ECONET MULLS MULTI-BILLION LISTING OF LIQUID TELECOM

Econet Group founder Strive Masiyiwa has said he is considering a separate listing next year for subsidiary Liquid Telecom which currently is probably the largest operator of fibre and business satellite services on the African continent.

Masiyiwa, who is the Econet Group Executive Chairman said Econet had decided to go for a listing of Liquid after spurning several multibillion dollar offers for its subsidiary. "We have received several unsolicited offers for Liquid, but we want it to remain an independent access provider for Internet in Africa. We are going to raise more capital in market and strengthen its market leadership in this vital space,” he said.

He confirmed that Econet Group had already appointed advisors for the potential listing of Liquid at one of the major European exchanges. "We are looking at one of the European exchanges and we will finalise that early in the new year."

Liquid Telecom has been growing rapidly over the last few years fuelled by the demand for infrastructure to support broadband Internet on the African continent. The company, which has so far built a fibre optic network that spans 15 African countries from South Africa, all the way to the border of South Sudan in East Africa, now wants to move into West Africa.

Masiyiwa said: “Although Liquid has a presence in satellite and payment systems in West Africa, the terrestrial fibre side is missing, and we want to correct that, as our customers must have a seamless service from East to West, North to South. It has always been our core mission. We currently occupy the unique position of being the only company with a network that spans many different countries, as an independent access provider."

Liquid Telecom has managed to position itself as an open access fibre and satellite infrastructure provider used by almost all the major mobile network providers in Africa. Its customers include Airtel Africa, MTN, Orange, Tigo, and Vodafone, as well as its own sister company Econet Wireless. Last week the company signed an agreement with Bharti Airtel to use its existing network, as well as build additional infrastructure.

Masiyiwa said the current demand for its fibre network means it will build an additional 20,000 km in just the next three years. The continent's leading banks, retail groups and mining groups are also using Liquid increasingly to link up their own pan African business operations. More recently Liquid has turned its attention to building what it calls a 'Content Delivery Network' (Liquid CDN) for the growing number of companies providing video entertainment services including streaming, that require high capacity bandwidth.

 "The level of system reliability required to offer service to the likes of Netflix is very high, and we are the only ones in a position to do that end to end across Africa. It will however require much more investment, that is why we are now looking at a return to the capital markets,” Masiyiwa said.

Masiyiwa said he favours the listing of subsidiary companies rather than that of his privately held Econet Group. He explained that his group's telecoms operations have three main subsidiaries, all of which are not listed.

Econet Wireless is the best known part of the Group, which focuses on telecommunication services, such as mobile network services. It has operations and investments in ten countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Burundi, Nigeria, Nigeria, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, and New Zealand. Liquid Telecom focuses on satellite and fibre optic infrastructure for primarily corporate customers, including other telecoms providers. Liquid Telecom has operations in 15 countries directly.

Another Econet Group company known as Cassava Connect focuses on the group's growing interest in mobile financial services. It is also a B2B businesses supporting mobile network operators developing things like mobile banking, and insurance services. Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is part of Econet Wireless, is the only listed subsidiary in the group, which often creates the impression that it is the holding company of the group.

"Econet Wireless Zimbabwe was our first business which was started nearly 20 years ago, but it is confined to the Zimbabwe market. It is not the holding company for all our businesses." Masiyiwa explained.

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