On the African continent, there are now as many mobile subscriptions as there are people, approximately 900 million. In Namibia, Swedfund played a crucial role in the development.
In the early 1990s, mobile telephony was still rare in Africa. In 1994, MTC (Mobile Telecommunications Limited) was established in Namibia as a joint venture between Telia International, Swedfund and state-owned Namibia Post & Telecom Holdings (NPTH). The investment made by Swedfund was considered to be associated with considerable risk.
MTC's GSM network was the first to be constructed in Namibia and one of the first in Africa. In 1995, MTC had around 30,000 subscribers, and telephone services were provided in every city and in some rural areas too. At the time, the company employed approximately 80 people and training was a high priority. Over the next ten years, MTC invested over SEK 700 million in expanding the GSM network in Namibia. This led to 88% of the population having access to mobile telephony. Prepaid cards were soon launched and proved to be a great success, especially in rural areas.
Digitalisation in general and mobile telephony in particular have made a major contribution to the development of many industries on the African continent. Although barely one in four sub-Saharan people are currently internet users, new technologies have enabled several steps in the industrial revolution to be skipped. Industries such as agriculture, retail, health and education have all benefited from technological
advances, but mobile telephony in particular has made a strong contribution to the development of new banking and payment services. They play an instrumental role in financial inclusion.
Inadequate infrastructure and unreliable electricity supplies present a number of challenges in the continuing digitalisation process. Today, 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to a reliable electricity supply, which is of course a major obstacle to development. In addition, in order to use mobile phones to their full potential, the potential users must be able to afford the technology and be literate.
By the time Swedfund divested its investment in MTC Namibia to the largest shareholder NPTH in May 2004, the company had developed enormously through the initiatives. By the end of that year, MTC had 220 base stations covering almost half of the country. Today, the company is Namibia's largest mobile operator, with over two million subscribers, more than 650 base stations and over 400 employees. MTC's network covers 98% of the country's population and is increasingly investing in internet traffic.
MTC’s successes surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. MTC has had, and still has, a major impact on Namibia, partly through the tax revenues that it generates and through a range of social projects. Accessibility and the ability to communicate and obtain and disseminate information are pivotal democratic issues where MTC has also played an important role.