Monday, 7 January 2008

Visafone Buys Bourdex Telecom

By Shina Badaru

Visafone Communications Limited has closed a deal to buy 100 per cent stakes in Bourdex Telecom, a private telecoms company headquartered in Aba, Abia State. With good footprint in the telecoms market in the eastern part of the country it plans to consolidate its planned rollout of national telephony service.

Technology Times sources in the know of the transaction confirmed that Visafone, promoted by MD/CEO of Zenith Bank International Plc, Mr. Jim Ovia, and lead promoter of Boudex Telecom, who is also Chairman, President, CEO, and founder of the private telecoms player, Mr. David Ogba Onuoha, finalised the transaction in December last year. The price could not be confirmed at press time. The latest buy is viewed by industry analysts as a veritable platform to fast-track Visafone's entry into the telecoms market under its proposed plan to provide national service in the unified telecoms market.

This will allow players to offer mobile, fixed, data and a bouquet of other telecoms services with relatively minimal restrictions after the five-year market exclusivity granted GSM operators expired in February 2006. Visafone, the cherry-picking new entrant has lately earned more than passing interest among industry players when in one fell swoop it acquired two PTOs, Cellcom and Independent Telephone Network (ITN), just after clinching three carrier licences in the 800MHz spectrum band sold at N400 million by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last year.

So far, attention has focused on Ovia's entry into the market which has seen the banker aggressively snapping up relatively smaller market players like Cellcom, Independet Telephone Network (ITN) and lately Bourdex Telecom to build a formidable Visafone. Industry players reckon that Ovia's Visafone may be a player to watch in the new dispensation but are also quick to caution that, "extreme innovation and product segmentation" may need to be pushed harder than would have hitherto been needed. They say the result is as the creme of the market has been captured by the more aggressive mobile operators whose rapid service uptake has seen them raking up over 90 per cent of the overall telecoms market subscriber base that peaked at some 46 million users at the end of third quarter of 2007.

According to information obtained from the company’s website, Bourdex claims it offers, "better services, with larger, second to none coverage of the entire Eastern Nigeria and Niger Delta". According to the company, it has extended dial tone to towns like Asaba, Nnewi, Owerri, Abiriba, Item, Enugu-Ukwu and Onitsha. Others include Orlu, Mbaise, Ohafia, Nkporo, Mgbidi, Awka, Nkwere, Umuahia, Igbere and Arochukwu. It also extends to Ihiala, Abam, Isukwuato, Uturu, Uyo, Oko, Okija, Eket, Port Hartcourt, Bonny, Calabar and Ekwulobia. Bourdex was among the four new companies to obtain unified access service licences from the regulator including others like MTN, VGC Communications Limited, Dan Jay Telecoms Limited, Starcomms, Intercellular, Multi Links and Prestel, among others.

To cross the regulator's bar for unified licence, an operator must have an existing and operating network infrastructure; a minimum subscriber base of 10,000 or justifiable evidence of financial capability for substantial network rollout. It should also be up-to-date on submission of annual audited acc-ounts. Additionaly, the applicant must be up-to-date on payment of company tax, must be up-to-date with equipment type approval and in settlement of interconnection obligations. While telecoms market leader, MTN, was the first GSM network to secure a unified licence, PTOs have also show interest in the emerging dispensation opened by the market reform to enable them offer mobile roaming on their fixed wireless network with majority favouring the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology.

CellCom, a privately-owned phone company was in June last year bought by Visafone through his wholly-owned Internet Service Provider (ISP), Cyberspace Limited. Hitherto, Visafone emerged as winner of three carrier licences in the 800MHz spectrum band sold at N400 million by NCC while beating three other contenders including an existing player, Multi-Links Telecommunications Limited and two other new players, GiCell Wireless Limited and TC Africa Telecoms Network Limited to the spectrum favoured by CDMA operators. Visafone, which has licence to operate in 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is being integrated into the newly-acquired CellCom network as part of plans by the banker to evolve a major telecoms service provider in the new year.

Visafone's new licence (800 MHz Assignments, Rx MHz 881.31 882.57 883.83, Tx MHz 836.31 837.57 838.83) allows the company to roll out commercial service in 26 states including Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara and Edo. Others are Delta, Benue, Kogi and Niger. Others include Nasarawa, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto and FCT (Abuja).

Ahead of Ovia's stakes in these top telecoms deals, South African mobile company, the MTN Group, had bought VGC Communications in a $65 million deal that added the fixed line player to its mobile network. Another South African company, Telkom SA also acquired 75 per cent stakes in Multi-Links, the nation's pioneer PTO in a $280 million deal that has placed its existing subscribers and long distance operator (LDO) licence in the control of the South African fixed line service.

Market consolidation in which bigger players have gobbled up their smaller phone companies have been set off since unified access service (UAS) was introduced first quarter of 2006 after the five-year market exclusivity granted GSM operators lapsed.

Sourced from This Day Newspaper 07-01-2008

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