Telecommunications Giant: The Rise & Success MTN

To understand how MTN became one of most successful telecommunications companies in the world, lets take it back to the year 1994, when MTN was incorporated under the name M-Cell with assistance from the government, it was the 2nd company after Vodacom to be awarded a mobile license in South Africa.

In 1995, M-Cell listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, in the same year, the company started offering free calls to emergency services for the first time in the country.

In 1996, M-Cell acquired South Africa’s biggest service provider in M-Tel. The company also launched the prepaid solution PayAsYouGo and made SMSs available to its customers. In 1997, MTN acquired the services provider Transtel Cellular.

Having already established itself in South Africa, M-Cell expanded its footprint by obtaining mobile licences in Uganda, Swaziland, and Rwanda in 1998. By early 2000, M-Cell started operating in Cameroon following the acquisition of Camtel.

In 2001, M-Cell acquired its mobile licence in Nigeria, and started building its radio transmission backbone. Subsequently, Nigeria has become the company’s growth engine, where it holds about 35% market share.

Phuthuma Nhleko

Phuthuma Nhleko joined MTN in 2001 as chairman and was promoted to group president and CEO in 2002, where he lead the company for nine years.

Following Nhleko’s appointment, the company was rebranded to MTN(Mobile Telephone Networks)

Before Nhleko took over, the company was only present in six countries. Under his reign, MTN expanded across the African continent and the Middle East through a series of acquisitions.

In 2005, the company acquired interests in operators in Botswana, Republic of Congo, Zambia, Iran, and Côte d’Ivoire.

MTN acquired the entire share capital of Investcom in 2006 for $5.5 billion, expanding to an additional 10 countries including Cyprus, Benin, Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Guinea, making the group one of the world’s fastest growing telecommunications players.

Nhleko stepped down as CEO of MTN in March 2010. By the time he left, the company had recorded 165 million subscribers across all its operations.

“I have given this decision very careful consideration. I feel it is the right time to secure the next generation of leadership for the group and the right time for me personally to start thinking about the next phase of my career,”

Following Nhleko’s departure, MTN continued growing in the telecom space and also ventured in other sectors.

In 2013, the company partnered with Rocket Internet to enhance the internet in Africa and the Middle East. In 2015, MTN acquired the telecom and media company, Smart Village, and started out rolling fiber to the homes across South Africa.

In 2018, MTN partnered with China Mobile, KaiOS Technologies, and UNISOC to launch Africa’s First 3G Smart Feature Phone.

In 2018, MTN launched Supersonic, an internet service to provide fibre internet. In 2021, SuperSonic introduced AirFibre, a 5G-based mobile data service.

In March 2022, MTN unveiled its new identity, which entails not just a logo redesign but a refreshed platform design that drives simplicity and serves not only to position the brand globally but also to create in-country relevance across all its markets.

Today, MTN has 232+ million mobile subscribers and 20 million mobile money subscribers throughout operations in 23 countries.

Who Owns MTN?

According to MTN’s financial statements for 2021, Standard Bank leads the pack with a majority shareholding of 46.78%, followed by the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) with a 22.01% stake, see the table below for the full list of shareholders:

MTN shareholding structure


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