MTN is Zambia’s biggest mobile-phone operator by subscribers

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MTN Group Ltd. (MTN) leapfrogged India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. (BHARTI) to become Zambia’s biggest mobile-phone operator by subscribers as of the end of March, figures from the nation’s telecommunications authority show.

MTN Zambia Ltd., the local unit of the Africa’s biggest wireless operator, had a subscriber base of 4.26 million people, compared with Bharti’s 4.04 million, according to the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority. Mumbai-based Bharti had more registered customers as of March 31, with 3.54 million against 3.49 million for MTN.

Zambia’s regulator ordered mobile-phone operators to terminate the services of customers who hadn’t registered their numbers by Jan. 31. Bharti has more subscribers in rural areas who took longer to register or didn’t comply with the regulations, said Joseph Kafwariman, customer services director at the Zambian unit of India’s largest mobile-phone operator.

“We realized after the cut-off date that people in a number of rural areas weren’t even aware of the registration requirements,” Kafwariman said yesterday in an interview in Lusaka, the capital. “We are planning to go deep into these areas and get these customers back.”

MTN Zambia, a unit of the Johannesburg-based telecommunications company that assembled an emerging-markets mobile empire through acquisitions, declined to comment.

Improved Quality

Zambia had a mobile-penetration rate of 73 percent last year, down from 78 percent in 2012 because of a 1.2 percent drop in subscribers and a growing population, the Finance Ministry said in a report in March. Bharti’s subscribers fell 3.8 percent last year, while MTN grew by 7.5 percent because of an improved network quality, the 2013 annual economic report said.

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