Vietnamese telco eyes Ethiopia as State opens market

Vietnam’s State-owned telecom company Viettel is eyeing opportunities in Ethiopia, a company official said yesterday.

The Horn of Africa nation has announced its intention to liberalise key economic sectors, including telecommunications.

The Ethiopian government announced last month it planned to open up Ethiopian Airlines, the state logistics firm and the power monopoly to private investment.

The state telecommunications monopoly is seen as the biggest prize due to its huge protected market.

The plan is still in its early stages, but scenarios outlined by the authorities include the sale of a minority stake in state-owned Ethio Telecom, the granting of licences to new operators or a combination of both.

“With the experiences of Viettel over the years, the option of granting a new operating licence will create better competition for telcos, which is also the option that we prefer,” a company representative said.

Mobile subscribers

Viettel operates or holds licences in several African markets, including Mozambique, Burundi, Cameroon, and Tanzania. The official said even if Ethiopia opted to only sell a stake in Ethio Telecom, which boasts over 60 million mobile subscribers, Viettel would still be interested.

“If Ethiopian government offers the clear and sensitive option for selling of Ethio Telecom’s shares, Viettel will still consider this option if it is suitable with Viettel’s investment strategies,” the official said.

Other foreign telecoms companies that have expressed their interest in one of Africa’s last remaining monopoly markets include South Africa's MTN and France’s Orange.

Safaricom is also in advanced talks to introduce M-Pesa mobile money service there. Vodafone will licence the use of the M-Pesa brand to an Ethiopian-based bank while Safaricom will host servers in Nairobi. Ethio telecom will carry the service.