File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - MTN first-half profit increased and data revenue soared while Africa’s largest wireless operator said it’s in advanced talks to sell its tower business in Nigeria.

Headline earnings per share, which exclude one-time items, rose 9 percent to 7.29 rand in the six months through June, the Johannesburg-based company said today in a statement.

Sales grew 11 percent to 72.8 billion rand, with data revenue up 39 percent.

Data sales were boosted by an expanded third-generation network and an increase in smartphone use across the 22 countries in which it operates, chief executive Sifiso Dabengwa said in the statement.

Subscribers to MTN Mobile Money - used for payment in areas where banks are limited - grew by 24 percent to 18.4 million people.

The shares gained 3.2 percent to 224.50 rand as of 9:44 a.m in Johannesburg, the biggest intraday rise since February 6.

“Voice revenue continued to be impacted by aggressive competition, regulatory pressures and a weakening economic environment in key markets,” Dabengwa said.

MTN plans to sell 8,640 existing Nigeria towers and 543 under development to an entity that will be managed by a large mobile telecommunications infrastructure provider, the company said.

MTN intends to keep a non-controlling interest of 51 percent in the new entity and will enter into a lease agreement for the use of the tower infrastructure.


Smartphone Penetration


MTN is seeking transformational deals and has overhauled senior management in its fastest growing markets as it seeks to increase smartphone penetration and boost data revenue outside South Africa, where sales are under pressure from competitors cutting prices and regulators.

Total subscribers increased 3.5 percent to 215 million with 1.7 million net additions in Nigeria, its biggest market with 58.4 million customers.

In South Africa, sales declined 7 percent to 19.2 billion rand.

An interim dividend of 4.45 rand was declared, up 20 percent.

The company is working closely with relevant authorities in managing US and EU sanctions against Iran, Syria and Sudan, it said. - Bloomberg News