Airtel Africa plans broadband and mobile money surge after record first half year

A general view shows customers and employees inside a mobile phone service center operated by Kenyan telecommunications operator Airtel Kenya at the Sarit Center in the Westlands district of Nairobi, Kenya on January 29, 2021 . REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI, Oct. 28 (Reuters) – Airtel Africa (AAF.L) expects growing demand for mobile broadband and telephone financial services to increase, its chief executive said on Thursday, after recording rapid growth in its profits in the first half of the year.

The telecommunications company, which operates in 14 African markets including Nigeria and Kenya, said its revenue increased 27.6% at constant exchange rates in the six months to the end of September.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a key measure of profit for telecom operators, jumped 38.5% in the same period.

The growth path will continue, CEO Segun Ogunsanya told Reuters after the results were released, driven by demand from a fifth of Africa’s population who still do not have access to mobile broadband.

“Most of these people are mobile first, generation mobile only. They need mobile broadband to fully participate in the digital world,” he said, referring to the continent’s generally young population.

Providing a fourth generation (4G) internet network in its markets has been a key driver of revenue growth, Ogunsanya said.

Mobile financial services, including cash transfers and payments, have also fueled growth.

“More than half of adults in Africa do not have a bank account. This shows the reach available to drive the mobile money business,” he said.

In Nigeria, which is Airtel’s largest market, the firm has applied for a license to provide financial services from the central bank.

“This is one of our key goals, so it is particularly important to us,” Ogunsanya said, adding that they were in “constant dialogue” with the regulator.

Nigeria has looked at a banking model for the introduction of mobile financial services, unlike countries like Kenya, where telecom operators like Safaricom are leading the way, according to African telecoms executives.

Airtel plans to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, Ogunsanya said, and they will force their suppliers, including cell towers, to comply with the plan.

“We are convinced that it is the right thing to do. It is the best thing to do for the environment,” he said.

Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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