Africa’s top mobile phone operator, MTN Group, gave a downbeat outlook for Nigeria, its biggest market, on Wednesday after losing high-end users to Gulf rival Etisalat.
South Africa-based MTN, which reported a 10 percent decline in first-half earnings, is fighting to maintain its lead in Nigeria ahead of competitors such as Etisalat and India’s Bharti Airtel.
But poor network quality in vital areas of the capital Abuja and in the commercial hub Lagos, has prompted its more affluent clients to switch to Etisalat.
MTN’s Chief Executive, Sifiso Dabengwa, was frank about the network superiority of the Gulf’s second-biggest mobile phone operator.
“The key issue really for us has been to improve the data quality and speeds,” Dabengwa told reporters and analysts at the company’s results presentation. “Clearly, Etisalat’s network, from a data point view, has been better than ours.”
MTN will use the bulk of a 19 billion rand ($1.5 billion) spending package for the rest of this year to expand high-speed networks in Nigeria and South Africa, where rivals such as Vodacom Group and Cell C have slashed voice tariffs to gain market share.
However, spending on a network in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is unlikely to deliver a strong enough performance to offset the impact of a sharp economic slowdown which is curbing consumers’ disposable income.
“We expect the balance of the year to remain challenging for MTN Nigeria,” the company said in its results announcement.

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