Smile Telecoms plans to grow its broadband network in Africa after raising $365 million in debt and equity financing. The Mauritius-based company, which already operates LTE networks in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, says it will launch in the Democratic Republic of Congo early next year.
(Smile Telecoms is unrelated to Smile Group, a digital holding company based in India.)
Smile Telecoms’ new funding will help it build its infrastructure and compete against rivals such as MTN, Airtel, Telefonica, and Orange. Its existing LTE networks will expand to match the coverage of Smile Telecoms’ 3G networks by the end of this year.
The company has now raised $600 million since it was founded in 2007. Its latest round is composed of $50 million in equity from the Public Investment Corporation, which invests on behalf of the South African Government Employees Pension Fund, and $315 million in debt financing led by the African Export-Import Bank, with participation from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, Diamond Bank PLC, Ecobank Nigeria, the PIC, the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa Limited and Standard Chartered Bank.
Smile Telecoms says it has more than 300 million potential customers in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and the DR Congo. Internet penetration in all four of Smile’s markets is still low (Nigeria has the highest rate at 38 percent, followed by Uganda at 23 percent, Tanzania at 14 percent, and DR Congo at 6.5 percent), so increasing the availability of speedy mobile connections can help more people go online, especially when combined with increased smartphone ownership.
In a prepared statement, Smile Uganda chairperson Beatrice Kiraso said “The availability of a reliable high-speed, broadband internet service in the country will help businesses and individuals become more productive and efficient, and this in itself is an economic enabler.”