News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Lucky Seven? Can the Tanzanian market offer solid returns for its (growing) plethora of mobile players?

Via TelecomPaper on Tuesday, I learned that one East African country will soon home to its seventh mobile operator, which will offer services over a CDMA network. With a population of around 40 million, Tanzania is not an insignificant country, but one must wonder if there is room for all players to run profitable operations in a market split so many ways.

How many other markets of about this size support such a large number of MNOs? The answer seems to be... none. Here is a fairly comprehensive sample of nations with populations of roughly the same size:
  • Spain - 45m - 4 operators
  • Colombia - 44m - 3 operators
  • Sudan - 42m - 5 operators
  • Argentina - 40m - 4 operators
  • Kenya - 39 m - 4 operators
  • Poland - 38m - 4 operators
Even highly penetrated, mature European markets of roughly the same population size, then, are home to fewer MNOs - cause enough, perhaps, to be cautious about the prospects for a brand new entrant in Tanzania. Further, it is already the case that two existing CDMA operators in the country have failed to establish large customer bases. One of these, Benson Informatics, is an ISP and telecoms service provider founded in 2000, which added mobile services to its product portfolio in 2007. To date, according to WCIS, the company has built a market share of just 0.2% - barely 3000 subscribers.

A bit more significant is the mobile network of Tanzania Telecommunications Company (TTCL), with a reported 110,000 subscriptions, down from a high of around 160,000 subs in September 2007. Prior to 2007, TTCL offered a fixed-wireless CDMA WLL service. The decision was then made to offer mobile services. In the two years that have followed, the impact on the market has clearly been very limited.

Once wholly state-owned, TTCL is the oldest and largest wireline telco in the country and operates the PSTN network of mainland Tanzania. The country's name is portmanteau of Tanganyika (the mainland of the present day country) and the Zanzibar achipelago of islands a few miles offshore. In the latter, the fixed-line market is split between TTCL and Zantel, the second basic telephony services provider there.

Given that CDMA mobile operators across Africa are typically pretty minor players in terms of market share, it is perhaps not surprising that TTCL's mobility proposition has not really grabbed the attention of Tanzanian consumers. Further, the company itself is perhaps not ideally geared to compete with the three GSM operators that have collectively established almost a 90% share of the mobile market. While these three are outposts of significant multi-country mobile groups (Zain, Vodacom and Millicom International Cellular), TTCL has, since the early part of this decade been in a number of joint management arrangements necessitated by its financial instability.

The company's rival in the Zanzibar fixed-line space, Zantel, has fared rather better in the mobile space, with a 9.19% market share (about 1.1 million subs on its GSM network).

Overall, the mobile penetration rate of Tanzania has not yet passed the 30% mark, lagging well behind the overall rate for the African continent as a whole (39.19% as of March 2009). Does that mean there is sufficient room for growth for this veritable plethora of mobile players? Perhaps not. In terms of GDP per capita at Purchasing Power Parity, Tanzania appears to rank as low as 50th out of 53 countries in Africa. Further growth of the overall market, therefore, will doubtless by constrained by consumers' ability to afford even very low-cost services.

A discussion of this type is not new territory for Developing Telecoms Watch. In March, I considered the case of Gabon, asking whether a fourth entrant mobile operator could expect to be profitable. Around the same time, I was thinking a bit about how tough the Burundi market appears to be.

Blog posts of this kind are just very quick thumbnail sketches of these markets - a quick look at mobile market metrics (penetration, market share etc.) cross-referenced with some very basic information about the countries themselves. You might be able to guess that for the latter, I am rarely looking further than Wikipedia. So when I raise questions such as whether these markets are attractive to new entrants or likely to see market consolidation, you are seeing nothing more than a bit of pure conjecture. Readers who really understand the markets concerned are warmly invited to correct any glaring errors in my rough analyses or to add some local colour and detail to the stories. Please use the comment function to do so, if you feel so inclined.

I note, for example, that this blog does get visits from Tanzania. Perhaps someone there will be able to offer a view on the prospects of success for the country's latest mobile market entrant which, according to the Citizen newspaper, will trade under the name Sasatel. The company apparently has a licence for voice and data services, Internet service provision and international gateway services and will have a fixed-wireless (CDMA WLL) offering as well as full mobility via a CDMA network.

I would be interested to know the level of this operator's ambitions and to what degree it expects to compete more effectively than Benson Informatics, whose offerings appear to be somewhat similar.


1 comment:

  1. Actually, I believe that HiTS makes 8 operators in Tanzania, with GSM services having already launched within the Dar es Salaam region during June 2009, and build out nationwide over the following two years.


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