Bharti Airtel Ltd will invest $600 million in Nigeria over the next three years, half within the next 12 months, the mobile phone company said on Wednesday. Bharti last month completed a $9 billion acquisition of the African operations of Kuwait's Zain, taking over mobile operations in 15 African nations and making it the world's No.5 mobile operator by subscribers. Bharti also plans to set up a 1,000-seater call centre in the West African nation in the next 18 months, company spokesman Emeka Oparah said.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, with 140 million people, has overtaken South Africa to become the continent's biggest mobile telecoms market with around 76 million active mobile subscribers and competition there is heating up. The Nigerian arm of Africa's biggest phone operator, South Africa's MTN, said last month it had signed loan agreements worth $2.2 billion to fund expansion, as it gears up for increasing competition from Bharti. Bharti has said it aims to have 100 million subscribers and $5 billion a year in revenue in Africa by 2012/13 and is likely to mount a serious challenge to MTN's position as market leader in Nigeria.

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