Econet acquires 65% stake in Burundi GSM operator

22 May 2006

South Africa-based pan-African wireless operator Econet Wireless is set to enter Burundi’s mobile market after paying an undisclosed sum for a 65% stake in ST Cellular, formerly Spacetel Burundi, one of the four licensed operators there. Econet now plans to invest heavily to expand network coverage and increase the company’s subscriber base to 200,000 over the next few years. Econet Executive Director Zachary Wazara told AllAfrica.com that the group has already deployed key technical, marketing and sales and finance staff to assist in the expansion of the company, to be re-branded Econet Wireless Burundi. The new parent sees huge potential in Burundi. The country has more than seven million citizens but a cellular penetration of just 2%.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, at the end of 2005 Burundi was home to an estimated 150,000 mobile users, of which Spacetel claimed fewer than 20,000. The market is dominated by three players, Telecel Burundi, Africell and Spacetel, although a newcomer entered the fray in November 2005 in the shape of a subsidiary of national fixed line monopoly Onatel. The unit launched a GSM network in the capital Bujumbura under the brand name PANA, as a precursor to a full-blown national launch before the end of 1Q 2006. Onatel’s director general Séverin Ntahomvukiye says the new service, which has initial capacity for 60,000 users, will be rolled out across the country sequentially and over time he hopes to sign up 250,000 subscribers. The launch was backed by a USD4.5 million investment and work was carried out by China’s Huawei Technologies.

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