MTN TO OPEN UP LINES WITH RIVALS

UGANDA'S biggest mobile phone operator, MTN Uganda, expects more customer growth in the last quarter of the financial year and is looking at "working with rivals" to share infrastructure.

UGANDA'S biggest mobile phone operator, MTN Uganda, expects more customer growth in the last quarter of the financial year and is looking at "working with rivals" to share infrastructure.

"As I speak we've just gone over the 5million mark and we are projecting some growth towards the end of the financial year - probably close on 5,4million subscribers," chief executive Themba Khumalo said on the sidelines of an African telecoms conference this week.

MTN Uganda, a unit of South Africa's MTN Group, dominates the Ugandan mobile sector with an estimated 60percent share in one of Africa's fastest-growing mobile markets. It competes with six telecoms players, including Zain (ZAIN.KW) and Orange (FTE.PA).

Khumalo, who headed up MTN's Rwanda operations before taking up the Ugandan post, said the company was in talks with other operators to share existing and build new infrastructure in a bid to keep costs down.

"We are in discussions with Orange and Zain. From an environmental point of view and from a cost point of view there is a lot of value to be derived from sharing and core building of infrastructure," he said.

Khumalo said new submarine cables, such as the $650million (R4,8billion) Seacom undersea fibre-optic cable, to improve international connectivity, could have a positive impact on tariffs in Uganda, following a 9percent hike on base tariffs this year by MTN.

"We see some positive signals that there will probably be some adjustments downwards to obviously take advantage of the lower cost of international connectivity," he said, adding that MTN would like to extend that to international calls as soon as possible.

Khumalo said MTN, which had spent over $300million in Uganda in the past two years, was eager to double revenues from its data business by 2010.

"Today, data is only making about 5percent of our total revenues . we need to bump that to a higher figure of at least 10percent and even more in subsequent years because we believe future growth will come strongly from data," he said. - Reuters

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