Now that seemingly everyone and his brother has a cellphone in developed economies, telecom providers are setting their sights on other markets. The growth opportunity in many of these markets could also be a growth opportunity in telecom exchange traded funds (ETFs), too.

Take Africa, for example.

Africa is one of the last business frontiers and telecommunications companies are trying to etch out their wireless grounds on the continent.

Last year, Bharti Airtel Ltd, an Indian cellphone company, acquired most of Kuwait’s Zain telecom holdings in Africa, and now Bharti wants the rest of Kenya’s cellphone market, reports Sarah Childress for The Wall Street Journal. South Africa, which accounts for half of sub-Saharan Africa’s telecom market, and Nigeria, the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, are also two hot spots for telecom providers on the continent.

Kenya’s growing middle class is becoming the target of foreign mobile-phone companies, with companies like Bharti and the U.K’s Vodafone Group PLC (NASDAQ: VOD) competing in the market, reports Sarah Childress for The Wall Street Journal.

Africa is home to one billion consumers, and the population is growing. Consumer spending has increased at a compounded annual rate of 16% between 2005 and 2008, and within five years, around 220 million Africans will be joining the middle class.

According to McKinsey & Co., Africa has 400 million mobile users, and by 2012, rural voice services will provide $12 billion to $15 billion in telecommunications revenue.

Numbers like that are an amazing opportunity for telecom corporations around the world. What Vodaphone and Bharti are doing could well become the norm. Since you don’t know who will try and get some African market share next (or do you?), consider a telecom ETF to own them all:

  • iShares Dow Jones U.S. Telecom (NYSEArca: IYZ)
  • Wireless HOLDRS (NYSEArca: WMH): VOD is 6.9%
  • Vanguard Telecommunication Services Sector (NYSEArca: VOX)

For more information on the telecom sector, visit our telecommunications category.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.