* To focus on its 17 African markets, not new ones
* Africa represents about a third of company's business
(Adds quote, detail, background)
ABUJA May 8 Indian telecoms firm Bharti Airtel
plans annual capital expenditure of $1 billion in
Africa in the next few years and will focus on deepening
investments in 17 countries there rather than entering new
markets, its chairman said.
"We have made massive investments in 17 countries and we
spend capital expenditures every year in excess of $1 billion.
$1 billion is the plan," Sunil Mittal told Reuters on Thursday.
Bharti entered Africa in 2010 with the $9 billion
acquisition of Kuwaiti telecoms group Zain's
operations on the continent. Mittal said Africa represents
one-third of Bharti's business.
The firm is comfortable with debt levels of 2.5-2.6 times
earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation
(EBITDA) and is weighing options for the sale, leaseback or
sharing of its African transmission towers, Mittal said on the
sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Abuja, Nigeria.
Bharti faces intense competition from South Africa's MTN
, which has sold some of its towers, as well as from
privately-held Nigerian Globalcom and from Etisalat,
which is based in the United Arab Emirates.
Mobile penetration in Africa is relatively low and a prime
attraction for tower companies is to build new towers to reach
the significant part of the continent's populace that does not
yet own a phone and meet subscriber demand.
"The interconnect regime is changing in many places and in
Nigeria also, and when interconnection rates change, revenues
drop because the total amount of top line goes down," said
Mittal, who is also the chairman and CEO of parent company
Interconnection rates are the charges for calling from one
network to another.
Mittal added that revenue from Africa stood at $4.4 billion
in 2013, below the company's $5 billion projection.
(Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha and Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing
by Mark Potter)