NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 9 – Mobile communications brand Zain is set to be rebranded to Airtel from October this year, in line with the acquisition of Kuwait’s Zain African assets by India\’s biggest provider Bharti Airtel.
Addressing journalists in Nairobi on Friday, Bharti Airtel International Chief Executive Officer Manoj Kohli said the company is going to invest $150 million (Sh12.2 billion) in upgrading its network infrastructure and capacity to reach more people.
“The market has fantastic potential and Africa is the last frontier for mobile telephony and will catalise the economic growth of the continent,” Mr Kohli said.
Mr Kohli did not hide Bharti’s objective to be a major player in the telecoms space in the country saying, “Bharti Airtel is about leadership. Whichever market we enter, we enter with a clear vision for leadership.”
Bharti is however not blind to the market leadership enjoyed by Safaricom with Mr Kohli saying they were prepared for the fight. Bharti aims to flex its muscle in the market with a well spelt out strategy with major focus on the lower-end of the market.
The operator believes its competitors in the market have long focused on providing services to those in urban centers leaving a virtually untapped market in the rural areas.
“We believe that the rural geography in Kenya is very important. The small towns of Kenya are a bit neglected and we believe with our entry we will be able to cover 90 percent of rural areas,” Mr Kohli said.
Bharti has already curved a name for itself in India where it operates a mass-market model that is expected to be replicated in Kenya as well as other African operations.
The acquisition of Zain Africa was Bharti’s third attempt to enter the largely untapped African market after a failed merger with South African telecom giant MTN on two occasions.
“We are pleased with the deal with Zain which has given us a launch pad into 15 countries,” he said.
Countries in which Bharti has acquired operations include Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Ghana.
Others are Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
“We plan to establish ourselves with Kenyans by winning the hearts of customers by giving them affordable services.”
Bharti has hailed plans to introduce mobile number portability (MNP) arguing it would give customers freedom to express themselves with the operator of their choice.
Bharti is now the fifth largest mobile telecom company in the world, with over 180 million customers.
It is expected the company will set up its African head quarters in Nairobi, with Jayant Khosla, formerly of Essar, heading operations in English-speaking African countries.
Bharti also plans to establish a Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) centre as a means to diversify its product offering in the market.