INTERVIEW: Helios Towers CEO Tom Greenwood (pictured) hailed the innovative nature of Africa’s mobile ecosystem, as the tower company turns its attentions to further expansion in the Middle East following its acquisition of Omantel’s assets in 2022.

Speaking to Mobile World Live (MWL), Greenwood acknowledged advancements in the telecoms sector “came to Africa a little bit later than some parts of the world”, but the region proved to be more innovative in some areas compared to other markets.

Greenwood pointed to m-Pesa‘s launch in 2006, which has became one of the earliest and widely deployed mobile payment methods, while highlighting South Africa’s 5G rollout in 2020 as an example of how the region was beginning to keep pace with developed markets.

The latest network technology is now beginning to roll out across the region, with Ghana, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo set to launch this year, following Tanzania.

Greenwood expects 5G will cover pretty much every African market “in two to four years”.

Africa’s rapid population growth was the major driver behind increased mobile uptake in the continent, added Greenwood, identifying Tanzania and South Africa as pace setters.

Today, Tanzania’s overall mobile penetration rate “is about 100 per cent”, representing a twofold increase since Helios started operation in the region eleven years ago, Greenwood said.

Middle East
Turning to the Middle East, Greenwood explained the company’s acquisition of Omantel’s assets in 2022 was part of a strategy to further expand its operations and portfolio to operate 22,000 towers by 2026, up from 14,000 today.

He also identified Vodafone Group’s entry into Oman as a value attractor for a company like Helios, as the market was previously operated as a duopoly consisting of Omantel and Oredoo.

“It was a very attractive thing, because as a towerco if you own a bunch of towers in the country and a new mobile operator comes in, the quickest way for them to get their coverage up is to roll out from the towers that the towerco owns.”

“Now, it can be a springboard for some more markets in the Middle East”, he teased.