EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Emerging markets operator Millicom envisages three out of four of its customers will be using smartphones in Latin America and Africa by 2018, representing a threefold increase from today, “with the potential to grow even higher”, CEO Mauricio Ramos told Mobile World Live.

Ramos, who said Millicom added 1.6 million smartphone users to its mobile base “in the last quarter alone,” believes the challenge now lies in further increasing data consumption, with the emerging markets at a “tipping point in affordability and penetration” for data centric devices.

Millicom, which operates mainly under the Tigo brand, has a direct presence in six African and eight Latin American countries, including Ghana, Tanazania, Paraguay and Colombia.

The CEO, who joined  from Liberty Global in April, was quoted earlier this year as claiming the company has a goal to be the second largest cable group in LatAm, behind Carlos Slim’s America Movil.

Speaking exclusively to Mobile World Live as part of our CEO Spotlight series, Ramos addressed the company’s ambitions around convergence, stating “building scale, consumer demand and offering the right products in the markets where they are already present will further drive mobile data penetration in our markets”.

“This will enable us to build a significant cable footprint underneath our established mobile operation in LatAm in particular”.

Also on the agenda in the interview, Ramos spoke of the wider challenges around unconnected markets, citing UN research which suggests the growth of “internet uptake in emerging markets is actually slowing down, despite smartphones getting cheaper”.

Describing emerging markets as “the DNA of our business”, Ramos spoke about the company’s drive to promote localised content to push data further as part of its digital lifestyle platform and its mobile financial services offering.

He also had a few words of advice for those cable groups, which include his former employer Liberty Global, targeting convergence through acquisition.

To read the full interview, click here.