S.African cell phone penetration could double-MTN

JOHANNESBURG, March 14 (Reuters) - South Africa's mobile phone market is growing faster than expected and penetration could eventually double, operator MTN MTNJ.J said on Wednesday.

Ashraff Paruk, head of strategy and innovation for MTN’s South African business, said MTN, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest mobile operator, could reach many more customers than the 60 to 70 percent of South Africans who already have a mobile phone.

Penetration, which is measured by the number of SIM cards, could rise as high as 150 percent in South Africa, he said.

Mobile phone penetration exceeds 100 percent in many European countries where customers have more than one SIM card.

Some analysts say the South African market will reach saturation at about 75 to 80 percent, but Paruk said given the right offers, there was no reason the market could not grow to over 100 percent.

“I still think the target is between 100-150 percent,” he told a news briefing. “We’re going faster than expected every year.”

Demand for mobile phones has ballooned in South Africa in recent years due to patchy fixed-line infrastructure, but the service still remains out of reach for the very poor.

Paruk also told reporters MTN would do “whatever it takes” to make wireless broadband more accessible, but denied it was fighting a price war with rival Vodacom.

Both Vodacom, the country’s biggest operator, and MTN have slashed their data prices in recent weeks as they scramble to take advantage of new revenue opportunities.

Vodacom is jointly owned by South Africa's Telkom TKGJ.J and Britain's Vodafone VOD.L.