Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Africa Defeats World’s Biggest Mobile Carriers

Many cell phone companies are rethinking their headlong rush into the continent. Only Orange is staying the course.
People use their mobile phones while waiting to board a ferry in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

People use their mobile phones while waiting to board a ferry in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Photographer: Jose Cendon/Bloomberg

Back when African countries were auctioning off mobile licenses by the boatload to serve the region’s young, tech-savvy population, investing in the continent’s fast-growing economies seemed like a no-brainer. Some of the world’s biggest wireless carriers rushed in.

Now they’re wondering if they made a mistake. Increasing government and regulatory scrutiny, as well as a lack of expansion opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, are making it harder for operators such as Vodafone Group Plc, Orange SA and Bharti Airtel Ltd. to grow. Their choice: Pull back or double down.