• Nigeria, Kenya, S. Africa has 35.5 million monthly customers
  • Sub-saharan Africa satelite to be launched before year end

Facebook Inc. increased the number of regular users in its three biggest African markets by 13 percent in the nine months through March as the U.S. social network intensified growth plans on the continent.

The company added 4 million account holders who use the network at least once a month in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, Africa Chief Executive Officer Nunu Ntshingila told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday. That increased the total across the three countries to 35.5 million, including 16 million in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

The growth has been led by Ntshingila, the former chairman of U.K. advertiser WPP Plc’s Ogilvy & Mather agency in South Africa, who joined Facebook when the company opened its first African office in Johannesburg a year ago. To overcome obstacles such as the lack of high-speed connectivity on the continent, the company started products that need less data, including Facebook Lite.

“We bring products that talk to certain of the challenges that we see in Africa,” Ntshingila said. “Facebook Lite does not take the same amount of data as your other products.”

The social-networking service has also partnered with telecommunications companies Bharti Airtel Ltd. of India and South Africa’s Cell C Pty Ltd. on product offerings, she said.

Facebook said last year it had agreed with Paris-based Eutelsat Communications SA to launch a satellite to provide internet to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The move will take place before the end of the year, according to Ntshingila.

“Facebook will fast forward the rate of people connecting to the internet,” she said.

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