Home LOCAL NEWS The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

Africa is an interesting continent in many regards. Telecommunications is definitely one of those areas that are interesting. For years, Africa has been heralded as being on the cusp of greatness and the role of mobile network operators hasn’t been downplayed in that narrative.

With this in mind and a general fascination with the telecoms industry, we decided to look at the mobile network operators of Africa to see who are the biggest players in this space and which markets are the most significant.

We compiled lists of the largest markets (based on subscriber count), the biggest mobile network providers based on revenues, subscriber count and presence, and the mobile networks with the biggest brands.

Largest Markets in Africa

From the outset, it’s pretty clear that North Africa has a very well developed telecommunications industry. Of the top 10 biggest mobile markets in Africa, there are 3 North African countries. North Africa, on the whole, has 7 countries so this is just under 50% of that region represented here. South Africa is the only country from Southern Africa. The rest of the top 10 markets have countries from East Africa (3), West Africa (2) and Central Africa (1).

Market Number of customers (million)
Nigeria 185.9
Egypt 103
South Africa 91.9
Ethiopia 62.6
Morocco 43.9
Kenya 42.8
Tanzania 40
Ghana 36.8
DRC 35.3
Cote d’Ivoire 31.7
Sudan 28.6
Uganda 24.6

The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

The correlation between large populations and large mobile network providers is clear. Nigeria and Ethiopia are the two largest countries in Africa by population. It’s no surprise therefore that MTN (Nigeria) and state-owned Ethiotelecom have the largest subscriber bases.

Mobile Network Operator Country Last recorded subscriber count (million)
MTN Nigeria 70.6
Ethiotelecom Ethiopia 66.2
Glo Mobile Nigeria 51.7
Airtel Nigeria 49.9
Vodacom South Africa 41.3
Vodafone Egypt 40.2
Safaricom Kenya 33.1
MTN South Africa 28.9
Orange Egypt 28.2
Etisalat Egypt 26.4
MTN Ghana 21.3
Maroc Morocco 19
Djeezy Algeria 16
Zain Sudan 15.9
Vodacom Tanzania 15.5
Orange Mali 14.8
Cell C South Africa 14.4
Orange Morocco 13.9
Orange Cote d’Ivoire 13.8

When you consider that Ethiopia has a significant portion of their population (over 40%) that are yet to register for telecommunications services – there is remarkable room for growth and continued dominance.

Ethiotelecom’s standing in future reports will be minimised since the Ethiopian government has announced that it will be splitting the mobile network into two and privatising.

Currently, Ethio Telecom has a monopoly over the country’s telecoms
market, and previously Ethiopia has rejected the idea of competition or privatization in the country’s telecoms sector. With a population of about 108 million and a mobile penetration of less than 39% in June 2019, the Ethiopian market holds growth prospects that are likely to be of interest to most major operators on the continent

Ovum Africa Digital Outlook 2020
Largest Network Operator by revenue

Mobile Network Operator Country Revenue (US$ million)
Vodacom South Africa $5 416
MTN Nigeria $2 687
MTN South Africa $2 680
Safaricom Kenya $2244
Vodafone Egypt $1658
Airtel Nigeria $1032
Etisalat Egypt $795
Ethiotelecom Ethiopia $680
Orange Egypt $230

Assuming that having the most subscribers would automatically translate to the highest revenues is a fair assumption. Unfortunately, that’s not how it plays out in actuality;

The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

South Africa is better represented in terms of revenue, and Egypt comes a close second with Nigeria and Kenya following. Whilst the subscriber count helps Nigeria, the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) figures are higher in SA and Egypt. This suggests consumers in these markets have more disposable income to spend on telecoms services

Which operators are in most markets?

There are a number of operators who are in multiple markets on the African continent. Why? Well, the capital expenditure necessary to start a telecoms business is enormous and thus it’s easier for established players to move into new markets than it is for a new player to come up;

The largest Mobile Network Operators on the African continent

Mobile Network Operator Number of markets
Orange 18
MTN 14
Airtel 14
Vodacom/Vodafone 7
Econet 3
Glo Mobile 3
Zain 2

MTN’s brand is valued at US$3.3 billion and Brand Finance believes they are well positioned to handle the transition from 4G to 5G;

In recognition of MTN’s increasingly strong leadership position in telecommunication services throughout Africa and the other countries within which it operates, and because of their increasingly resilient network investments, MTN’s brand strength rating has been upgraded from AAA- to AAA.

While their existing network infrastructure will be challenged by the upcoming transition from 4G to 5G mobile phone services, this solid brand strength will put them in a strong position to compete in the future

Brand Finance – Telecoms 150 2020
What’s the biggest takeaway from all of this? Well ,there’s too much data for there to be one but if I had to pick – it’s simply the fact that the “MTN, everywhere you go” ad I remember seeing for the first time in 2003 was not just a slogan after all…

We will look at fixed telecoms networks in a separate feature article.

Source | TechZim


Genius Kadungure aka Ginimbi was a popular Zimbabwean socialite and businessman.

He was also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of a gas company, Pioneer Gases which has interests in Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. He was also the owner of Dreams Nightlife Club...read more