F&S alludes to mobile data war

Frost & Sullivan, the business research and consulting firm, believes that an intense price war is on the cards as local mobile operators scramble for data subscribers.

“The market for data subscribers is heavily contested by the operators, based mainly on competitive pricing”, said to Frost & Sullivan ICT analyst, Lehlohonolo Mokenela. “The market could witness an intense price war as the local operators jostle for market share.”

Mokenela was commenting on Vodacom’s annual results, published on Monday, 21 May.

Vodacom’s total service revenue increased by 7.8% to R58.2 billion, driven largely by data services, and international operations, which contributed to 87% of the revenue growth, it said.

Data revenue grew by 23.6% to R7.6 billion, while revenue from internal operations increased by 22.4%. Group EBITDA rose by 10.5% to R22.8 billion for the period and headline earnings were 709 cents, increasing by 8.1%.

Over the reporting period alone, competitive pressures saw Vodacom cut its data prices by over 18%. Mokenela opined that this could put a squeeze on Vodacom’s margins in the next period, but he expects higher usage to drive revenue growth.

Vodacom’s international operations in Tanzania, DRC, Mozambique and Lesotho continued to post impressive numbers, contributing 17.4% to the group’s service revenues compared to 14.7% the year before. The 27.5% increase in revenue came on the back of a higher subscriber base, which rose by 35% to 18.9 million subscribers, F&S said.

The group’s financial services product, M-PESA, enjoyed more success over the period in Tanzania, which added 1.8 million active subscribers. The service contributed 8.5% to Tanzania’s service revenue compared to 2.8% the year before.

The disposal of Gateway is underway, following a few periods of disappointing performances from the carrier business. However, the resolution of the company’s shareholding in the DRC operations remains a cause for concern, the consulting firm said. “The company seems reluctant to release the assets despite the June 3rd deadline set in the court order,” Mokenela said.

The South African operations generated R48.2 billion in revenue, a growth of 4.4% for the year despite a 27% growth in subscriber numbers. This was attributed to the 14.2% drop in ARPU as a result of the rising number of low-end usage subscribers and lower mobile termination.

“With mobile services in South Africa ranking amongst the least affordable in Africa, there is still scope for more price reductions”, Mokenela said. “We can expect to see further price cuts in the coming year and subsequently lower ARPUs unless this is matched by a sizeable increase in traffic.”

F&S noted that Vodacom continued its aggressive investment programme geared towards improving its network. CAPEX was up 37.3% for the period to R8.7 billion as the operator installed 973 new 3G base stations in South Africa to bring the total to 5,263 3G base stations.

In afternoon trade on the JSE, shares in Vodacom climbed R1.90 or 1.9% higher to R101.90.

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F&S alludes to mobile data war