August 7, 2014 / 5:31 AM / 3 years ago

South Africa's MTN lifts H1 profit 9 pct, data unit robust

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 7 (Reuters) - South African wireless carrier MTN Group reported a 9 percent rise in first-half profit on Thursday, as strong demand for its high-margin data services offset slow voice growth at home.

Africa's biggest mobile phone operator said diluted headline earnings per share totalled 725 cents in the six month ended June compared with 665 cents a year earlier.

Headline EPS is the primary profit measure in South Africa that strips out certain one-off items.

MTN, which has operations in nearly two dozens countries in Africa and the Middle East said sales increased 10 percent to 215 billion rand ($20.03 billion), helped by favourable currency moves and a strong uptake of new users in its biggest market, Nigeria.

MTN and its closest domestic rival Vodacom are struggling grow sales from voice calls at home as they slashed tariffs to defend market share and after the regulator ordered them to cut fees they charge one another to connect calls.

In response, both firms are rolling out high speed networks to meet strong demand for data as customers increasingly use their smartphones and tablets to browse the internet, stream videos and download applications.

Data consumption is expected to be the driving force behind the domestic mobile firms in the next few years. Earlier this year, Cisco Systems Inc forecast South African mobile data traffic growth will compound at 53 percent in five years to 2018. ($1 = 10.7318 South African rand) (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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