MTN SA CEO bets on Ayoba to rival WhatsApp

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 04 Aug 2022
Charles Molapisi, MTN SA CEO.
Charles Molapisi, MTN SA CEO.

Charles Molapisi, MTN SA CEO, is betting on his group’s messaging app, Ayoba, to give WhatsApp strong competition on the continent.

Molapisi addressed journalists in Johannesburg yesterday at a media event, saying there is “a place” for an alternative messaging platform to go up against the Meta-owned WhatsApp.

Ayoba, an MTN-owned instant messaging super app, was launched in 2019 and reached the 11.6 million monthly active users milestone as at 31 December 2021.

The app features peer-to-peer private messaging, which is end-to-end encrypted and has been updated to include music, gaming, channels and money transfer services.

Molapisi believes Ayoba has a fair chance on the continent, as not all people are using WhatsApp across MTN’s markets.

MTN is the largest telco on the continent, operating in 19 markets with a subscriber base of more than 270 million.

“It [Ayoba] has been a slow push in our markets, but we think we are making progress. It is still early days but we are seeing progress. We still believe there is place for a messenger app for Africans.”

Molapisi said MTN is aggregating messaging, payments and videos into Ayoba, as the telco adds value to the app.

Yesterday, Molapisi shared his vision and plans for MTN SA with media at a breakfast session he hosted in Rosebank.

Molapisi replaced Godfrey Motsa as MTN SA boss in December 2021, after the group announced broad changes to its executive committee, which it said will help the telco accelerate its Ambition 2025 strategy.

More MoMo movement

Detailing some of his near-term plans, Molapisi spoke of telecoms infrastructure vandalism, Mobile Money (MoMo), 5G, spectrum allocation and the safety nets MTN has put in place to guarantee services during load-shedding.

On spectrum, Molapisi said there was an “opportunity cost” to the country due to delays in allocating spectrum; however, he noted: “We choose not to be overly political about this thing; we look to the future.

“The government has made progress on this [spectrum allocation]. We move forward; we think what they have done is remarkable. We applaud the president, ICASA and the minister for what they have done and we move forward.”

After years of squabbling over spectrum, SA concluded spectrum allocation during an auction held in March, which comprised 58 rounds of bidding between the six bidders.

MTN successfully secured the 2 x 10MHz in 800MHz, 40MHz of 2 600MHz and 40MHz of 3 500MHz band.

Turning to MTN SA’s fintech business, Molapisi said the company is on track to make a double-digit contribution to revenue just like in other markets.

He said MTN is confident of its MoMo product this time around, as the company invested in research conducted in urban, peri-urban and rural areas.

Molapisi said the fintech business hinges on agents on the ground and what MTN did “this time around is build an agent network”.

“We are very confident we have positioned the product [MoMo] well in the market. We are pitching this product today as a mass market product. In other markets, mobile money contributes 26-30% of the revenue; there is no reason why with concerted efforts in this market, we can’t reach this.”

MTN SA’s fintech business has been growing, evidenced by the unit’s recent performance, recording approximately five million registered MoMo users and 840 043 monthly active users.

Molapisi said more still needs to be done to grow numbers in SA, as most people are only using the add-on service and aren’t using person-to-person transfers.

“South African people are not responding to person-to-person transfers, but what they are responding to is services like Lotto, Betway, electricity and DStv.”

Molapisi and his team are confident MTN SA can reach 11 million MoMo users from its catchment base of 35 million subscribers.

On power cuts, Molapisi said MTN SA has “plans on load-shedding; we believe as disruptive as it is, we have capacity to manage it”.

MTN is currently burning more than 400 000 litres of fuel per month to maintain connectivity and provide decent customer experience and has so far deployed over 2 000 generators to counter the impact of stage four (and higher) load-shedding.