The biggest Loser in the Zambian Mobile Wars

When the announcement came in from ZICTA that the fourth mobile license was awarded to Unitel International Holdings BV, we pictured two contrasting moments. On one hand, we pictured Isabel Dos Santos (the daughter of Angola’s former president) having something to smile about following her part owned (25% stake) telcom company winning the license, while on the other hand a management team that was probably scratching their heads as to how their story would continue with data only services in a highly competitive Zambian market.

We already published (“Echoes of a 4th mobile player in Zambia”) what the implications are for competitive forces in an arena that has seen a customer base reached the 12 million subscribers. Although some experts argue that the numbers may be slightly on the up end due to subscribers having multiple devices which had data needs, the appetite for mobile services is approaching maturity.

The new player on the market will most definitely be coming into Zambia with a quest for market share. According to an Angolan doing business report, Unitel are the largest mobile operator in Angola. They are a private company which was established in 2001 through a joint stock deal that brought together Oi and Helios (Backed by Africatel), Sonangol (parastatal oil company), Geni Holding and Isabel dos Santos’ Vidatel.

Unitel is one of the 5 mobile companies in Angola that owns fiber optic network that forms part of the country’s national backbone. It will come as no surprise if the pledged $350 million will include a strategy that has fibre in mind. Furthermore, with Angolan Cables in close proximity to Unitel at the port of Luanda with their undersea cable to South America makes an attractive prospect for more options for the Zambian internet space.

With four players on the market, perfect competition is now being realized. Incumbent Telcos will move to ensure they protect their market share. A look back to the epilogue of 2017 with Airtel that started a price war as their early Christmas present to competitors, having a new player come on board will only make the dynamics of this industry even more interesting.

As data prices plummet, the biggest loser will be the player in the mobile war that fails to differentiate itself from competitors. It’s no secret that all players will be fighting for the same market. However, through differentiation of product offering, finding the right combination could make the difference before high or low margins. Knowledge of individual product offerings will be the key as perfect competition matures in the mobile industry in Zambia.

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