MTN quarter one customers up 4%

MTN, Africa’s largest mobile phone operator, added more than 5,7-million users in the first quarter boosted by strong growth in key markets of Nigeria and Iran.

The Africa and Middle East-focused operator overcame stiff competition from rivals such as India’s Bharti Airtel, Etisalat and Vodacom, a unit of British Vodafone. The company also overcame political unrest in some of the countries it operates such as Syria and Côte d’Ivoire.

The company said subscribers rose 4% in the January to March first quarter to 147,3-million as of end-March.

But declining average revenue per user (ARPU), a telecoms tool to measure how much each subscriber spends on cellphone calls and sending data, is putting pressure on MTN’s and other mobile phone operators profit margins.

MTN, which aims to add another 16,9-million customers in 2011, said Nigeria’s first quarter ARPU dropped by 6% to $7 hit by currency movements.

MTN South Africa blended ARPU dropped by 10% to R137.

MTN shares dropped 1,67% at R141 by 11.27am GMT, lagging a 0,14% flat down Johannesburg’s Top-40 index.

MTN said its Nigerian unit, the group’s biggest market, showed a 4% rise in users to 40,2-million, while MTN Irancell unit logged an increase of 5,5% to 31,4-million.

The South African unit, which faces stiff competition from its bigger rival Vodacom and other two smaller operators, recorded a 1,9% rise in users to 19,2-million.

In Afghanistan users rose 3,6% to 4,2-million and in Syria customers grew 0,4% to 4,9-million.

The group said the conversion of its license in Syria will be delayed due to the unrest in that country.

MTN also added that mobile money customers grew 5% to 4,6-million.—Reuters

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