LAGOS — Ninety-six hours after a three-week deadline was given to drop its brand name by Etisalat International, Etisalat Nigeria, Thursday, picked up the gauntlet, announcing it will now trade under the brand name, 9Mobile.
The decision to use 9Mobile as the new brand name was taken at the end of a meeting of the telco’s management in Lagos yesterday.
The network had debuted with the 0809 number plan in 2008, which may have informed use of the figure 9 in rebranding the network. The rebranded network, 9Mobile, is also expected to drop the domain name, www. etisalat. com.ng
Etisalat International of the United Arab Emirates parted ways with its Nigerian partner, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Ltd, trading as Etisalat Nigeria in the wake of a crisis over a $1.2 billion loan package, which defied solutions.
Last Monday, Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Etisalat International, announced that “discussions were ongoing with Etisalat Nigeria to provide technical support; it can use the brand for another three weeks before phasing it out.”
This followed the termination of a management agreement with Etisalat Nigeria by its brand parent, Etisalat International.
Dowidar added that “all UAE shareholders of Etisalat Nigeria have exited the company and have left the board and management,” including United Arab Emirates-owned investment fund, Mubadala.
Etisalat Nigeria took out a $1.2 billion (N377.4 billion) loan with 13 Nigerian banks in 2013 to refinance an existing loan and fund expansion, but four years later, it was still struggling to repay the loans.
Asked if the company will return to Nigeria, Dowidar said: “The train has left the station on that one. Being in that market as an investor … are we willing to risk more money compared to the reward for the long-term?
“Etisalat is among the top two in markets such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan.(Nigerian) lenders may try to continue to operate the company until they find a buyer (or) they may merge the company with the existing players in Nigeria.
Not the first telecom brand change
The coming of 9Mobile is similar to that of Vmobile (0802), though the driving circumstances are different. Following completion of the first round of GSM licensing, Econet Wireless Nigeria, EWN, started business with the 0802 number plan on August 5, 2001.
All seemed well, until 2004, when after a shareholder dispute, the company was purchased by Vodacom of South Africa. Suddenly, Vodacom pulled out of the country in one of the shortest-lived corporate deals. The company quickly pulled itself together, and resumed trading as VMobile Nigeria, owned by Vee Networks Limited.
As the year 2006 dawned, subscribers who were just getting used to the Vmobile brand name could not know that soon another brand name change was imminent.
In May of that year, Celtel International, owned and promoted by a Sudanese electronics engineer, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, acquired majority equity in Vee Networks. Again, a little over two years after the Celtel brand had become entrenched, Mo Ibrahim’s Celtel International fell prey to another corporate investor, MTC Group of Kuwait, which later tranformed into the Zain Group. Zain effected another re-branding.
Finally in March 2010, Bharti Airtel of India bought over Zain’s operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, which included Nigeria, and the company was renamed Airtel Nigeria, which it has been to date.