On Diversity and Cultural spread in Africa, As Africa consists of 53 countries, to operate successfully it is important to understand the dynamics of each country, including differences in culture, language and especially regulations. Bharti would do well to put in place as few expatriates as possible and have most of its top management from Africa. b. On Infrastructure sharing and cost / capital issues, The biggest driver of network sharing will be the shift in approach of the biggest operators, who had been unwilling to share network to sustain competitive advantage.
There is visible network sharing in the markets of Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, and that this is likely to pick up in other markets. c. On Bharti Airtel’s Minute Factor Model, Network sharing and IT outsourcing would help operators bring down costs. While costs could trend down, however they will be higher than in India because of some of the structural costs caused by power shortage and poor infrastructure. 5. Bharti Airtel has a history of making first moves and emerging as the winner just because of that.
This is what built the company’s success in India, where it remains the top MNO and second-largest fixed-line operator. In fact, thanks to the massive market it serves at home, at the time it acquired the Zain portfolio in March 2010 Airtel was reckoned to be the fifth largest mobile operator in the world on a proportional subscriber basis, putting it behind the likes of China Mobile, Vodafone Group, American Movil and Telefonica, but ahead of China Unicom. As has been widely covered for over a year now, Airtel has been looking at Africa as a new growth market.
While it has a deal with Vodafone for the Channel Islands, Africa is the only other territory outside the Indian subcontinent (including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) that the company has entered. The commonalities are compelling: similar markets, needs and infrastructure. The realities on the ground are somewhat more challenging: logistics, legislative compliance and serious local competition being foremost. The logistics of infrastructure in Africa are an equal challenge for all MNOs. That is a given.
Where Airtel might have been overly optimistic is in hoping its Africa model would run similarly to its success in India, based on a first-to-market approach and having some leverage to overcome legislative obstacles. Unfortunately, while Airtel has a 30-year history of being first in India (with pushbutton phones, cordless phones and then mobile), they were not first in Africa. There were major EU, Middle East and South African players there ahead of them. In fact, Airtel’s African expansion is largely thanks to its takeover of Kuwait’s Zain mobile operations in 15 countries.
This was a beachhead, not a conquest. Zain only held dominant market share in a few countries. Going up against market leaders such as MTN of South Africa, Airtel applied a strategy of extensive cost cutting. This followed on what it achieved in India, cutting a deal with Ericsson for per-minute fees (rather than upfront payment) that enabled very low-cost call rates from the outset. Airtel has an all-Africa, five-year deal in place with Ericsson for network management that offers similar advantages.
Elsewhere, Airtel is engaged with Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei, not keeping all its eggs in one basket, of course. As a Plan B, possibly following on the indecisive outcome of Airtel’s low-cost invasion, the company has previously been negotiating a takeover of or (maybe) a joint venture with MTN itself. How this putative deal is described depends on which company is talking. This has been going on for some four years without a definitive ending. Even if it never happens, it is a signpost of just what Airtel would consider to get its Africa operations truly established.