Irene Charnely still making telecom waves

Former MTN director Irene Charnley, is still making waves within the exploding African telecoms market with her group, Smile Telecoms, claiming to be in the lead in the roll out of 4G LTE network in the African continent.

Charnley (52) will be remembered by many South African as part of the first wave of black economic empowerment (BEE) which saw her fabulously migrate from trade unionism into business. She was part of the 1990’s National Empowerment Consortium crowed which participated in the historical Johnnic BEE dealings which then spun out the now high flying MTN. She must rank as one of the wealthiest businesswomen in Africa.

Charnley relinquished executive role in MTN in 2007 and took up a non executive directors for a while before venturing out into Smile Telecoms. Like many of her MTN contemporaries earned loads of cash from MTN which she had helped to become the largest telecom group within the African continent. Inevitably; her pops up in the MTN Iran scandal.

Early this week, Smile Telecoms, announced that it was extending its partnership with Alcatel-Lucent, to serve as Smile’s sole LTE network provider in its markets in Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In its website Smile features as shareholders four names and Charnley as founding CEO. The four listed shareholders are:

  • Al-Nahla Technology, described as the largest shareholder and owned by Saudi Arabian conglomerate Al-Nahla Group
  • Atheeb Trading Company, also described as a Saudi Arabian company
  • CapitalWorks, an alternative asset manager focused on sub Saharan Africa
  • Veren, a woman owned empowerment group of social entrepreneurs

The announcement said Alcatel-Lucent will provide comprehensive Design, Build and Operate services for Smile’s nationwide LTE networks as part of a planned 5-year partnership to bring true fixed and mobile broadband services to Africa.

Daniel Jaeger, Vice-President of Alcatel-Lucent in Africa, said: “We are very pleased to partner with Smile to extend their 4G LTE services in Africa. With the delivery of new in-demand services, Alcatel-Lucent’s LTE solution will allow Smile to grow their business and, at the same time, develop mobile broadband further in this economically burgeoning region.”

The statement added that earlier this year, Smile became the first network and services operator to deploy a true commercial 800 Mhz LTE network in Africa. “Our networks in Tanzania and Uganda have out-performed our initial expectations: Our customers have experienced speeds well in excess of what can be obtained from other operators, and we have seen consistently stellar satisfaction levels”.

“We have proven the technology, we’ve tested the business model, we’ve tested market demand and consumer experience, we’ve tested our partnership, and we’ve tested our commercial deployment strategy. Based on our results, the time has come to shift from testing to doing. Smile will be in a position to roll out nationwide coverage of full 800 Mhz LTE services in all three of our markets within 3 years”.

We will launch full geographic and service coverage in Dar Es Salaam and Kampala before the end of Q1 2013, with near-national coverage in both markets as early as 2014.

“Our services will include ADSL-type connectivity for businesses and homes, as well as full Mobile Broadband, at speeds up to 20Mbs. The speed, quality and reliability of these services will allow our customers to experience the full benefits of LTE, including real-time video streaming without buffering, video calls which live up to their promise and a reliable platform for health, commerce and education services. Smile will provide both wholesale and retail services in all of our markets”.

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