Battle lines have been drawn in the fight to acquire African telecom service providers as mobile operators Bharti Airtel and MTN seek to expand across the continent.

Airtel, Africa's second-largest mobile operator, announced this week it has entered into an agreement with Warid Group to acquire its Congo Brazzaville operation in a bid to strengthen its footprint in Africa's telecom market.

Meanwhile, MTN also says it is looking for acquisition possibilities across the African region in order to expand its footprint.

As license fees become exorbitant, new licenses are becoming difficult to get in Africa. This has resulted in Airtel and MTN claiming they will only be extending their footprints through acquisitions and mergers to provide voice, data and Internet services before the African mobile market becomes saturated with European and Middle Eastern operators.

The Airtel agreement with Warid, which is subject to regulatory approval, will make Airtel the largest mobile operator in the Republic of Congo, with about 2.6 million subscribers. However, the financial details of the deal have not yet been disclosed.

Across the continent Airtel is the second-largest operator, to South Africa's MTN.

Warid Group has been struggling to find its balance in the African telecom market and has been selling its operations and entering into agreements with other operators. Earlier in the year, Airtel acquired Warid's Uganda operation. Before that, Warid, based in Abu Dhabi, had struck a deal with the Essar Group to sell a stake in Uganda and Congo operations, but the deal failed.

"The [new deal] reflects the progress Airtel is making in terms of consolidating its business in Africa. MTN is moving in the same direction because it has just become difficult and expensive to get a new license in Africa," said Amos Kalunga, telecom analyst at Computer Society of Zambia.