Burundi's top mobile co's subscribers up 112 pct

By Patrick Nduwimana

Burundi's biggest mobile phone operator

U-com said on Tuesday that subscriber

numbers grew 112 percent in the last

12 months as the group expanded

its network and lowered tariffs.

U-com, which is owned by Egypt's Orascom,

said active users hit 530,000 this month,

compared with 250,000 clients in August 2008.

"We have invested in very remote areas and

this enables us to reach a larger number

of people," said Roger Kwama,

a commercial director for Telecel Globe,

another Orascom subsidiary.

"The number of clients also rose in

a short period of time due

to our cheaper services."

The company often lowers call rates and

sells cheap handsets, some for as

low as $16, Kwama told Reuters.

U-com's equipment can serve 750,000 users

currently, Kwama said, but the firm will

install 150 new mast sites to enable

it reach a million more people

by the end of the year.

The central African country had

480,000 mobile phone users at the end

of December 2008, compared with

270,000 in 2007,

according to the industry regulator ARCT.

U-com has signed agreements with

other regional operators to allow

its customers to keep using

their SIM cards when travelling in

other eastern African countries.

The service -- named "Kama Kawaida",

Swahili for as usual -- is already

functional in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

The firm says its network will soon be

connected to an undersea cable link that

is expected to improve Internet,

voice and data services across east Africa.

The tiny central African nation of

eight million people has five active

operators including state-owned

ONAMOB and Africell, partly held

by VTL holdings of the United Arab Emirates.

Others are Econet, a subsidiary of

South Africa's Econet Wireless and

Nepal's Lacell SU,

whose operations started in June.

Another firm, HITS Telecom,

a joint venture between Ugandan and

United Arab Emirates businessmen,

has a licence but is yet

to start operations. (Editing by

Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and

Rupert Winchester)

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