While so much is known about the scramble for African mobile business by large international operators like France Telecom, Vodafone and Bharti, very little is known about the Vietnam involvement in Africa. The military operated Vietnamese telecommunication giant, Viettel, has invested in mobile networks in Cameroon, Mozambique and Burundi and they may also enter Kenya and Tanzania. In this article, we feature the penetration of Viettel into Mozambique through its subsidiary, Movitel Mozambique.
Movitel Mozambique was first licensed to operate a mobile network in 2011 when it won the third mobile operator license. By then, only mCel, the incumbent mobile subsidiary of the national operator, Telecomunicações de Moçambique (TDM) and Vodacom operated mobile networks.
In just about a year after licensing, Movitel Mozambique had built 12,600 kilometres of fiber optic cable and 1,800 mobile base stations throughout Mozambique. The fiber network represented 70% of the total national fiber optic cable network and its base stations represented 50% of the country’s mobile base stations. Movitel had helped triple the density of Mozambique’s telecommunication infrastructure – significantly increasing fiber reach and the number of mobile base stations per one million inhabitants by 2-3 times. The Movitel network became one of the world’s fastest growing telecommunication networks, placing a country that was once known for starvation and war at the top three nations in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of fiber optic cable deployment.
Unlike most African operators who hesitate to deploy mobile networks deep into underserved areas, Movitel turned mobile communications into a basic need by penetrating the most remote areas of Mozambique. Its unique strategy of investing in large, Greenfield networks to cover the entire nation, including rural and remote areas is not only expanding the company’s subscriber base, but will lead to sustainable social development where it is needed the most.
Perhaps Movitel Mozambique got a competitive advantage by negotiating a deal with Electricidade de Moçambique (EDM), the Mozambican power company, which facilitated rapid overhead fiber deployment across the country. By getting the rights to deploy fiber over power lines, Movitel had the distinct advantage of not having to waste time negotiating for underground rights of way that are usually very difficult to obtain and sometimes too expensive to acquire in Africa. Moreover the upfront costs of rolling out fiber cable over power lines are significantly lower than that of rolling it underground.
By the end of 2013, Movitel’s subscriber base had passed the three million mark, prompting the government to issue it with an expanded number range, using the ‘87’ prefix. Movitel now cover approximately 80% of Mozambique with an assortment of 2G and 3G networks.