Vodafone Is Said to Prepare Bid for Zambia Mobile License

  • U.K. company already provides data service through Afrimax
  • MTN, Bharti Airtel currently dominate Zambian phone market

Vodafone Group Plc is preparing a bid for a new mobile-phone license in Zambia that will enable the U.K. company to add voice services to its data product in the southern African country, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Winning the auction would give Newbury, England-based Vodafone a way of expanding Zambia operations run by local partner Afrimax, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the company hasn’t made its intentions public. The successful bidder would be competing with Johannesburg-based MTN Group Ltd., the country’s market leader with more than 48 percent market share, India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. and state-owned Zamtel.

The government has given the green light to Zambia’s telecommunications regulator to start the process of awarding the country’s fourth mobile-phone license, Transport and Communications Minister Brian Mushimba said on Monday. The new operator could be in place within a year, he said.

The impending auction represents a rare opportunity for international mobile-phone companies to expand in a growing African market without making an acquisition. Zambia, Africa’s second-biggest copper producer with a population of more than 16 million, had 12.4 million active mobile subscribers at the end of June, 10 percent more than a year before, according to data from the finance ministry.

“At an appropriate and opportune time, Vodafone Zambia will make a comprehensive statement,” Vodafone Zambia spokesman Mukuka Mulenga said in emailed response to questions.

Vodafone operates in Africa mainly through majority ownership of Johannesburg-based Vodacom Group Ltd., MTN’s cross-town rival. It retains a standalone business in Ghana, while Afrimax also operates a Vodafone-branded data provider in Cameroon.

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