JOHANNESBURG - Mobile operator MTN is focused on laying the groundwork for an initial public offering (IPO) of its Nigerian business and should complete the process in the next six months, says chief executive Rob Shuter.

“We have a lot of advisers running around getting everything ready,” he said in an interview yesterday. “It’s a complicated process and there’s a lot of regulation that needs to be arranged. We are moving forward well with the project and anticipate concluding that in the next six months or so.”

MTN agreed to the Lagos IPO as part of the settlement of a $1billion (R14.1bn) fine imposed by Nigerian regulators on MTN in 2015. Africa’s biggest wireless operator by sales incurred the penalty after missing a deadline to disconnect unregistered subscribers amid a security crackdown.

Since then, Shuter said he’s been “pleased” with MTN’s operation in Nigeria, the biggest of the Johannesburg-based company’s 22 markets across Africa and the Middle East.

Shuter, 50, joined MTN in March after holding executive roles at Vodafone Group in Europe. He is the permanent replacement for Sifiso Dabengwa, who resigned after the Nigerian fine was imposed. Chairperson Phuthuma Nhleko had run the company in the interim period. MTN’s two other main countries are Iran and South Africa.

In the former, Shuter said the company isn’t “holding back” on expansion plans even as US President Donald Trump objects to the terms of a nuclear deal that led to the lifting of economic sanctions last year.

MTN has about 49.5million customers in Iran, just under Nigeria’s 50.3million, and has repatriated almost $1bn from the country in the last 12 months.

“We are putting a lot of investment into the ground in Irancell,” Shuter said. “There is a huge demand for mobile data there; it's one of our fastest-growing data markets. It's business as usual.”

MTN has no immediate plans to expand into new countries. The company needs to “build what we need to and get our networks into shape,” Shuter said. “In months to come I think there will be an opportunity to participate in the consolidation of the market.”

MTN shares rose 0.24percent on the JSE yesterday to close at R123.07.

- BLOOMBERG