Smile Raises $365 Million for African Wireless Expansion

  • National 4G coverage in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda this year
  • Targeting 1 million mobile broadband customers before 2017

Smile Telecoms Holdings Ltd., which offers wireless Internet access in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, raised $365 million in debt and equity financing to develop faster connections and extend broadband services to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Port Louis, Mauritius-based company plans to increase the number of its African broadband customers by more than 10-fold to 1 million before 2017, Chief Executive Officer Irene Charnley said in an interview on Tuesday. She declined to disclose Smile’s revenue.

“Fixed-line infrastructure in Africa is non-existent, especially in countries outside of South Africa,” Charnley, a former MTN Group Ltd. executive, said by phone. “We will have national coverage of 4G mobile wireless broadband in each of our markets. The take-up is very, very, very fast.”

Mobile-phone and Internet companies are expanding in sub-Saharan Africa to take advantage of growing demand for affordable smartphones, which can be used for banking services and video content as well as calls. MTN, the continent’s biggest wireless carrier, increased data revenue 21 percent in the six months through June, while total sales fell 4.9 percent.

South Africa’s Public Investment Corp., the continent’s largest money manager, invested $50 million in Smile, according to a statement from the company Tuesday. The balance came from a consortium of investors led by Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank, which included Lagos-based Diamond Bank Plc, Ecobank Nigeria Ltd. and Standard Chartered Plc. Smile is majority owned by Al Nahla Group of Saudi Arabia.

The carrier will use the funds to expand its mobile-broadband network and have stable voice services across its markets by the year-end. Smile is set to introduce its broadband network in the Democratic Republic of Congo in early 2016.

The company plans to have positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization before the second quarter of 2016 and will probably seek an initial public offering in 2019, Charnley said. Smile seeks to expand into South Africa when the government auctions its 800 megahertz band of spectrum, she said.

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