MTN Nigeria, a subsidiary of South Africa's MTN Group, and 9mobile (formerly Etisalat Nigeria) are reportedly in advanced discussions for a spectrum trade deal to bolster 9mobile, the country’s 4th largest telco, according to local media reports.
The potential deal is seen as a revival strategy following the departure of 9mobile's key investors and technical partners, Mubadala and Etisalat of UAE, leading the telecom into financial challenges.
According to a report, the spectrum trade option had previously advanced during the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari but faced competition concerns, resulting in a temporary suspension. The recent talks are aiming to utilize local telecom reforms as a leeway to finalize the deal.
While concerns about possible dominance by MTN arise, 9mobile, currently with 13.8 million customers and a 6.28% market share, denies any substance in the news. In contrast, MTN, with 85 million subscribers and a 38.5% market reach, has maintained control of Nigeria's telecom sector.
Adding complexity to the situation, MTN Nigeria has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the reported spectrum trade. If the acquisition of 9mobile's spectrum materializes, it could significantly reshape the telecommunications landscape in Nigeria. Also the National Communications Commission (NCC) states it is not yet aware of the ongoing discussions between MTN Nigeria and 9mobile.
It's worth noting that, this isn't the first time that MTN has made a move to acquire a competing telecom operator in the country. In 2015, the telecom giant completed its acquisition of Visafone Communications Limited, which saw the transfer of shareholdings and frequency spectrum, marking a strategic move to extend its network reach in the country.