MTN, which has operations in 21 countries across the Middle East and Africa – and is the second-biggest mobile operator in South Africa, its home market – managed modest growth in group subscribers during Q3, but chief executive Sifiso Dabengwa (pictured) was left ruing what he thought could have been a better overall performance were it not for stiff competition and over-zealous regulators.

“MTN reported encouraging results for the third quarter, delivering subscriber growth of 2 per cent, quarter-on-quarter,” said the MTN CEO, “[but the] performance was impacted by continued aggressive competition and stringent regulatory requirements.”

While the CEO pointed out an improved performance in the South African prepaid segment as a group highlight, supported by competitive offers, he added that the “Nigerian operation faced a challenging regulatory environment resulting in lower-than-expected growth”.

There are no hard financial details in MTN’s quarterly update, but the group subscriber base, end September, stood at 219.2 million. Full-year group net addition subscriber guidance has been bounced up a little bit from 17.25 million to 17.5 million.

Quarterly data revenue for the group increased 34.4 per cent year-on-year and now contributes 17.8 per cent of total revenue (although the top-line figure is not disclosed). MTN also added two million registered Mobile Money subscribers during the quarter, taking the total up to 22.2 million.

“Good progress was also achieved in the optimisation of our operating model, particularly in reducing costs and the monetisation of assets with the announcement of the tower transaction in Nigeria during the quarter,” added Dabengwa.

In South Africa, MTN increased its subscriber base by 5.7 per cent, to 26.7 million, adding 1.4 million net additions over the quarter. This was mainly due to competitive offers in the prepaid segment, said MTN. As a result, the prepaid subscriber base increased by 7.1 per cent, to 21.2 million.

The post-paid subscriber base in South Africa grew by a less impressive 0.3 per cent, to 5.47 million, over Q3. Data revenue growth was also muted, largely because competition has forced down the average effective rate per megabyte by about 18 per cent. Customers on data plans account for 60 per cent of MTN’s total subscriber base in South Africa.

MTN Nigeria also reported a marginal decline in its subscribers, to 58.4 million, largely impacted by what MTN says are regulatory restrictions relating to the “dominant operator” ruling and continued unrest in the northern region during the quarter.