AMN to pump $550m into African mobile infrastructure

UK-based Africa Mobile Networks (AMN) has announced it will invest $550 million over 3 years to build mobile network infrastructure to offer network access services to licensed mobile network operators throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

AMN builds and operates mobile network base stations in rural areas in Africa. The AMN base stations are connected to the core 2G/3G network of the licensed mobile operator and provide voice and data services to the operator’s subscribers. AMN offers a compelling and risk-free proposition for mobile operators, to extend the operator’s existing coverage deep into the rural areas and acquire new subscribers and generate incremental revenues with guaranteed margins and no capex.

The AMN proposition to the mobile operator is as follows: 

  •     AMN builds and operates the mobile base stations, at no cost to the operator
  •     The base stations, including 2G and/or 3G BTS, are integrated into the operator’s existing core (MSC and/or SGSN/GGSN) network switching and billing infrastructure, via an AMN-supplied BSC
  •     Network access is provided to the operator’s subscribers in rural areas which are not currently served by any of the operators
  •     A simple revenue-share commercial model is used to guarantee positive margins and EBITDA for the operator

The AMN technology is proven and has been widely deployed throughout Africa. Mobile base stations in commercial service in rural Africa today are generating up to 400,000 voice minutes of traffic per month with an average across all sites so far commercially deployed of 240,000 voice minutes and 6,000 SMS per month from an average population of 4,400 people. The technology has been integrated and is in commercial services with many operators including 3 of the largest pan-African operators and others.

The AMN technology is highly-optimised for rural applications, where the requirement is for large cell sizes with low capacity and also very high reliability. Key features of the AMN technology include: 

  •     High-power (10W) transmitter, combined with a 30-metre tower, for maximum range (up to 10Km) and coverage (up to 300 square kilometres with a single base station)
  •     Small capacity for minimum power consumption and cost, with modular expansion as traffic and revenues grow
  •     Photo-voltaic ("solar") power system, for high reliability and low maintenance and cost (and no reliance on grid or diesel power)
  •     Satellite ("VSAT") communication link, for unrestricted connectivity to core network from any location

AMN says its low capex and low opex solution minimises total cost of ownership for a mobile base station and enables small populations to be served economically. All AMN sites are initially deployed with 2G functionality and 2TRx capacity combined with omni-directional antennas (in an O2 configuration) and are expandable as traffic volumes grow up to an O6/S222 configuration supporting both 2G and 3G services. The 2G functionality supports GSM voice and high-speed EDGE data services, and operates in the 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands.

The AMN investment is intended to fill a major gap which exists currently in many developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, between the population currently served by mobile network services and the total population which can be served economically. This gap exists because of limitations on affordable capital for the mobile operators, which means that limited capex is focused on technology upgrades and coverage improvements in the densely-populated urban areas. Currently (in 2013) only around 66% of sub-Saharan Africa’s 830 million population (14% of the world’s total) is served by at least one mobile operator, and this is projected to grow only to 74% by the end of 2015, leaving more than 200 million people with no telecoms services whatsoever. Of these 200 million people, it is estimated that nearly 140 million can be served economically. AMN will initially build 5,000 base stations across 12 countries over the next 3 years, initially serving a population of some 40 million people and generating a projected 20 million new subscribers worth in the region of $650 million in airtime revenues per annum.

AMN is raising $375 million of new investment, as a combination of both equity and debt, to fund the $550 million project.

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