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China to lend Zambia over $280 million to improve telecoms

LUSAKA, Aug 4 (Reuters) - China will lend Zambia $282 million to improve the nation's telecommunications infrastructure and increase mobile phone usage over three years, the Chinese ambassador said on Friday.

Zambia, Africa's No.2 copper producer, has over 12 million mobile phone service subscribers, equivalent to about 70 percent of the population, according to latest government statistics.

China's Huawei will erect 808 telecommunication towers and build support infrastructure, Chinese ambassador to Zambia Yang Youming said at a signing ceremony for the project.

After completion of the project, Zambia's voice service penetration will increase to nearly 100 percent from 70 percent while data service penetration will rise to 40 percent from 5 percent, Yang said.

"The project is funded by the Chinese government through a concessional loan," he said.

The project will also improve Zambia's investment environment, boost employment and provide a solid foundation for socio-economic development, he added.

South Africa's MTN, India's Bharti Airtel and state-owned Zamtel are currently the only mobile phone operators offering voice service in Zambia.

A fourth mobile telecoms company Mobile Broadband Zambia, trading as Vodafone Zambia, was issued with a license last year but its operations are restricted to data service. (Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Mark Potter)