Issue no 147

top story

  • The explosive growth of communications technologies has given potential users a wide range of new tools to communicate. Yet beyond the familiar numbers generated by the growth of mobiles, very little has emerged about how these new users communicate. A recent survey from Gamos and the CTO looks at patterns of behaviour for a range of users, particularly poorer users and those in rural areas. Nigel Scott of Gamos summarises the research findings.

    Gamos Ltd. and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) have carried out field research through local universities in Ghana (University of Legon), Botswana (University of Botswana) and Uganda (Makerere Institute of Social Research), which concentrated on talking to users and potential users in rural and low-income areas. The results highlight some interesting features of how people use and access phones, and illuminate factors that lie behind some of the choices that users have to make.

    In all three countries, people have a choice of fixed line phones or mobile phones. In each country there is only one major fixed line phone operator, but varying degrees of competition in the mobile markets. There are two major players in Botswana, each of which offers national coverage. In Uganda there is only one operator with national coverage, although others are beginning to expand their network coverage. The largest number of national operators are found in Ghana, where four companies offer services, although coverage is far from comprehensive.

    In both Ghana and Botswana, it is fixed line phones which dominate the market, especially in Ghana where 87% of respondents use fixed line phones compared with only 20% who use mobiles (N.B. people can use either or both). Use is more balanced in Botswana, where the mobile market is more developed - 67% and 45% use fixed line and mobile phones respectively. Uganda is the odd one out, where mobile phones dominate (56% use, compared with only 21% who use fixed line phones). This reflects the interesting situation in Uganda whereby MTN, who were awarded the second national operator’s licence, chose to use cellular technology, so mobile coverage of the country is high.

    It might be assumed that the use of short messaging service (SMS) might closely match mobile phone use, but this does not appear to be the case. Only in Botswana has the use of SMS really taken off, with 31% of the sample taking advantage of this service, compared with only 8% and 3% in the Uganda and Ghana surveys respectively. This reflects the relative sophistication of users in Botswana, where the level of education attained by the sample was highest. In addition to communication, mobile phones now offer a range of features which may influence their popularity; for example, a taxi driver in Kampala stated that the most useful feature of his mobile phone was that he could play games whilst waiting for clients!

    With regard to other communication services, use of email and internet services is still low, ranging from 5% in Botswana to 12% in Ghana. Ghana was the only country with healthy numbers of cybercafes in major provincial towns. It is not clear why internet use in Ghana is relatively high, as cybercafes there have to pay trunk call charges to connect to ISPs, which was given as one of the reasons for the lack of cybercafes elsewhere. We assumed that poor literacy might be a major constraint to internet use, but staff provide a valuable service in overcoming any such barriers. In one cybercafe, a customer sat down at a PC and verbally guided the attendant through all the security features of her email service provider before dictating the text of her email - no problem.

    Of all the features of users, the one that stands out in all three countries as having the greatest influence on levels of use of telephone services is education. Better educated people use phones more, have a stronger intention to use phones in the future, and have a more positive attitude towards phones. In Ghana, the differences are most pronounced between those with primary education, and those with secondary education. The same trend is apparent in Uganda, where those with higher levels of education (secondary and post-secondary) exhibit significantly higher use than those with lower education (none and primary). Mobile use in Botswana shows the same threshold between primary and secondary education, although differences between those with no education and those with primary education are most acute when it comes to fixed line phones. This is not true of internet use, where it is only those with post secondary education that make greater use of these services.

    Somewhat surprising was the result that by far the most common use of phones was chatting with friends and family. There are a number of aspects of communication with friends and family, such as urgent matters (e.g. funerals and festivals), financial matters (e.g. calling to family members working in cities to ask for money when school fees are due), and generally keeping in touch. Although efforts were made to identify the relative priorities of these issues, it is inevitable that all may come up at some point during a single conversation. Nevertheless, it is clear that far fewer calls are made relating to business matters; figures indicate around half as many as to friends and family.

    Users in Ghana with no education show patterns of use similar to the average, with a couple of notable exceptions ­ a higher proportion of their calls relate to social events, and a lower proportion to business use. Similarly, users in areas with no service have similar type of call patterns to the average, with the exception that business use is lower. Of those who only use phones infrequently, the proportion calling family is similar to the sample average, but again the numbers calling business and friends are reduced. All of which indicates the importance attributed by the poorer users to keeping in touch with family matters.

    USING DIFFERENT ACCESS POINTS

    People not only have a choice of technology, but they also have a choice of access points. Public phone booths are common to all countries and generally found in commercial centres, although in Uganda booths can be found in remote rural communities, and many booths are connected to cellular networks. Telephone shops (or communication centres) are shop premises run by an attendant where people can make calls in relative privacy as they are not on the street, and most are fitted with cubicles. We had expected to find that a significant number of people, especially in remote areas, would access services through a few individuals who owned private mobile phones, but this was not borne out by the surveys. On the contrary, the view was strongly expressed in both Uganda and Botswana that, although it was regarded as culturally acceptable to ask individuals owning private mobile handsets to make calls, this was strictly regarded as a gesture of good will, and not a commercial service. It was mentioned that although individuals had offered the use of private handsets as a "commercial" service a couple of years ago, this practice stopped with the introduction of public access points in trading centres i.e. people are prepared to travel to access public phones rather than pay a premium. What the surveys do show is that there is now a significant number of people who own mobile phones, ranging from only 8% in Ghana to over 30% in Uganda and Botswana.

    It appears that people are prepared to pay a premium for assisted service when using phones. In Ghana, telephone shops provide an attended service, and are clearly the preferred means of access to phones. The preference in Uganda is also for telephone shops, but the distinction in attended service between booths and telephone shops is less clear in Uganda, where the second national operator has taken an innovative approach to installing public booths. MTN have recognised that problems of neglect and vandalism can be mitigated through local "ownership", and now have a policy of installing booths in partnership with a local entrepreneur, or attendant. The current arrangement is that the partner makes an investment (roughly 10% of the cost of the booth) for it to be installed at his premises, and can then make a profit in a number of ways:

    - charging a premium on units paid using a phone card;

    - getting a percentage of the coins taken by a booth;

    - charging for a message delivery service on incoming calls to the booth.

    So what lies behind this preference for attended service? It is often suggested that the technology itself constitutes a barrier to use amongst poorly educated people in remote areas - that they simply do not know how to use a phone. Attendants in telephone shops all have stories to tell that confirm this point of view e.g. picking up the receiver upside down, placing the receiver on the desk and shouting into it; they also help with telephone "etiquette", such as how to finish a call (stories of people continuing to talk long after the person at the other end has hung up). They do point out, however, that people are quick to learn, and only need to be shown once so this is not likely to be a problem for long, given the current rate of increase of exposure to phones. Attendants also have customers who, although familiar with phones, are not comfortable with dialling procedures and simply prefer somebody else to make a connection; one feature that appears to cause some concern is that of computerised voice messages, which people either have difficulty understanding, don’t trust, or just don’t like.

    Possibly the most valuable service carried out by attendants is the delivering of messages - this registered as a positive attitude in Uganda, and was the strongest attitude expressed by respondents in Ghana concerning telephone shops. There are essentially two types of service:

    - people call the attendant and make an arrangement to call back and speak to a person at a later time; the attendant then delivers a message to that person giving the time of the call, so that they can come to the shop and wait for the call;

    - people call the telephone shop and give a message to the attendant, who then passes the message on to the recipient. Messages tend to be delivered verbally, and people see little if any additional value in written messages, complaining that written messages are less reliable.

    An effective message delivery service depends on community networks - knowing how to get hold of a person. There are plenty of examples of innovative ways of tapping into existing networks. One telephone shop in Ghana is helped by an old man in the village (who is a regular customer) who knows most families, so if the staff do not know the recipient, the messenger is sent on his bicycle to the old man, who can give him directions. Another has an arrangement with a lady who runs a stall in the trading centre, close to the telephone shop, such that they can pass messages to her, and she ensures that messages are delivered through her customers. The location of the booth can be critical in providing access to these networks. In a remote rural village in Uganda, for example, a booth has been installed at the headquarters of the Catholic diocese and the attendant can pass messages to visitors to the adjacent school and health clinic; the school is a particularly effective network, as children from most of the surrounding villages attend daily.

    One of the interesting features of a message delivery service is that it has to be done properly if it is to work. If people cannot be confident that their message will be delivered, they will not be prepared to risk the expense of a call to the telephone shop. The booth attendant in another rural village in Uganda goes to great lengths to personally deliver all messages, and is convinced of the value of the reliability of his service, which is reflected in the high payment (which is discretionary) that many recipients make for this service.

    The impact of the message delivery services offered by telephone shops is evident in the proportion of incoming traffic to areas where these are the preferred point of access. The findings shows that in both Ghana and Uganda, telephone shops are the preferred means of access to phones, and Botswana is the exception, where most people tend to use public booths. Now, in Ghana, the proportion of received calls is 38%, which compares with only 27% in Botswana, and clearly shows the important role played by telephone shops in facilitating incoming calls. It is interesting to note that incoming calls tend to be longer than outgoing calls (but only by 20%), indicating that residents in rural areas have less disposable income than those they are communicating with, who tend to live in urban centres. In Ghana the majority of calls (made and received) are trunk calls (around 70%), and in Uganda (where most people use mobiles so the trunk / local call distinction does not exist) half of all calls are made to/from the capital. The exception is Botswana, where the distribution of calls is more even with local calls being the most common, followed by calls to mobiles.

    Other issues arising in people’s decision to use booths or telephone shops include privacy (and noise) and queuing. Telephone shops tend to be fitted with booths, giving people a far greater degree of privacy than booths, which are generally of the open hood type, and are located on the street. Privacy and noise can be a particular problem in rural villages where the booth is located in a busy place such as the market place where people congregate during the course of the day. One of the advantages given for telephone shops is that they eliminate the need to queue. It is not apparent why this should be, as most shops only have one or two lines, but it is apparent that with seating, they offer a more pleasant queuing experience.

    A further issue is that of choice. It is puzzling to see informal operators doing brisk business in market squares in Botswana providing access to a phone on a table under the shade of a parasol, when their stall is sited next to a public booth where tariffs are lower. The answer may lie in the fact that these private operators can provide a choice of mobile services, in contrast to the booths which are installed by the fixed line operator. The choice of point of access becomes more important where the tariffs are such that people pay a premium for calling across networks.

    Some of the factors influencing people’s choice of access point included the fact that telephone shops are not open at all hours, and the belief that booths may read phone cards incorrectly. However, the decision appears primarily to be based on cost issues. The belief that booths are the cheapest means of accessing services is influential in Ghana, and in Uganda the role of attendants in managing calls and helping reduce costs is important; note that this can be either positive or negative i.e. attendants can either be helpful (reduce costs), or keep you on the phone longer (increase costs).

    Some interesting debates arose in Uganda with regard to the affect that booth attendants have on costs. During the course of one meeting, a man pointed to the hand painted sign in the street, and complained that although the sign advertised phone cards for sale, there were none to be bought. The attendant conceded that he was able to sell cards, but this was news to the villagers - they had only been able to pay for calls using his phone card. The reason lies in the profit margin that can be made from various means of payment. Attendants typically charge a 50% mark-up on calls made using a phone card, claiming this is line with guidance given by the operator. By contrast, if they have a coin operated booth their commission is only around 5% - 10% of the coins taken, and the commission on selling phone cards is similar. Card operated booths are often preferred, as they are less prone to problems with reliability and vandalism, and in these circumstances the attendant makes it easier to access the phone by overcoming the capital investment required to buy a card. So on the one hand, attendants promote phone use by providing customer service and reducing the amount of money needed, but on the other hand they can inflate the cost of calls by protecting their source of income.

    AREAS WITHOUT ACCESS TO SERVICES

    Communities in Ghana and Botswana were categorised according the telecommunications service level offered, ranging from no service to high service where there were fixed line services plus coverage by two or mobile operators. This distinction was not made in Uganda, where the mobile network is dominant, and most of the country is covered (although there are local variations in quality of service). Samples were split equally across four categories of service level. It can be assumed that service level corresponds roughly to urban / rural context as there is a link between service level and main occupation - most farmers are in areas with no service, and most professional people are in high service level areas.

    It is evident that many people living in areas with no service are travelling in order to access services e.g. 79% and 82% in Ghana and Botswana respectively. The level of ³occasional² use of booths in Uganda is consistent across levels of service level i.e. there is demand for a certain level of high priority calls, for which people in areas with no service coverage will be prepared to travel to access phones.

    People in these areas have to spend time and money in order to get to a phone, indicating that they place a high value on the service. Figures vary from country to country, but the average cost of travel is around the $0.50 to $1.00 mark. The survey in Uganda was the only one to expressly ask how long respondents took to access phones, and the results show that the majority of those who have to travel take from half an hour to two hours for the round trip.

    Letters are the most common means of communicating, and can be delivered by the post or by messengers. There are a number of factors influencing the reliance on letters for communication. In areas of Ghana with no service, the reliance on letters is less than for the sample as a whole and people prefer to travel to visit people instead; this is tied up with issues of literacy and quality of the postal service. On the other hand, there is reduced reliance on letters in urban areas of Uganda (as opposed to rural areas), where phones have now taken over as the most common means of communication in urban areas.

    A further issue that can be seen as important is the risk associated with travelling to access a phone. Indeed, amongst older people in Uganda (over 40), the belief that using a phone avoids risks associated with travel (as an alternative means of communication) is the most important driver influencing their intention to use phones.

    Equally interesting is how many people are not using services in areas where services are available. In Botswana, for example, over 80% of those who do not use fixed line phones live in areas where service is available (45% are in areas with the highest service coverage), and similarly, in Ghana, over 60% of those who do not use fixed line phones live in areas where coverage is available. This indicates that there are groups of people who are not using services, although they are available, amongst whom other issues are important, such as the need to travel to a phone (especially with fixed line phones), they the fact that people feel they don’t know how to use a phone.

    BEEP, BEEP, BEEP: CALL ME BACK NOW

    This is the practice used with mobile phones whereby one dials a number, lets it ring a couple of times, then hangs up before the phone is answered. The number of the person initiating the call is then displayed on the handset, and the owner can then decide whether or not to return the call. The practice enables people to communicate without paying the cost of a call. Although the practice was found in all countries, it appears to be most common in Uganda (reflecting the dominance of cellular technology). One public booth located next to a school had the line identification masked, presumably in an attempt to prevent the practice of beeping, but the children had found a way of overcoming this - they arranged with their parents that if they beeped three times, then it was a signal that they wanted to be phoned back. It is not quite true to say that people beeping do not have to pay for the call, as telephone shops generally charge a fee for the service (although this is much less than the cost of making a call).

    Intuitively, it might be expected that the practice would lead to increased phone use, on the basis that those without resources to pay for a call can still "initiate" a call. On the other hand, it may be that phone use in a rural area is more or less fixed, and beeping simply enables a reversal in the direction of traffic. As beeping is practised throughout the country, it is not clear to what extent the practice increases overall phone use. The popularity of beeping is reflected in the "success rate" - the proportion of beeps returned to customers using both booths and telephone shops is similar, at 40%.

    There must some form of beeping "etiquette" which determines who will beep, and to whom beeps will be returned, and it is expected that this is largely based on financial resources. This is confirmed to a certain extent by the fact that although the proportion of successful beeps made from personal mobile phones is slightly higher at 45%, these people are more economical with their own air time, and call back only 34% of people who beep them.

    There are circumstances where beeping can be used to communicate a message in its own right, such that there is no need for the beep to be returned, which is obviously not in the interests of operators. This was only observed amongst highly sophisticated users for local communication e.g. indicating arrival at a meeting place. Although an interesting example of how users can adapt services in imaginative ways, it is unlikely that this will become widespread.

    The aim of the research is that this information will be of use to key players in the telecommunications industries of African countries (and elsewhere). It is hoped that the information will promote a better understanding of how people actually use services in practice, and play a part in stimulating innovative approaches to ways in which telephone services can be made more readily accessible to those in remote and low-income communities.

telecoms

  • Econet Wireless International has said it is examining prospects of buying out Vivendi’s 60 per cent stake in KenCell Communications Ltd. Strive Masiyiwa, Econet CEO, said: "It is a fact that there is a process going on for Vivendi to dispose of their interests in Kenya, and we have been approached. We are looking at it. As one of the players in the African telecoms sector, it was only natural that we would be approached."

    Econet now joins Mauritius Telcom in the fray to acquire the Vivendi stake in Kenya’s second largest mobile phone service operator. Vivendi last year said it wanted to dispose of the assets, and France Telecoms and MTN were initially seen as potential buyers.

    "We are reviewing the documentation that they have given us but it is still to early too tell you we are interested," said Masiyiwa.

    A KenCell executive said Vivendi was dealing with its Kenyan exit plans in Paris. KenCell said it has 600,000 subscribers on its books, but analysts say only between 450,000 and 500,000 are active. With the mobile service operator’s revenue per user currently put at Sh22,400 (US$280), analysts estimate that its 600,000 subscriber base gives the firm a valuation of Sh13.4 billion (US$168 million). Mauritius Telcom, MTN and now Econet Wireless are currently seen as top contenders for the Vivendi stake.

    Vivendi’s decision to divest from the country coincides with the Kenyan Government’s plan to license a third mobile phone operator to compete with Safaricom and KenCell. Though Masiyiwa agrees there is need for a third operator, he is pessimistic about the planned auction attracting many top- notch bidders.

    Speaking of his frustration with Kenyan officials during the negotiations for the possible stake in Telkom Kenya two years ago, Masiyiwa said from the very beginning, it was clear the Kenyan leaders were not keen to divest from the fixed line monopoly.

    "As a company, we won’t go into an environment where we are being muscled by politicians, and that was what was happening in Kenya. It was such a disgraceful factor," Masiyiwa said. But he has a word of caution for the new government: "Serious investors don’t jump in quickly. What is necessary now is for the new administration to settle down. They mustn’t expect people to come in with US$200 million or US$300 million investments within three or four months. It doesn’t work that way. What people (investors) will do is keep coming in and looking, and if the Government continues to fulfil its campaign pledges, in 12 months’ time, Kenya will look very exciting."

    The Nation

  • According to a report by Nigeria’s Vanguard, the two largest mobile providers, Econet Wireless and MTN Nigeria disagree on allowing Private Telecom Operators (PTOs) to offer limited mobility services. MTN believes that PTOs should not be allowed to offer any level of mobility while Econet Wireless says it is not concerned if the PTOs offer limited mobility services.

    The NCC ruled that the position held by Econet Wireless, that PTOs be allowed to offer limited mobility, be adopted.

    Adrian Wood, MTN Nigeria’s CEO said, "MTN is opposed to PTOs becoming mobile operators by the backdoor and we have 200 million reasons why we have that point of view. The PTOs have paid a normal license fee and we don’t think that it is reasonably fair or economically justifiable for GSM operators to pay $285 million for their licenses as opposed to few million naira. The second issue is very simple, that going into the auction process in 2000, representation was made to all the bidders that the mobility of the PTOs will be phased out. The GSM operators calculated on this to plan their business".

    Media in Nigeria

  • Tanzania’s government and MSI/Detecon will appoint an independent expert in a last ditch effort to end a dispute over outstanding dues for a stake in a state-owned telecoms firm, officials said last week.

    The expert, to be appointed at a later date, will look into controversial accounts which are the basis of a deadlock between the government and a consortium of Germany’s Detecon and Mobile Systems International (MSI), Tanzania’s chief secretary Martin Lumanga told a news conference.

    MSI/Detecon paid US$60 million in February 2001, half payment for a 35 percent stake in Tanzania Telecommunications Company Ltd. (TTCL), and agreed to pay the remaining $60 million by December 2001. But the consortium has not paid the second trache of $60 million to date and has asked for a review of TTCL’s 2000 accounts, Tanzania officials said.

    The two shareholders cannot agree on accounting for some 115 billion shillings ($115 million) worth of uncollected revenues in 2000, which MSI says are unlikely to ever be collected in view of their age. "We have reached an impasse. We could not agree on certain figures on debtors and the collectibility of the debt," MSI Chairman Sir Alan Rudge said at the joint news conference.

    In August last year, MSI/Detecon lodged an application for arbitration in London, further deepening the rift and sparking fears that the privatisation of TTCL would be jeopardised. But the parties have now decided to negotiate out of court.

    "Our two sides have reached the conclusion that we need to appoint an independent international expert to look into TTCL accounts for the year 2000 and advise as appropriate," Lumanga said.

    "We have also committed ourselves to abiding to the experts determination as final so we can move forward to more investments in Tanzania," he added. He said that once appointed, the expert would have one month to complete the task. Lumanga said the expert would not be a national of Tanzania, United States or the Netherlands to avoid conflict of interest.

    Reuters

  • - South Africa’s regulator ICASA is pointing out that although the 2.4 to 2.5 GHz band has become very popular to provide connections between users and computer networks, it can only be used without the required telecommunications licences if specific conditions are adhered to, beyond which it will amount to a number of contraventions of the Telecommunications Act, some of which are criminal offences.

    - Angolan mobile operator Unitel has launched its new roaming service, initially offering coverage in Portugal but will add other countries.

    - France Telecom Mobile Satellite Communications is extending its range of mobile satellite services by marketing Thuraya, a hand-held satellite telephone. Thuraya’s footprint covers 99 countries in the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia, Middle East, central and northern Africa and Europe

    - MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, the pioneer GSM operator in Nigeria, has suspended the sale of its most popular package, the ‘Pay As You Go’ starter packs (SIM packs). It blamed the need to cope with surging demand.

    - Celtel Uganda this week launched its coverage in Kumi, Pallisa, Kapchorwa, Iganga, Bugiiri and Kamuli districts. Next on the expansion map is Lira, Gulu, Nebbi, Paraa, Kabale, Fort Portal, and Kisoro.

    - The results of a coverage evaluation of Algerie Telecom by the regulator, RPT shows that it is not meeting its regulatory targets. It reveals the following levels of coverage: Skikda (88.42%), Oran (72.73%), Alger (70.13%), Tizi Ouzou (22.22%), Setif (9.59%).

internet

  • The explosion in the number of cyber-cafes in Burkina Faso is making the web more accessible, writes Florence Santos da Silva of Afrik.com. But this is in spite of a connection that remains expensive and slow. In Ouagadougou there’s a cybercafe every 50 metres. But many have no functioning connection. Most cybercafe employees take a philiosophical attitude and ask customers to come back in an hour. Once connected the surfer needs a lot of patience: one click, one minute, one page. The price is between 800 and 1000 CFAs an hour at least, compared to 300 CFAs an hour in neighbouring countries like Benin and Togo.

    Burkina Faso’s citizens have a thirst for new technology. Many of the cyber-café clients are very young such as the pupils who come to open their first mail box. A businessman spends around 10,000 CFAs a month on the internet, against 5,000 CFAs spent by his neighbouring user a physics professor. Most people go to cyber-cafes to receive mail as having a connection at home is a rarity as it costs several thousand CFAs.

    Among the cyber-cafes of Ouaga, Reflex is unusual because it has a rapid connection through a leased line, which is unusual in Burkina. There are less than 10 such connections in the country. Reflex’s owner M. Millogo believes that the increase in cyber-cafes has led to the increasing popularity of the internet but that prices need to come down before more people will use it:"Africa needs these new technologies in order to communicate better."

    In Bobo-Dioulasso, Cyber-Planète opened last summer. On the wall there are notices identifying a selection of sites: for finding a a school or a university, friends, etc. Ezéchiel Ouédraogo, the son of the owner is the moving force behind the new café and one of the most enthusiastic exponents of the internet in Burkina. Founded in Ouagadougo by l’association Yam-Pukri it appears to want to convince all Burkinabes of the magic of the web. His father was drawn into this strange adventure and little by little has been seduced by the growing turnover of this family enterprise.

  • Ninety percent of high profile security breaches occur at companies with lavish security systems in place. So said Clifford Katz of Information Security Architects (ISA) South Africa at a Sun Microsystems security seminar held in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg last week.

    He added that misconfiguration of security systems is worse than no security systems at all, as it gives a false sense of security. "If a company did not have any meaningful security infrastructure, they would at least understand their risks and manage them accordingly," said Katz. "By giving stakeholders a false sense of security, effective risk management is impossible.

    "Without a practical security infrastructure - availability and posture ­ management security will not support business - it will hamper it. No amount of products will mitigate security. The reality is that management should understand the Œnew-era’ risks and manage them appropriately."

    Katz also questioned how vendors explained system patches designed to address a weakness in a previous version of their product. Were they not secure before the patch?

  •   - South African state-owned signal carrier Sentech has acquired the remaining 30% stake of Infosat from Ared. The move means Sentech will now fully own Infosat, which provides value-added services around telecommunications mediums such as leased data lines and satellite.

    - Simbanet Com Ltd, a communication infrastructure provider, has been awarded Kenya’s first wireless data operators’ license by Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK).The firm is the VSAT arm of Simba Group.

computing

  • A letter of intent (LoI) has been signed between three organisations to set up a printer assembly facility in Egypt.The promoters are the Electronics Factory of the Arab Organisation for Industry, CPG International, and Globalis International. In the plant’s first phase, it will assemble a printer model that is currently sold in the Egyptian market, while in the subsequent stages, there will be "greater levels of assembly and local manufacturing of components".

    The three parties have agreed to expand the scope of the agreement to cover other models currently being manufactured in Europe by CPG International. Globalis International was founded last year as a result of merging the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) operations of Alis Technologies (Canada) and CPG International (Europe). Globalis - Egypt, a new company being incorporated under the Foreign Investment Law, will be the interface between all the parties.

    Gulf News

  • Sun Microsystems has announced that it has appointed Pytron Technologies as the first South African distributor of its StarOffice productivity suite. StarOffice is being promoted as an increasingly popular alternative to other office productivity suites. It claims to deliver all the functionality expected in an office desktop environment at a fraction of the cost of its competitors.

    Pytron Technologies is a black company that boasts a network of over 2500 resellers around the country and has extensive experience in the SME (small to medium enterprise) market, which Sun is aggressively targeting with the StarOffice suite.

  • Anyone who thought wild Nigeria was a land of unbridled opportunity for devious gains, take note. Not only has Thoroughbreed Software Consulting, a Nigerian company been barred from dealing in software developed by Nigerian ISV Wadof Software Consulting, its customer, the very corporate Habib Nigeria Bank Limited has been told to stop using it too. The Federal High Court in Lagos says that the software was copied illegally by Thoroughbreed.

    Furthermore, a combined team of security agents and the legal representatives of Wadof Software carried out a raid on Habib Nigeria Bank Trustees recently for alleged software piracy. The raid led to the seizure of the company’s server, which is operated on the pirated software. The software was said to have been pirated by top officials of Thoroughbreed Software Consulting Limited and a former employee of Wadof, and sold to Habib Nigeria Bank Trustees. Nigeria’s This Day newspaper reported that this incident may finally "introduce some measures of sanity into the marketing of software in the country." Where next for pirates?

    CRN Flash

  • -  Some 139 clients of SA’s First National Bank will have their Visa cards cancelled after a hack into a card processing company’s database last week

    - Research house Forge Ahead BMI-T says government spending on IT is growing at an average rate of 15% per annum.This is in stark contrast to the general stagnation in the ICT industry of late, and one of the few sectors still growing in double-digits.

    - ABSA is planning to increase its IT spending by about 9% this year, which is higher than the estimated industry average of about 7% to 8%, says Leon du Rand, group executive for IT at the bank."We will be spending about R240m to R250m on infrastructure replacement, including upgrading mainframes to allow for increasing volumes of business transactions processed, and the upgrading of PCs in branches."

digtool

  • Farmers will be able to receive farm prices through mobile telephones in order to enhance their bargaining power. This new service was announced last week by Dr Adrian Mukhebi, the executive director of the Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange (KACE), a private firm based in Nairobi. Mukhebi said the firm had entered into discussions with mobile phone providers to enable KACE launch its service.

    Farmers will receive information on where to sell their produce or buy inputs such as fertilisers and seeds, he said.He said KACE has field officers based in key agricultural markets in major towns who will be used to provide data on commodity prices on an hourly basis. The new facility is unique as it will enable farmers receive information about market trends and enable them fix prices before selling their crop to middlemen.

    "The information will be sent and charged as SMS messages using a special computer programme linked to the mobile phone system," said Mukhebi. He said the service was aimed at benefiting especially small-scale farmers in rural areas where lack of information on where to sell their produce results in unscrupulous traders exploiting them through price manipulation. "Armed with this information, farmers will now increase their bargaining power for better prices," said Mukhebi.

    The new technology will also assist consumers who, he said, have often been exploited by middlemen. Mukhebi said institutions that frequently buy food commodities such as schools, colleges, hospitals, hotels and general consumers, will get timely messages through mobile phones.

Digital Content

  • www.nig.org.ng)

    The NIG is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation, licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to administer the domain name. The chief executive of Zenith International Bank Jim Ovia iss presidentand Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem is vice president. NCC’s chief executive, Ernest Ndukwe and former communications minister, Chief Olawale Ige are members.

    nig@nig.org.ng

    The Guardian via AllAfrica.com

  • US-based content company AllAfrica Global Media has launched a new project. The iNetworking Project is attacking that problem through an Internet operating system designed to facilitate effectiveness and accountability in four key sectors: education, health, governance and enterprise development.

    According to AllAfrica, by providing a core technology platform along with a toolkit for computer engineers to use as a template for information and communications projects that are finely tuned to both local and national needs this initiative puts the power of the Internet into the hands of the people who use it.

    Already, the iNetworking Project is working with Namibian partners to develop systems that effectively utilize linkages among schools, businesses, clinics and local government structures; with a panAfrican network of peace groups on a conflict prevention and resolution initiative; with the UN Economic Commission for Africa on strategies for effective, democratic governance; and with African development groups on a digital commons to facilitate progress towards environmental protection and poverty reduction (sustainableafrica.org).

  • The FirstRand Group’s e-commerce venture, eBucks.com, last week was claiming success as the Internet banking portal for First National Bank, Origin, WesBank and Ansbacher as well as establishing itself as SA’s leading rewards programme.The group launched eBucks.com in October 2000, shortly after the launch of Old Mutual’s Fundsnet, Icanonline, Standard Bank’s Bluebean and before Saambou’s Internet bank, 20Twenty.

    At the time of launch, the group announced it had set aside R300 million for the launch and to support the fledgling business for a period of three years. Paul Harris, CEO of FirstRand Bank Holdings has said: "eBucks in fact used less than R100 million at peak funding. We are very proud to say that eBucks.com is now profitable on a month-to-month basis and is outperforming all initial expectations."

    In addition to the growing strength of its bottom line, proof of eBucks.com’s growing success is that there are now over 129 000 active Internet bankers conducting over R4.1 billion worth of transactions via the Web site every month, and over 500 000 rewards programme customers who, in utilising the products of FirstRand and MTN, have built up over R100 million worth of eBucks. The average spend in the eBucks Shop has also increased on a monthly basis, with over R4 million worth of eBucks spent during December and total sales for 2002 being double that of 2001.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Ethos Private Equity’s new venture capital technology fund, Ethos Tech Fund 1, has made its first investment, leading the management buyout of information solutions provider INGO Information Solutions. The effective date of the buyout from Inala Technology Investments is 1 July this year.

    The Ethos Tech Fund announced its first closing at R205 million in July last year. Investors include Ethos Private Equity, RMB, Metal Industries and Transnet pension funds, Eskom Pension & Provident Fund and the German Development Finance Institution.

    Ethos Private Equity specialises in acquisitions that involve management equity participation."Our investment in INGO reflects our stated requirements for a venture capital fund - the ability to offer deserving entrepreneurs the right combination of capital, technology experience and global business building support," says Ethos Tech Fund CEO Claudia Koch.

    "INGO more than meets our requirements. This is a company with a rand cost base operation delivering excellent business analysis, customised software development and project management skills, that is generating annual revenue of approximately R20 million after four years."

    Koch says 70% of this is dollar- and sterling-based resulting from corporate contracts in the US and Europe in the chemical and broader- based industrial sectors.

    INGO, an IT vendor-independent information solutions provider, offers services that include business and IT consulting, customisation of systems, software development, system implementation and integration, project management and post-implementation support.

    "The company’s primary objective is to develop software that integrates with existing and often disparate information systems to improve the information flow between those systems and the broader business functions."

    Ethos Private Equity CE André Roux says SA is ideally placed to generate globally competitive technologies and the firm believes the timing is right for investing in quality early stage technology businesses

    http://www.itweb.co.za

  • Reconciling the interests of government, operators and investors was the focus of the Digital Africa Summit, held in Accra, Ghana, from 19 to 21 February 2003. The summit’s theme was ‘Building Digital Opportunities Through Public Private Partnerships’.

    High-level participants from throughout the continent attended the summit including ministers of information and communications technologies (ICTs), non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental bodies concerned with ICT, regulators, private sector partners in ICT projects in Africa and finance organisations.

    The summit, organised by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) and hosted by the Ghanaian Government, provided the opportunity to examine several new public-private partnership (PPP) models, where the interests of three establishments intersect: the public sector, in the form of ministers, regulators and representatives of national telecommunications companies; the private sector, in the form of operators and vendors; and the financial services sector. The summit helped to develop greater appreciation among all three parties of each other’s needs and requirements.

    "The summit also covered goals of the public sector, such as universal service and rural telephony, as well as what operators require from governments and investors in order to be commercially viable," explained Dr David Souter, Chief Executive of the CTO. "It explored what the financial sector requires in terms of security of investment and the profits that can be obtained. Through summit discussions from all three perspectives, the old PPP structures have gone or are disappearing and new rules are being established."

    Another theme to emerge from the summit was that the private sector need not necessarily mean foreign direct investment from multinational operators. The private sector may also include numerous local entrepreneurs who are able to meet market demand.

    In his closing summary, Dr David Souter noted that PPP "can help the public and private sectors to work together to achieve commercial success on the one hand and at the same time socio-economic development on the other."

  • - Econet Wireless, the only listed technology company on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, released its interim results last week for the six months to December 2002, which showed a dramatic reduction in the company’s debt from a high of nearly $4bn in June to $1,6bn in the period under review.

    - Tanzania has issued a tender for the sale of its 27 percent stake in the country’s second-largest mobile phone operator, Mobitel, as part of its continuing privatisation programme.

  • Due to an attack of the gremlins the above story appeared when it should not have. It is one of our company archive stories and is well over a year old. Sincere apologies to all for any confusion this may have caused.

More

  • * RDC Dr Aristo Gubare of Uganda’s Bundibugyo district recently called for new investors in the local telecommunications business:"We are grateful to MTN for getting us connected. But the network is still limited to some areas and not stable." Gubare said UTL services in the district collapsed years ago. A new road now connects the district to Kampala making it a day’s journey and Gubare wants to see telecoms improved to match this new improvement.

    * According to Ewan Sutherland, executive director of the International Telecommunications Users Group (INTUG) South Africa’s attempts at managing the transition between the Telkom monopoly and an open market are almost certainly doomed to failure and will do nothing to make broadband more widely available or affordable.In fact, South Africa’s version of asynchronous digital subscriber line technology (ADSL), the great white hope for consumer broadband, is a parody of what it could be, says."ADSL as offered in South Africa is a product clearly designed not to be purchased," he said. "It is a truly Third World offer," said Sutherland, who met regulators and spoke at the University of the Witwatersrand last week.

    He said the reason for and solution to the lack of broadband Internet access in that country were clear. Telkom is the problem and ending the state of protectionism it operates in is the answer. "The slow speed (of ADSL in SA) is a marketing decision," he says. "If you are close enough to an exchange to get ADSL, you can get 12Mbps."

    * According to This Day, NITEL subscribers in Llorin district, Kwara State are not happy:"We are getting tired of them and that’s why we have been eagerly waiting for the second national carrier, Globacom". According to Engr. Justina Apede, her bills arrives wrong:"When you complain, they ask you to pay before they’ll listen to you and once you pay that’s all." Ilorin-based lawyer, Deji Gbadeyan, had reason to complain about NITEL’s billing system.

    In February 2002, no one used phone in my office and they brought a bill of N8,750 and after a protracted argument, which fell on deaf ears, we paid only for the same error to be repeated in December 2002, when consumers had to pay N11,000 for a directory in which my office particulars were omitted."

    NITEL public relations officer for the tertiary, Segun Omolade, said "on the billing, it is the hand written amended bills that should be paid. That’s the most recent bills and that’s what we’ll collect. On faults, it is not true that consumers have to wait for weeks and they have no reason to bribe our staff to work on their faults."

     

  • - The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation is looking for a new Chief Executive. For details click on the top banner ad.

     

  • SOUTHERN AFRICAN INTERNET FORUM, KWA MARITANE GAME LODGE, PILANESBERG, SOUTH AFRICA (11-13 APRIL 2003)

    The Southern African Internet Forum has three key objectives:

    1. To help create a shared strategic agenda between the private sector, the regulators and civil society that will help each advocate for change that will overcome current obstacles.

    2. To offer high-level training through experience-sharing that will enable the private sector and civil society the ability to identify new opportunities and to act boldly in tackling them.

    3. To allow participants the opportunity to put in place a Southern African Internet Forum as a way of pursuing these discussions on a regular basis.

    The South African Internet Forum be a three-day event with a high-level training workshop on the third day (11-13) April 2003, Kwa Maritane Game Lodge, Pilansberg, South Africa). There will be a plenary stream with breakout panels to discuss specific topics. It will precede IDRC’s Acacia event ­ Lessons of Empowerment from Communities enabling participants to attend both events.

    The plenary stream will cover:

    DAY 1

    Plenary: Setting an agenda for action
    William Stucke (AFRISPA) and David Meintjes, UUNet

    Regulators, policy makers, civil society and the private sector: Forging new relationships to make things happen

    Speakers to be announced.

    LUNCH

    Thinking the Unthinkable - African regulatory challenges for the 21st century (VOIP, the international bandwidth monopoly, interconnection and rural operators

    Lishan Adam (To be confirmed)

    Digital rights - The minefield of censorship, personal privacy and much more: What users are entitled to

    Ryk Meiring (South Africa)

    Bretton Vine (South Africa)

    DAY 2

    Lobbying government and regulators: Getting your voice heard, influencing others - Lessons to be learnt

    Charley Lewis, LINK Centre (To be confirmed)

    Mike van den Bergh, Gateway Communications

    Universal Service Policy: Putting TRASA’s Universal Service Policy into action

    Speaker to be announced.

    LUNCH

    Domain names - How can Southern Africa regain control of this process

    Calvin Browne

    Brian Longwe

    Plenary: Creating a Southern African Internet Forum

    The high-level training session will be:

    Creating national and regional Internet Exchange Points: reducing costs and speeding up content delivery

    Brian Longwe (Kenya)

    Panel discussions will include:

    Technologies to reach the parts others cannot reach
    Bassit Bulbulia, Witel Africa, Mike Jensen, Russell Southwood, Balancing Act.

    Who represents the user? - Finding a role for Internet user groups

    Charley Lewis, LINK Centre (To be confirmed)

    E-rate: Why it is needed and what it can do

    Encouraging active virtual communities:

    Bev Clarke, Kubitana (Zimbabwe) and David Barnard, Sangonet

    The rural challenge - Getting beyond the cities and towns

    Telecentres and Cyber-Cafes - Finding the best approaches to opening access

    The Kwa Maritime Bush Lodge is two hours from Johannesburg. Transport arrangements will be confirmed with you upon booking.

    sean@aitecafrica.com

    The forum is being organised by AITEC and Balancing Act, with support from the Southern African Open Society Initiative.

    If our correspondent is "off the mark" or you have factual amendments, mail them to us and we will include them in subsequent News Updates. If you'd like to contribute, write and let us know.

    If you need information about a particular place or issue, just send your questions in. We are always happy to follow up on readers concerns.



    News Update is a free e-letter produced by Balancing Act that covers African internet content and infrastructure developments, It goes out to government, the private sector, education and NGOs. To subscribe, send a message saying "I want to subscribe" to info@balancingact-africa.com

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