MTN Group works to bridge the digital divide, connects 100 million to the internet

Access to the internet has the power to change lives and bridge inequalities and MTN Group reached a significant milestone by recording 100 million active data users on its networks across Africa and the Middle East.

“We believe that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life,” said MTN Group president and CEO Rob Shuter. “We are delighted to have connected 100 million of our customers to the power of the internet as we have increased data coverage and reduced the cost to communicate across our markets.”

MTN has a total base of more than 257 million customers in 21 markets. Growth through scaling data and digital services is central to its strategy. The group is overcoming the barriers to greater mobile internet adoption by extending its 3G and 4G coverage, accelerating smartphone adoption and transforming prices.

In the past three years, well over 100 million more people in MTN’s footprint have been covered by its data network. This brings the group’s network coverage for data services to beyond 480 million people. However, about 60% of rural populations in Africa remain unconnected. To benefit from connectivity, they need affordable devices as well as the digital literacy to easily access relevant and meaningful content.

To support smartphone adoption, in 2019 MTN distributed 675 000 affordable data-enabled handsets across 12 markets. It also launched a digital literacy programme in nine markets, helping over three million people improve their understanding of the mobile internet and applications.

Data affordability is also key. In 2018 and 2019, MTN reduced entry-level data rates across its footprint by 60%. In 2019 alone, it cut the effective data price per megabyte by 34%.

“We believe the consumer mobile data market will grow enormously over the next few years,” said Shuter. “The COVID-19 pandemic has served to accelerate the adoption of mobile data, digital services and financial services. As a result, we have recorded increases of up to 50% in data volumes in some markets, as work and studying from home becomes a reality for many.”

“Over time our ambition is to grow our customer base to 300 million and for at least 2/3 to be accessing the power of the internet on an MTN network – so  the 100 million achieved today marks the halfway mark in the MTN journey.”

MTN assists with the development of the Africa COVID Communications and Information Platform

Together with host nations and strategic partners, MTN has supported in the establishment of the Africa COVID Communications and Information Platform (ACCIP) driven by the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Africa Center for Disease Control (CDC) to assist countries on the continent respond to the impact of COVID-19.

The Platform launched today, aims to support each country’s national COVID-19 taskforce to enhance its ability to analyse the situation and implement the necessary responses, as well as direct resources to mitigate the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Together with the other partners, MTN has played a key role in the development of the platform as well as the creation and operationalisation of the mobile platform templates and operating protocols.

“As a pan-African company, we are vested in the continent’s development and its ability to rise out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before. Driven to enable digital and financial inclusion, we felt it important to use our technology, expertise and network for the good of Africa and its people,” said MTN Group president and CEO Rob Shuter.

“As we worked with the various partners to develop the platform, we were mindful of the realities faced in African markets where smartphone penetration and internet penetration are low. This platform offers free-to-use services using a combination of text and voice interactions,” he added.

Set to reach more than 600 million users across the continent, the ACCIP represents an impressive mix of high and low tech to take practical advantage of the richness of data generated by users of even simple 2G phones.

Anonymous user-generated survey data will be transmitted to an artificial intelligence-driven system which will then combine it with public information from social and other digital channels for targeted analysis.

The ACCIP platform will allow policymakers to share insights and harness data to inform decision making at a regional and national level for the benefit of local populations. National authorities will ultimately also be able to conduct community-level messaging for social welfare, facilitating cash distribution (including e-payments) or targeted information on local food distribution or the provision of clean water. When data shows emerging virus hotspots, authorities will be able to direct medical resources to those areas, as well as alert residents of their availability.

Ayoba provides connections and vital information during COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 has touched every part of Africa. Governments’ lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of the virus have meant many people have felt isolated from their friends, families and colleagues. But Africans are increasingly turning to mobile tech solutions, including Over-the-Top (OTT) applications, to keep in touch and to stay informed about the pandemic.

MTN in partnership with the Ayoba app allows MTN customers to connect with loved ones with no data costs. MTN has been offering zero-rated data for Ayoba in most of the 16 markets where it has been launched.  This translated into 6 144 terabytes of free data and ca. $147,7m value provided via Ayoba during the COVID-19 period.

“MTN’s is working to provide access to affordable communications so people in our markets can reap the social, economic and developmental dividends of being online,” says David Gilarranz, MTN’s executive for group digital services. “Leveraging our established customer base, MTN has built a digital ecosystem spanning OTT services in messaging, media and advertising that aims to bring more people into the digital world.”

 With lockdown measures still in place in many markets, the need for reliable information on COVID-19 has never been more critical. MTN customers are also benefiting from four dedicated Ayoba COVID-19 channels that provide vital information from relevant authorities at no data cost. In addition, MTN has added six channels for education, self-help, jobs and skills development information.

Since the beginning of April, Ayoba has reached over 2 million monthly active users. It offers users access to an ecosystem of digital and rich media services through channels, micro-apps and payment solutions, embedded within an African super-app.

At the same time, Ayoba is highly localised and tailored for African and Middle East consumer needs. The platform supports 20 languages spoken across our markets. Users can send and receive encrypted messages, share photos, videos, files and voice notes and can also subscribe to live channels. Localised content is available through curated channels aimed at entertaining, educating and empowering communities as well as a range of games.

Developed as an open digital platform that enables third-party innovation, Ayoba has the capacity to offer a rich and diversified experience. Businesses and content providers can engage with their customers using channels. Through this partnership with Ayoba, MTN delivers more value to the broader ecosystem of businesses, users and local developers and create experiences that are optimised for local communities.

Ayoba can be downloaded onto smartphones from the Google Play app store as well as the website.

MTN supporting fundraising campaign which benefits UNICEF and WFP’s COVID-19 response across Africa

This International Day of the African Child, MTN is pleased to be supporting the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to help mobilise funds for children and families across Sub-Saharan Africa affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MTN is doing this by enabling SMS fundraising throughout a month-long campaign to raise funds for those most severely impacted by the virus on the continent. All proceeds raised through the campaign will be donated in full to UNICEF and WFP, who are supporting COVID-19 affected communities across Africa.

The pandemic’s closure of schools is putting at risk the futures of millions of Africa’s children, compromising their ability to learn and their access at school to healthcare and food. Because of COVID-19, some 253 million children across the continent are not going to school and 65 million are missing out on school meals.

“Healthy, well-nourished kids have a much better chance of fulfilling their potential,” said Nompilo Morafo, MTN Group Executive for Corporate Affairs. “Inclusion is at the heart of MTN and this is why we decided to support the campaign by UNICEF and WFP to raise funds for health supplies and food.”

“The COVID-19 epidemic is affecting children in many ways” said Dr Jama Gulaid, UNICEF Representative in South Africa. “UNICEF appreciates the assistance of MTN which is helping us and our partners reach children with vital services: health, protection and water sanitation and education,” Gulaid added.

The World Food Programme Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro said, “With so many people on the continent already acutely food insecure, we are extremely concerned about the prospect of COVID-19 causing a hunger catastrophe.”

 In this unprecedented global crisis, the poorest and most vulnerable communities are the most at risk. Together we can give them a fighting chance with access to the basics: clean water, food, soap, gloves, and masks. The donations will help UNICEF and the World Food Programme deliver life-saving health supplies and nutritious food.

To donate: In SA, SMS “donate” to 42164 to donate to UNICEF and the WFP. SMS cost is R30. Network Fees Apply, closing date 30 June 2020. Rest of the world,

Significant transformation milestone reached as MTN SA achieves Level 1 BBBEE status

MTN SA’s commitment to transformation and improving access to mobile technology across SA has resulted in the company today achieving the significant milestone of Level 1 B-BBEE Contributor Status.

This achievement comes at a time when South Africa ramps up efforts to recover the economy and speed up the inclusion of Black Owned businesses in these efforts. MTN stands in strong support of government’s commitment to ensure that South African’s are able to benefit from transformation across business, employment and skills development.

The strategic intent was to reach this important level within three years, but MTN is proud to have reached its target in only two years thanks to the accelerated and concerted commitment of its entire team.

The result of this can be seen in the procurement spend with Black Owned vendors where in 2016 MTN spent R3.5 billion but by 2019 that had increased to R7.1 billion. In 2016 MTN had spent R9.2 billion with Black Women Owned vendors and this had increased to R10.5 billion in 2019.

“MTN believes in the future of SA but without broad levels of sustained and consistent inclusion and access to technology, the country will not reach its potential. To this end, our 4G coverage has reached 96% of our population, ensuring that we do not leave any township or village behind. We are extremely proud to have therefore reached Level 1 status ahead of target and look forward to doing even more to drive change and improve lives for all South Africans,” says MTN SA CEO, Godfrey Motsa.

MTN’s B-BBEE strategy identifies Enterprise and Supplier Development and Skills Development as two key focus areas.  “This strategy is premised on making our customer’s lives BRIGHTER by contributing to Shared Value creation through addressing socio-economic challenges at scale,” says Motsa.

Great strides were made in the last two years by focusing on the key strategic objectives.

“The powerful collaboration between business and team MTN to ensure alignment between the organisational strategies and the B-BBEE objectives has been a major factor behind our success,” he adds.

MTN intends to implement this winning strategy across all transformation touch points within the business. “This is just the beginning; we are pro-transformation and open for even more collaboration as we invite black business to engage even more with MTN going forward.”

“The re-alignment of our procurement policies resulted in notable traction in spend with Black Owned vendors seeing an increase of R2.2bn, Exempted Micro Enterprises which saw an increase of R448m and Black Designated Group suppliers with an increase of R272m in 2019,” Motsa explains.

It is also notable that MTN SA upheld its pledge of participating in and permanently appointing 1000 youth for the YES4Youth Programme as our contribution in addressing the youth unemployment challenges that our country faces. “This programme immediately proved to be a success for ourselves as we benefitted from a new talent pipeline and the YES4Youth cohort where permanent employment was created,” he adds.

“MTN was born in democracy and we believe that transformation is in our DNA. We will continue to demonstrate that through truly inclusive economic growth. As the country faces up to the socio-economic challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, MTN will leverage its firm foundation to ensure that all South Africans can enjoy the benefits of the digital world,” concludes Motsa.

COVID-19 triggers acceleration towards cashless, digital economies

The spread of COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of mobile financial services, which are increasingly being recognised as a tool to mitigate the use of cash in a world fighting the highly contagious virus.

This trend has been supported by the move by many operators, including MTN Group, to waive or reduce certain fees to ease customers’ financial pressures amid a global economic contraction.

“To date, as part of MTN’s Y’ello Hope response to COVID-19, we have zero-rated 120 million peer-to-peer Mobile Money transactions with a value of approximately R43 billion,” says Serigne Dioum, MTN Group executive for mobile financial services. “This has enabled many consumers and businesses across our 16 MoMo markets to transact and accept payments remotely, allowing them to continue operating despite lockdowns.”

 Mobile financial services have grown faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Prior to their introduction, most Africans were unbanked. Without bank accounts, people could not easily access credit and had no way of paying bills or transferring money electronically. Mobile financial services have improved access and the use of accounts, underpinning many of the UN’s SDGs.

“As many countries adopted partial or total lockdowns, we witnessed an evolution in the type and volume of Mobile Money transactions,” says Dioum. “We saw a significant increase in MoMo Pay merchant and bill payments despite an initial decline in Mobile Money agent transactions due to the restrictions. However, we have already started to see a gradual increase as restrictions have been eased.”

“These changes, triggered by COVID-19, have enabled the acceleration and scaling of cashless and digital economies. They support our ambition to transition to an end-to-end platform, creating a digital marketplace and connecting consumers to businesses, and businesses to businesses.

We see this as a significant opportunity to change the outlook for affordable, inclusive, understandable and comprehensive financial services in Africa and the Middle East.”

MTN’s plan to further financial inclusion is focused on offering mobile financial services to more customers and small businesses in more markets, expanding the range of products available via the MTN ecosystem and becoming a super platform. We have developed a low-cost payment acceptance solution for small retailers, enabling customers with feature phones to make payments with their MoMo wallets by dialling a USSD code with a feature phone, or by using the MoMo App for smartphone owners.

MoMo Pay is now offered through multiple channels: face-to-face, e-commerce, m-commerce and on the app. It has a strong value proposition: no fee is charged to the customer and merchants gain additional value over and above accepting payments because they too can make payments such as paying salaries, bills and suppliers, as well as accessing working capital. MoMo Pay is live in 10 markets, with 250 000 merchants, 2,1 million active users.

At the end of March 2020, MTN Group had 35,1 million active MoMo customers, an increase of 0,4 million from December 2019. In the first quarter, we accelerated our MoMo agency network in Nigeria under our super-agent licence, adding 70 000 agents, to bring the total number of registered agents to 178 000.

As one of the largest mobile financial services operators, MTN is uniquely placed to continue to drive greater levels of financial inclusion as Africa and the world adapt to a new way of transacting. Accelerated financial inclusion is a potent enabler of socio-economic development that empowers the most vulnerable in society.

Artificial intelligence holds significant potential to reduce our carbon footprint


MTN, in partnership with a vendor management AI tool, embarked on a site optimisation platform proof of concept in 2019. The platform aims to reduce costs, ensure resilience and reduce MTN’s carbon footprint.

The vendor management platform first identifies built-in problems on each site upon installation. On a day-to-day basis the platform uses AI to optimise power usage of each tower site by monitoring the real-time status of site components including grid availability, battery life, solar availability and generator fuel levels. The platform then uses IBM Watson™ AI to choose the lowest cost and lowest environmental impact power source based on site characteristics and historic performance.

The platform automatic selection of power sources has resulted in an initial 53% reduction in CO2 emissions through the proof of concept process. Not only did the  platform reduce negative environmental impacts, it also resulted in zero network downtime and continuously drives improvements across our infrastructure. We are very optimistic about these findings and the role AI stands to play at the heart of MTN’s infrastructure programme.