Millicom and Airtel agreed to combine their respective operations in Ghana, in a move that creates a “strong number two operator” and beefs up competition with market leader MTN.

In a statement, Millicom said the joint entity would be equally owned by the two operators, while governance rights would also be split down the middle.

The combined business will serve nearly 10 million customers, of which 5.6 million are data customers, and will cover more than 80 per cent of Ghana’s population with high speed internet and 3G coverage.

GSMA Intelligence forecasts MTN will end Q1 2017 with 18.7 million connections in the country, meaning it would still maintain a considerable lead over the proposed joint venture. Airtel is tipped to close the period with 4.8 million connections, and Millicom 4.2 million.

Providing more details on the benefits to customers, Millicom added integrating the two networks would provide Ghanaians with a major boost in both rural and urban coverage, as well as enhancing the mobile financial services of both companies.

Mohamed Dabbour, EVP of Millicom Africa, said the deal underlines confidence in the country’s economy, and “provides the opportunity to develop nationwide digital infrastructure and services in Ghana”.

“In a highly fragmented telecoms market, this deal represents a major milestone for our business in Ghana,” he said.

The partnership is subject to regulatory approval.