JOHANNESBURG – South African cellular operator MTN is in talks with Naspers’ MultiChoice pay-TV business to provide television on mobile phones by 2010, a top company official said on Wednesday.
Buckley McGrath, head of MTN South Africa’s corporate business unit, told reporters MTN was in talks with existing players about providing pay-TV via mobile handsets. Asked whether this meant MultiChoice, he said: “yes”.
“We think it is a viable commercial offering and we are looking at an offering with existing players,” he said. “It is a long-term thing, maybe in 2008, definitely before 2010.”
McGrath said MTN hoped to get the service up and running in the next few years, with commercial services available by 2010, when South Africa is due to host the soccer World Cup.
MultiChoice has a monopoly on pay-TV services in South Africa. The communications regulator has invited bids for rival licenses but has not awarded them yet. Fixed-line operator Telkom applied for a license, as did public broadcaster SABC.
Vodacom, MTN’s main rival in South Africa, has also expressed interest in pay-TV via mobile phone once the technology is ready, but was not on the list of 18 applicants for pay-TV licenses issued by the regulator this month.
MTN, Vodacom and third-ranked Cell C all tested the mobile TV technology during this year’s soccer World Cup but have yet to launch commercially.
McGrath also said MTN had been approached by several companies hoping to offer their own mobile phone services by piggybacking on the MTN network, including by several of South Africa’s major retailers.
Under South Africa’s new electronics communications act, which became law in July, so-called mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), which brand and sell cellular services but use the network of an existing network, are now legal.
Virgin Mobile, owned by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, was the first MVNO to launch in Africa’s biggest economy, becoming the country’s fourth operator by using Cell C’s network.
A flurry of new service providers in Africa’s biggest market could help lower tariffs that consumer groups say are too high.
McGrath said MTN had been approached by South Africa’s major retailers with MVNO propositions but that none so far made good business sense.
“We will look at each one and consider if it makes sense. We will always look at opportunities to gain more customers and market share…(but) it has to be very special,” he said.
McGrath said that taking on a virtual service provider would mean building more network capacity, so it would have to be a committed, long-term partner that would provide a decent chunk of new customers.
MTN is South Africa’s second-ranked cell phone firm after Vodacom, joint-owned by Telkom and Vodafone, but has a much bigger presence in the rest of the continent and recently made its first foray into the Middle East.
MTN shares dipped 0.50 percent to 61.60 rand by 1413 GMT, lagging a slightly weaker Top-40 index of blue-chip.
Fuente: Reuters, Rebecca Harrison