Tanzania’s mobile market in 2009: encouraging growth follows a shaky start

The fourth quarter of 2009 saw Tanzania’s mobile market continuing the growth of Q309, demonstrating a convincing return to healthy growth after a notable slip in the first half of the year, according to Research & Markets.

After showing a real slump in growth in Q109, with only 397,000 new subscribers added to the market, Tanzania's mobile growth has picked up in every successive quarter. In the end 4.143mn net additions came to the market in 2009, making the quarterly average 1.036mn, which is pretty good for a year that seemed to start so inauspiciously. The best quarter was the last one, with 1.685 net additions, more than any single quarter in 2008.

A good deal of the poor growth in the first part of the year was due to worrying losses from Zantel, and, to a lesser degree, from TTCL. The incumbent shows little sign of recovering and may not be able to stand up to the competition from the larger and better experienced operators. At first it seemed like Zantel was also crumbling under the competitive pressure applied by Vodacom, Zain and Tigo. However, in the second half of the year, it recovered significantly. International investor Etisalat has shown its confidence in the operation by increasing its equity stake and pumping more money in, and the signs are that it may find success this way.

However, the strong customer growth that has been achieved comes with sacrifices for the operators. The key competitive factor is still price, and there has been a lot of price cutting going on, with specials on network rates drawing in more users. This will inevitably weigh on ARPUs.

With price reductions in mobile services impacting already weak ARPU levels Vodacom announced a 28.7% y-o-y fall in blended ARPUs in local currency terms operators are looking to offer a greater amount of non-voice services despite the absence of 3G licensing. Among the more successful non-voice services has been mobile money. Although between 7-11% of the population has a bank account, Vodacom's M-PESA service has already seen over 1mn registered users since it launched in April 2008. We are expecting to see stronger growth over subsequent years as Vodacom is also joined by others. Local firm Wide International Network has developed a new online payment system that will allow mobile subscribers to shop online. Isaac Kitinya, CEO of the firm, stated that users can make transactions online for services offered by different firms in tourism, travel, sports and entertainment, web maintenance and solution and ticketing, which have been facilitated by a proper integration of the internet and mobile phone technology.

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