africa’s data revenues increased by 56.8% YoY to $115 million for Q2-FY15, primarily driven by a 50.4% YoY increase in its data connection base to 26.4 million and a 24.5% YoY increase in the data usage per connection to 105 MB. Mobile data revenues accounted for 10.1% of overall Africa revenues, as compared to 6.6% in the same quarter last year.

Ebola crisis & currency depreciation: De Faria mentioned that the Ebola crisis in Ghana & Sierra Leone had an impact on the quarter results. “Due to this we have been deprived of high value customers and high value minutes in West Africa.” He added that “currency depreciation in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and other French-speaking countries which are pegged to the Euro, have led to revenue weighted currency depreciation of 2.8% during the quarter.”

On investments in Airtel Africa’s operation: De Faria mentioned that there was a lack of investment on Airtel Africa’s part, which is responsible for their current situation in Africa. He added that over the last 12 months Airtel Africa has invested significantly in infrastructure especially around data, in the brand, in the distribution network, and in creating new platforms. De Faria noted that there is not much regulatory intervention in terms of pricing except in few markets where they have faced some regulatory issue. “I think that in the past we have not invested in some areas, and have now focused on better tools to enable sales & distribution, so I think we are getting there but it is a massive restoration. Furthermore there is investment in people which was one of the main priority in my first nine months and there we have seen a massive effort by bringing more talent in our operation.”

Over the past few months, Airtel Africa has signed three tower divestment deals in a bid to reduce debt and significantly reduce ongoing capital expenditure on passive infrastructure. This includes the deal with American Tower Corporation to sell 4800 towers in Nigeria that is expected to be closed in the first half of 2015, the deal with Helios Towers Africa to sell and lease back 3100 towers in four countries, and the deal with Eaton Towers to sell over 3500 telecom towers across six African countries. These moves will also allow Airtel to focus on its core business in Africa (voice, data services & VAS).

Airtel had entered Africa in 2010 by acquiring Kuwait-based telco Zain for $9 billion. However, four years down the line it’s Africa operations is yet to turn profitable.

On Airtel Money: De Faria mentioned that in medium to long term the strategy for Africa would be premised around Airtel Money. Airtel Money had reported a total customer base of 5.3 million in Africa for the quarter ended September 30, 2014, registering a 23.26% growth from 4.3 million customers in the previous quarter and almost three times the 1.8 million customers it reported for the same quarter last year. The total number of transactions had also increased significantly by 34.29% QoQ to 131.2 million from 97.7 million, for Q2-FY15.

New markets: Bharti Airtel’s Global CFO Srikanth Balachandran mentioned that Airtel Africa has launched 3G services in Chad, which is the 16th market in Africa for Airtel. He also informed that 3G services would be launched in Niger shortly, though no specific date was mentioned.

Download: Q2-FY15 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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