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Johannesburg - MTN, Africa's leading mobile network, said on Wednesday that group revenue including Nigeria - where it ran into regulatory problems last year - had been bolstered in the quarter ended March.

MTN said that group total revenue had increased by 7.1 percent in March, and that data revenue had grown by a third.

It said data revenue was 29.4 percent higher year-on-year and had contributed 20 percent to total revenue in the March quarter.

The growth in revenue included a 4.1 percent increase in service revenue in its South African unit, an 11.6 percent growth in MTN Nigeria’s total revenue and a 19.3 percent higher total revenue at Irancell in Iran where the company managed to repatriate R6.3 billion last year.

Brian Neilson, a director at BMI-Techknowledge, said growth in data revenue numbers was in line with global and local trends.

“The 11.6 percent increase in revenue in Nigeria is particularly impressive given MTN’s challenges in Nigeria in the past year or so,” Neilson said.

The company paid a $1.6 billion (R21.34 billion) fine for missing a deadline for SIM cards in Nigeria.

The 4.1 percent increase in service revenue in South Africa was supported by data and digital revenue, which increased by 17.8 percent and 20.3 percent, respectively.

Outgoing voice revenue declined 5.4 percent year-on-year as billable minutes declined by 7.5 percent, MTN said.

The company also said that in South Africa it was expanding its network with 515 LTE sites and 53 3G sites going live, and it now had a strong network performance in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban.

Read also: MTN Nigeria retrenches staff

MTN’s South African subscribers had declined in the quarter as a result of traditional seasonality.

“We remain committed to our net additions guidance of 630 000,” MTN said.

In Nigeria, subscribers declined by 2.3 percent in the quarter.

“This was impacted by new regulations that require all subscriber connections to take place in permanent brick and mortar structures.

“This led to a marked reduction in gross connections across the industry,” the company said.

MTN said MTN Nigeria had also continued with the process of excluding subscribers whose only activity is receiving incoming SMSes.

Despite the challenging economic conditions, MTN Nigeria continued to execute on its network roll-out plans with a particular focus on the data network.

“This remains a key element in the group’s medium-term growth strategy,” the company said.

MTN shares closed 2.51 percent lower at R123.62 on the JSE.