MTN is spending and it is spending big, both on business and humanitarian fronts.

The race for subscribers' money in Ghana has forced mobile telephony companies to act in a way that promises to benefit the consumer and the wider community.

With six licensed mobile operators doing business in a country of an estimated 24 million people, competition in the telecom sector is arguably more intense than in any other sector of the economy.

Operators have increased their investment in infrastructure and corporate social responsibility (CSR) like never before. In a bid to improve network quality and ensure they do not lose out to competitors, operators are also taking steps to be seen as the "good firm" that is not in the market just to make money, but also to improve people's livelihoods.

The chief executive officer of MTN Group, Phuthuma Nhleko, who resides in South Africa, and oversees the group's operations, feels the impact that the competition in Ghana's telecom sector is having on MTN's spending.

"Ghana is really the operation that has bucked the trend on capital expenditure. It is very much as a result of the huge competition in Ghana", Mr. Nhleko told the press in South Africa last month when he presented the company's financial results for the year 2010.

According to Nhleko: "We have five very strong competitors. We have Vodafone, Millicom (Tigo), Bharti, Expresso and Glo entering the market fairly soon. So we have had to ensure that as we did in Nigeria, we have sufficient capacity and coverage at a fairly acceptable level."

MTN Ghana, which according to the telecom regulator, National Communication Authority (NCA), accounted for about 49% of Ghana's 17.4 million subscribers at end-2010, spent R3 billion (US$445 million) as capital expenditure in 2010, as the network roll-out plans gained momentum in the second half of the year, enabling the operation to maintain network quality and capacity despite a meaningful increase in traffic.

MTN Ghana rolled out 940 base and tower stations (BTS's) during last year, bringing the total number of BTS's to 4,033. For 2011, MTN Ghana has been authorised to spend R1.2 billion (US$176 million), less than half its expenditure for last year.

MTN Ghana has also concluded a transaction agreement with the American Tower Company (ATC), which involves the sale of up to 1,876 of MTN's existing sites to TowerCo Ghana, for an agreed purchase price of up to approximately US$428.3 million, of which ATC will hold a 51% stake in Towerco Ghana's holding company. The remaining 49% will be held by MTN Dubai. As per the agreement, MTN will be the anchor tenant, in commercial terms, on each of the towers being purchased.

After sinking millions of dollars into network expansion and infrastructure, the strategy for MTN Ghana to maintain its market lead is to roll out innovative products and services that suit the needs and wants of different segments of its subscribers – MTN Zone, Mobile Money, 3.5G services, and Community Phones for customers in rural areas.

Additionally MTN, which was recently voted Ghana's second most respected company, wants to make its products and services available on every street corner (per 1 meter radius), connect stores, branch offices, and up-to-date technological infrastructure.

MTN Ghana, which boasts network coverage around the entire country, has already shown that it is not only interested in making money from subscribers, but is giving back some of what it has earned to society. A leader in projects benefiting communities, MTN Ghana Foundation, the humanitarian arm of the mobile network, is making its presence felt. Recently, MTN Ghana Foundation inaugurated 20 boreholes in 20 communities in the Upper West Region, to improve water supply. The borehole project is one of about eight projects earmarked to be undertaken as part of the 3rd anniversary celebration of the Foundation this year.

The project, which costs GH¢178,800.00, is aimed at benefitting about 20,000 people living in the Wa East and Lawra districts.  It was executed in partnership with Concern Universal, a non-governmental organisation and ProNet North. The Upper West region is currently facing challenges of potable water supply and as a result, residents depend on unsafe water bodies for their water supply. The lack of access to good drinking water often leads to widespread acute and chronic illnesses in the area.

According to the foundation project advisor, Frazier Appeadu Malcolm, MTN "wants to support efforts to provide potable water to the people of the Upper West region as a step in helping the government to attain the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015".

Malcolm added that, "there is no doubt that with this project the burden of our women and children walking long distances in search of water will be drastically reduced if not eliminated."

According to the paramount chief of the Lawra Traditional Area, Naa Edward Puowele Karbo III:  "The provision of potable drinking water is part of my efforts as the paramount chief to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the people. I am proud that about 12 of the 20 boreholes are in the Lawra district alone and six in the Lawra traditional area", he said.

Clearly MTB wants its presence in Ghana to be felt not only in network coverage, but also in the lives of community members.