Issue no 212
Some of the best mobile opportunities are coming out of the peace dividend from the end of the civil wars of West Africa. As the smoke clears, the new Liberian Government has been re-examining all the licences given by the last Government. One of the big three regional operators Celtel is poised to launch there shortly. In Sierre Leone Intercellular Nigeria Plc (run by an ex-Nitel corporate planner) is about to start setting up its network. Russell Southwood looks at what the move means in terms of future potential for these markets.
Until recently Lonestar Communications Corporation was the only mobile network operator. Launched in 2001 its network has not extended much beyond the capital Monrovia and Buchanan because of the civil war. Because there is no independent regulator all licences were obtained directly from the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. Lonestar received the backing of the previous political regime who the current Government say maintained a monopoly for this reason.
In a slightly crab-like set of political moves, the Ministry of Post and Telecom revoked the license of Ducor/Optima Wireless represented by Ambassador Jallah K.K. Kamara. The Minister said Ducor/Optima Wireless representative proved to be unable to live to the terms of the agreement. Minister Eugene Nagbe said this failure to perform and live up to the terms of the agreement culminated in a request by him to Œtransfer’ the license to a group, Celtel Liberia Limited represented. As a result of this, he added, the Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications was left with no alternative but to revoke the license in keeping with statutory responsibility and internationally accepted practices. CelTel (formerly MSI) announced in May that it had been granted a licence and looks set to launch soon.
The other competitor will be Atlantic Wireless plans to launch its LiberCell network in May 2004. It is the leading internet service provider (ISP) in Liberia. The company’s network will initially cover only the Monrovia area, however, and it is difficult to see how it will compete against bigger groups like Investcom and Celtel if it does not expand rapidly to the rest of country. All three plan to start rolling out before the end of the year.
There are currently 6,000 fixed lines and about 50,000 cellular subscribers despite very limited coverage and relatively high prices. There are no interconnect agreements in place between the three operators. Celtel belives that current mobile prices are too high and that therefore there is plenty of market potential despite late entry. Company sources estimate that it will capture 31,000 subscribers in year one rising to 110,000 in year three. It will roll out its network to Monrovia, Robertsfield, Kakata and Buchanan, still a relatively modest enclave of coverage. Celtel also has an unexploited licence in neighbouring Guinea.
Digital Wireless operator, Intercellular Nigeria Plc, last week announced the expansion of its services to Sierra Leone with an operating license to offer a basket of mobile cellular, fixed line and VSAT gateway for international trunk services.
The Nigerian company holds a national operating license for national digital wireless servicess in the country, providing networks in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri and recently, Zaria. Intercellular Nigeria hope to commence services in Minna, Niger State in the next quarter.
CEO Bashir Ahmad el-Rufai said the company will operate under the business name of Intercellular Sierra Leone with its full legal complement and business autonomy.
According to Mr. el-Rufai, the current Vice-President/Northern Operation,Mr. Abubakar Nahuche, has been appointed the chief executive officer of the new company while a member of the company’s board and former Minister of Communications Mr. Ahmed Aboki Abdullahi, would serve as the chairman.
Intercellular Nigeria controls a majority share under an offshore joint ventrue agreement between Intercellular and local investors in Sierra Leone.
According to el-Rufai, "When we started, a lot of skeptics did not understand what deregulation meant. We took a huge risk, what if the military came and our response was never again. Today, we look at Freetown, and we say never again, and that is why we are going there. It is good for us, it would be good for the people of Sierra Leone and it would pay Nigeria as the leading light of Africa."
However there are already three mobile operators and a mobile incumbent so Intercellular will have its work cut out getting a foothold in either the mobile or fixed market. But its to an international gateway has to be a useful advantage.
Celtel subscribers may soon be able to call Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other Comesa countries at a single rate if the respective countries okay a plan for a direct link between the countries. Mamadou Kolade, the Celtel International B.V external affairs director told a press briefing at Celtel House.
He said that Celtel had a presence in seven Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) countries and already has a direct link between Congo Kinshasa and Congo Brazzaville, which has resulted into a decrease in the prices, and a dramatic increase in calls. He, however, said that linking countries will only be possible once each of the countries undertakes liberalisation of their communication industries.
"To link some countries, you need an international request as at times international calls have to be monitored. If countries liberalised, then it would be easier for the international operator to link up," he said.
He said that the International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank, would back Celtel. Kolade, however, declined to disclose when the plan would take off or even how it would work on the ground.
Kolade, who was attending the just ended Comesa Summit in Kampala said: "Many governments want interconnectivity at least among Comesa countries, and this has been a request from them. Some ministers and Comesa leaders have said that they will help us achieve this."
Comesa already has a plan to set up a trans-Comesa communication consortium called Comtel that will set up a regional communication highway estimated to cost USD300 million. If this ambitious plan materialises, it will be perhaps one of the biggest of the kind in Africa.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced last week in Abuja that it has opened investigations into the circumstances surrounding the sudden withdrawal of Vodacom (Pty) of South Africa from V-Mobile (fomerly Vee-Networks Limited, also formerly Econet Wireless Nigeria).
Vodacom had terminated a five-year management deal with V-Mobile following the payment of brokerage fees to three Nigerian firms, Oceanic Securities Limited, Bromley Assets Management and Empee Ventures. The three firms had brought equity investments from respectively Lagos, Delta and Akwa Ibom States.
Vodacom said the brokerage payments, despite its objections, not only undermined good corporate governance practices, but breached trust. The EFCC yesterday, however, vowed that it would determine the financial losses, if any, incurred in the process of the transaction and recover them. Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, disclosed in a statement that the Commission would conduct a probe to determine the extent to which corporate governance and transparency have been compromised in the relationship between V-Mobile and Vodacom as well as "establish whether or not the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as contained in the Companies and Allied Matters Act have been complied with."
The Commission further disclosed that it would probe all the issues involved in the legal tussle between V-Mobile and its former founding partner, Econet Wireless International (EWI) as well as the role played by Nigerian regulatory agencies, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).Ribadu, stated that the investigation includes "the determination of the implications of the withdrawal and legal tussle on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)."
The EFCC would also investigate whether the three companies, Oceanic Securities, Bromley Asset Management and Empee Ventures are duly licensed to offer the services for which they were paid brokerage fees. The EFCC would further "investigate the appropriateness or otherwise of the brokerage fees paid to the three companies with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; investigate the roles of the regulatory agencies such as Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the Equity Investment Transaction and to determine if Nigeria court sanctions were obtained."
The statement also pointed out that the "EFCC investigation is also to determine the financial loses (if any) and recover same; invite and ensure the attendance/appearance of any person to assist in the investigation as well as liaise with the relevant bodies either public or private including the Ministry of Communications to make and implement its recommendations." Vodacom pulled out of Nigeria barely two months after officially taking over the management of V-Mobile.
Oceanic Bank and Bromley were paid N71.4 million each through a Universal Trust Bank cheque and Intercontinental Bank cheque respectively while Empee was paid a total of N229 million through Lead Bank and National Bank of Nigeria cheques. Although the money was returned at the insistence of Vodacom, the South African company said the damage had been done and that the Board of the Nigerian company could no longer be trusted. EWI had earlier alleged these payments were bribes. EWI chief executive officer, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, had also alleged that his "refusal to pay the commissions was responsible for the breakdown in the relationship with some of his Nigerian partners."
A legal process was later initiated to determine whether the fees were bribe or not. But a day before former EWN signed its Management and Technical Agreement with Vodacom, its board quickly paid the remaining 5 per cent to the companies even while the court was yet to decide on the matter. Although Vodacom conceded that it had no proof the brokerage payment was corruption, it however said it undermined good corporate governance practices.
SR Telecom Inc last week announced that it has received orders valued at over USD1.6 million from Defense Nationale du Royaume du Maroc (Gendarmerie Royale). The Gendarmerie Royale has selected the SR500 fixed wireless access system for a private voice and data network project. Deliveries are scheduled to commence immediately.
The SR500 network will be centered in the capital city of Rabat and will transport internal voice and data traffic for the Gendarmerie Royale. The network will connect over 42 stations throughout Rabat. SR Telecom will also provide certain services, including field surveys, network design, installation, training and project management.
"Gendarmerie Royale required a dependable and secure solution to transport highly sensitive voice and data traffic and they have found precisely that in the SR500. This underscores the inherent security of our airlink and the reliability of our wireless products," said Pierre St-Arnaud, SR Telecom’s President and Chief Executive Officer.
Uganda Telecom (UTL) has announced that it is embarking on an 8-week programme to rollout the recently launched wireless landline (TelesaverPlus) throughout the country. UTL Marketing Manager, Hans Paulsen, announced the plan during the launch of this facility in Fort Portal on Wednesday last week. He said that by the end of the 8 weeks, all major towns in Uganda would have this service.
"By the end of the year, we hope to have taken TelesaverPlus to all the areas where Uganda Telecom services are," he said. TelesaverPlus uses the latest CDMA technology and Uganda is among the first ten nations to embrace this latest innovation in landline telephony.
TelesaverPlus comes with a 16-hour standby battery, can display up to 10 missed and dialed calls, has a hands-free facility, PIN code security, direct international dialing and instant dialing among many other features.
TelesaverPlus also has the lowest rates in the market at Shs 110 per minute for local calls and Shs 800 for calls to East Africa. TelesaverPlus also has a direct dialing facility to satellite phones and provides direct Internet access at a flat monthly fee of Shs 100,000. UTL Chief Commercial Officer, Faisal Ijaz Khan said that the company would soon upgrade the Internet and data speed from 253 kilobytes per second to 2.2 megabytes per second.
This will help handle the anticipated growth in traffic as more users sign up, management said. He said that TelesaverPlus signals are strong such that they are accessible within a radius of 50 kilometres from the booster station.
Local mobile commerce facilitator, Simplus, has announced the release of its new payment solution, SimTransact, for small, medium and large businesses. The payment solution operates on a mobile phone, using a customer’s Mastercard or Visa card for transactions performed without a fixed line point of sale terminal, the company says. Transactions are validated via confirmation SMS’ sent to the merchant’s cellphone, Simplus adds.
Transactions are initiated by either the merchant or the customer using their mobile phones or the Internet. This aims to give cardholders the added security of being able to initiate the transactions themselves, rather than giving merchants payment information.
"This service is ideal for plumbers, electricians, fleamarket stall-owners and travelling sales people. And it benefits customers too, by giving them the option of a 24-month payment period for bills exceeding R300," explains Simplus MD, Gavin Krugel.
"The only requirements to use this solution are a mobile phone, or access to the Internet, and a completed SimTransact registration form and a merchant account with either Absa or Standard Bank," he adds.
The extended payment period particularly benefits small businesses, as they can now compete financially against bigger companies, Simplus says. Transactions are processed promptly, getting the merchant back on the road in as little time as possible, the company adds.
Medium-sized business can extend their franchise to their customers in the mobile and Web space, Simplus adds. Corporates can resolve payment collections and can expand their procurement and sales solution sets through SimTransact, the company concludes.
Mobile technology development specialist, Fundamo, has contributed to the fight against HIV/Aids in SA by providing ongoing support, with technical development, for Cell Life, a mobile information support initiative designed for the management and treatment of the pandemic. Cell Life, a non-government organisation based at the University of Cape Town, uses cellular technology to deliver an innovative technology-based platform for communications, information gathering and logistical support, to monitor the delivery of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to more than 2 000 HIV-positive people around the country.
Fundamo’s role in the project involves providing assistance to Cell Life’s developers in the areas of system design, architecture and project management.
Using cellular technology, Cell Life aims to provide infrastructure for communication between therapeutic counsellors and caregivers, doctors, hospitals, clinics and patients, so encouraging patients to adhere to lifelong ARV treatment.
The architecture of the system has three elements: a central database and Web server, remote access to the database from any Internet-connected PC, and SMS-based communications to and from the server via cellphone.
"Communication is fundamental for the successful treatment of HIV/Aids," says Ulrike Rivett, MD of Cell Life. "A carefully monitored programme ensures that the patient maintains a strict medication regimen, enhancing adherence, communication, delivery, support and ongoing monitoring of the patient’s condition."
Rivett explains the importance of these key issues in the advancement of knowledge about the nature of the disease.
It is imperative for patients to receive their drugs on time, and that they take their drugs according to a prescribed schedule, in order for the drugs to work effectively, and limit the development of drug-resistant strains of the virus.
SMSs also act as the lifeline between doctor, caregivers and a large number of patients.
Doctors and nurses can access a central database by logging on to a secure Web site to assess individual patients in remote villages, using information logged by the patients’ caregivers or counsellors.
Such information provides details of the physical wellbeing of the patient, the therapy administered and any side effects that the patient may be experiencing. Based on this information, doctors may contact the caregiver via SMS, or arrange to see the patient.
The timeous delivery of drugs to satellite hospitals in rural areas requires prior knowledge of the pattern of drug consumption, so that distribution from pharmacies can be automated.
This is designed to take place using a pre-emptive analysis via SMS of patients receiving drugs, and of stocks held by satellite clinics.
"The marriage of the latest cellphone and computing technology has seen the creation of a central information portal, where current advances in Aids treatment can be assessed, together with information about ways of combating side-effects," says Rivett.
ICT allows the patterns of disease to be mapped, and for crucial data such as the mutation rate of the virus, the effectiveness and resistance to drugs to be collected and collated.
"The results of lab tests can securely be stored in an encrypted database and sent via SMS directly to medical personnel. Hospitals have secure access to the database, and researchers can extract real-time data for the mapping of the disease in southern Africa," says Rivett.
"Fundamo’s relationship with Cell Life has given us the opportunity to contribute our mobile development skills, knowledge and industry network to the project, while at the same time learning a great deal from this critical social initiative," says Hannes van Rensburg, CEO of Fundamo.
- Nigeria’s telecoms operators have begun talks on how they could collaborate to establish a facility for the local production of recharge cards. The move is in response to the impending ban on importation of recharge cards by the Federal Government with effect from January 1 next year.
- Following the signature of a 10-years rental contract with the Smart Village Company in Egypt on July 15th 2002, Alcatel has finalized the construction and preparation of its news state-of-the-art building and is moving to its news premises on June 20th, 2004.
- South African utility company and dark fibre owner Eskom has lost its long-distance carrier licence in Nigeria. The prospects for South Africa’s utilities who invested in fibre are not getting any better. As ItWeb commented following Nexus taking to Court the SNO’s two consortia:"The network put in place by Transtel and Esi-Tel (Eskom) is devaluing all the time, meaning it could conceivably be worth a whole lot less than the R1.5 billion initial valuation by the time the SNO sees the light of day".
- Intelsat successfully launched its 10-02 satellite last week.
- Telephone subscribers in Nigeria’s Taraba State owe NITEL N52 million, the Territorial Manager, Alhaji Mohammed Jalo, said last week. Jalo told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Jalingo that the debt was incurred before the collapse of the NITEL mast in the state capital about two months ago. He explained that subscribers had been reluctant to settle their debts since the collapse of the mast, while some of them had not bothered to collect or pay their bills for local calls. On when telephone services outside the state would be restored, Jalo said work on the base station of the company’s new transmitter had been completed and added that trunk telephone services would be restored "very soon."
- As part of Uganda’s continuing price war, for sh330, MTN subscribers will now enjoy a single tariff rate for calling to all networks following the launch of YelloMax last week, a new profile intended to benefit people who make most of their calls during peak hours. Its PayGo profile for mainly off-peak callers, and the YelloGo, for high- end users had created a gap for people who make most of their calls during the peak hours, had created the need for the new profile. Profile status can be confirmed by dialing a special number and entering the appropriate code.
"To launch all the products at the same time would have confused the customers. We had to start somewhere with the default package, the free access," he said.
- Kenyan mobile phone service provider, Safaricom, which has been suffering network congestion on a regular basis every Friday, now says it will reduce its tariffs next month. "We are promising our subscribers reduced rates in the coming weeks," said Chief Executive Michael Joseph said. At the same time, Mr Joseph announced that his firm had earmarked Sh8 billion for the expansion of its network in parts of the country. He said Safaricom had built 14 new base stations in the lake region, bringing the total stations in the area to 24.
- Nigeria’s Mtel has dropped the retail price of SIM cards to N6,700 from N10,500. Mtel also is aiming to increase international calling on its network with what it claims is the lowest international calling rate.
- Uganda Telecom launched a prepaid landline which can be acquired immediately after payment of the purchase fee. "telesaverPlus is a smart and simple prepaid landline service. All you have to do is purchase the start up package, take it to your place of work or home, plug it into a socket and talk immediately," Paul Hansen the marketing manager said. He said the package is a modern handset with a display screen, sh10,125 airtime, free power surge protector and internet access for a minimal fee.
- Vodacom Tanzania Limited has introduced two new services: Call Me and Credit Transfer. Call Me allows users to to send a free message to another Vodacom subscriber requesting them to call back, particularly useful at those times when a user had run out of credit balance and needed to make urgent calls. Credit Transfer allows users to send pre-paid credits to dependents, relatives or colleagues. Providing the user has a minimum balance of 1,000/- on his or her own account, they can send as little as 500/- to any of their dependants, relatives or colleagues anywhere in the country.
Vodacom expects to spend at least R200m upgrading its network to offer third-generation (3G) high-speed data services, with a goal of earning 10% of its revenue from data within three years. Vodacom will become the third company offering data and internet access to the public, directly challenging Sentech and Telkom.
Rival MTN, which has said very little about its 3G investment, will give more detail at a demonstration on June 23. That prompted Vodacom to steal MTN’s thunder by staging its own 3G demonstration last week. Vodacom’s plan to launch 3G services by Christmas will mean a massive consumer education campaign.
Vodacom’s chief operating office, Pieter Uys, concedes that SA’s cellular networks have seen a very muted takeup for existing data services as they are too slow and too expensive. In the year to March Vodacom earned 4,4% of its revenue from data, against MTN’s 3%.
He told those attending the demonstration:"To make the user understand that affordable data at decent speeds is on the horizon, we will offer specials on GPRS, either by providing free data or lower tariffs, depending on the ruling by ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of SA)."
One of Ghana’s leading ISPs Internet Ghana has signed a pact with the incumbent telco Ghana Telecom. Leslie Tamakloe, the Chief Executive Officer of InternetGHANA said InternetGHANA believed in the President’s declaration of the golden age of business and the private sector being the engine of growth. He believed, therefore, that the action by the government to intervene in resolving the issue, would go a long way to boost the information and communication services.
Mr. Tamakloe promised his company’s preparedness to help Ghana Telecom expand its network and Internet services to Wa, Bawku and Pusiga in the northern regions and other parts of the country.
Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah was on hand to make encouraging noises. Commercial disputes should not create differences between companies, but rather serve as a catalyst for competitiveness in the communication and business sectors of the economy, the Minister of Communications, Mr. Albert Kan-Dapaah has said.
The session covered: location; hiring and training; marketing; strategy and focus; and accurate financial planning. There was an emphasis on product differentiation &SHY; what can you do to create an atmosphere which will make your customers choose you over your competitor down the street? The participants also discussed whether it is the customers that drive your strategy, or you. Should you be reactive to their requests, or pro-active (essentially thinking up new ideas before they know they even want them)?
There was a discussion around what exactly these facilities may offer the public. Owners were pressed not to be conventional in their thinking, and assume that customers are just coming for internet time. But rather they should think of this as a new Œlifestyle’ where people are coming to meet, do business, learn things and interact. So participants were asked how do you recognize that, plan and execute it, given the financial constraints you may be under? Owners were encouraged to do customer surveys to really find out what they’re thinking.
As one of the organisers Mark Davies of Busy Internet told News Update:"It was an interactive forum, rather than a lecture, where everyone was invited to contribute their ideas". Further sessions are planned so check the web site for details.
- CATS-Net has introduced a wireless Internet services in Tanzania. Through this new service, it gives a consumer wireless Internet access wherever and whenever it needed. Connection will be made through the simple installation of the Axity 3G modem, a small device that plugged into either the USB port or to the Ethernet adapter of the computer. It will be on an unlimited usage fixed bandwidth basis and available from 64 Kilobites per second (Kbps) to 512Kbps The service will be rolled out in three phases. The first phase is expected to begin at the end of August 2004 to cover most major areas of Dar es Salaam. The second phase is expected to be completed the end of this year and will extend coverage to all the other areas in Dar es Salaam. The third phase, which will cover major towns of Tanzania, is expected to begin mid next year.
Ideavelopers is the first technology incubator in Egypt. Ideavelopers has come out of a project that started at CIIC, the equity firm that merged brokerage house EFG-Hermes in 2002. CIIC had one of the largest portfolios of IT startups in Egypt, but was looking for a more structured way to raise capital for young firms and provide the management guidance that they may not have the experience to have accumulated. It worked on the idea with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), which was keen to support a private-sector initiative that would help new companies. However, MCIT saw itself as a regulator and facilitator of the industry, not an investor in its own right, leaving CIIC looking for other investors to back the project.
Two years and much market research later, the final result is Ideavelopers, a company that pools venture capital from several investors, finds young companies to back, and provides them consultancy services and guidance in achieving their business plans.
With the state of investment in Egypt, technology companies have a tough time - whether debt or equity-based, said Walid Bakr, Ideavelopers’ Chief Business Development Officer. This is especially true when there is an economic downturn. Banks do not want to back intangible assets.
Bakr is veteran of the US IT industry, where he ran several successful software companies. Although keen to apply the lessons and dynamism of the America’s venture capital-funded IT boom, he says that the incubator idea common in the developing world had to be adapted to the realities of the Egyptian market. With the scarcity of capital that is available in the country, he said Ideavelopers would be much more hands-on with its investments.
We decided to build a venture capital fund that has a pool of money to fund the startups we choose, and alongside that to have another company that helps in the pre-investment stage in selecting the investments... That post-investment provides an array of what we call strategic services. This is the support that a company needs: strategic planning, business models, financial structure, human resources, sales and marketing and so on, Bakr explained. You get these PhDs from MIT approaching you - they have great technical skills, but no managerial skills. We try to support these people.
Ideavelopers is split into two parts: a venture capital fund and another company that provides management support that a young company might need: strategic planning, business models, financial structure, human resources, sales and marketing. The advisory company, which charges for its services, was formed between CIIC-EFG Hermes and Telecom Egypt, with the former owning about 80% of the capital. The fund part of the business regroups seven local investors that have committed a total of LE50m: CIIC/EFG Hermes, Telecom Egypt, Faysal Islamic Bank, Misr Iran Development Bank, Misr Insurance, Eastern Insurance and Egyptian Re-Insurance.
Bakr also had to devise new exit strategies for these investors to recoup their investments. In the US or Europe, the traditional method is to have a company carry out an initial public offering (IPO) on a stock market such as the NASDAQ in New York. Otherwise, startups may opt for a second round of investment to continue developing (with the second round investors buying out the first round ones). The last option is to merge and be acquired with an existing company.
I would say that in 90% of cases we will be looking at mergers and acquisitions, Bakr said.
But Ideavelopers’ success in selling its investments to other companies will largely depend on the health of the IT sector, since after all a bigger company needs to exist in the market in the first place to acquire a start-up. In Egypt, there are only a handful of IT firms that are large enough to acquire startups - as for instance the Orascom Telecom-owned Linkdotnet did in 2001 when it bought eight smaller companies to add to its core internet service provider business. That merger remains the single biggest dotcom merger to have taken place in Egypt’s young IT sector.
Three startups have already been selected by Ideavelopers - a software developer, a professional service provider and a chip design firm. Eventually, though, he hopes that a total of 15 will be selected from the hundreds of business plans that are sent to the company for evaluation. For the most successful of these, Bakr hopes to realise 300-400% per year profit, adding that his conservative average return rate will be to the tune of 30-50% per year. On average, each company will received about LE4m in funding and investors should be able to recoup their investment in 3-5 years.
Depending on the success of this first round of investment, Ideavelopers will then knock on the doors of local and foreign investors for another round of fundraising. With a little luck, this time it will be able to provide Egyptian success stories that will show that the risk of investing in the Egyptian market is worth it.
The Oxford Business Group
- The United Nations launched two community multimedia centres (CMCs) on Thursday to enable rural communities to take part in the information technology revolution. The CMCs were opened in Bahir Dar and Lalibela in Amhara State, northern Ethiopia, the UN’s Development Programme (UNDP) said.
- The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) and the European Computer Driving Licence Foundation (ECDL-F) have signed an MoU this week in London to jointly promote global digital literacy initiatives utilising the ECDL-F’s e-Citizen programme as part of the efforts by both organisations to develop into more partnerships to foster the use of ICT for achieving development goals.
The Russian anti-virus software house, Kaspersky Labs says that it has detected the first ever computer virus that can be distributed via mobile phones. Cabir, the first network worm which propagates via mobile networks infects telephones running Symbian OS. So far, Cabir does not seem to have caused any security incidents.
It seems that the worm was created by a virus writer going under the name of Vallez. This pseudonym is used by 29a, an international group of virus writers. The group specialises in creating proof-of-concept viruses. Among the group’s creations are Cap, the first macro virus to cause a global epidemic; Stream, the first virus for additional NTFS streams; Donut, the first virus for .NET and Rugrat, the first Win64 virus.
Preliminary analysis of the malicious code shows that that Cabir is transmitted as an SIS file (a Symbian distribution file), but the file is disguised as Caribe Security Manager utility, part of the telephone security software. If the infected file is launched, the telephone screen will display the inscription "Caribe". The worm penetrates the system and will then be activated each time the phone is started. Cabir scans for all accessible phones using Bluetooth technology, and sends a copy of itself to the first one found.
Analysis of the worm’s code has not so far detected any malicious payload. The worm is coded to run under Symbian OS, used in many Nokia telephones. However, it is possible that Cabir will function on handsets produced by other manufacturers.
The site offers over 800 tourism offers including: hotels, airlines, car-hire companies, etc and more than 55,000 others from across the world. The site allows you to make online reservations for price discounts of between 20-50% of rates advertised. It believes that it can cut 40% from the overall cost of a trip to Tunisia by an American visitor and 25% for a French visitor. The company believes that Tunisian internet users which it currently estimates at 700,000 will rise to 3 million by 2007.
- Last wee saw the launch of the first open source collaboration platform in Ghana. The new website is called Twinux.org ‘Twinux’ is a combination of Twi the first language for roughly half of the population in Ghana and Linux. The site is hosted by ibiblio.org
Telekom Malaysia Bhd’s joint venture company Thintana Communications LLC is reducing its stake in South African telecommunications provider Telkom SA Ltd, by offering for sale as many as 33.2 million shares. Telekom Malaysia holds a 40% stake in Thintana while SBC Communications Bhd holds the other 60%. Thintana has a 30% interest in Telkom.
"The sale, subject to demand, price and market conditions, would be conducted through a private placement to institutional investors," Telekom Malaysia said in a statement on June 16. It said that Thintana had earlier announced its intention to reduce its stake in the South African company to not less than 15.1%.
After the sale, SBC and Telekom Malaysia would retain 9% and 6% indirect interests respectively in Telkom. "Telkom SA will not receive any proceeds from the offering. In connection with the offering, Thintana will enter into a lock-up agreement on the remaining 15.1% holding in Telkom SA," it said. The agreement will remain effective until Telkom’s interim results for the period ending Sept 30, 2004, are released, expected to be on Nov 22.
According to a Reuters report, Telkom chief executive Sizwe Nxasana said at a results briefing last week that the firm would buy back its shares in a "liquidity event". Asked whether this applied to Thintana’s planned sale, Telkom spokesman Andrew Weldrick told Reuters on June 14 that the firm could not comment on the private placement, but added: "I wouldn’t imagine that would preclude Telkom."
Analysts said this should be a relief to investors since it reduced the threat of an overhang and any possible cap on the share price that would accompany it. Telkom’s biggest shareholder ‹ the South African government ‹ is expected to hold on to its stake of around 37%, until at least March 2005.
SBC spokeswoman Anne Vincent said the company had decided to take a more "opportunistic" approach to its international investments. She said given a tripling of Telkom’s stock price over the past year, as well as interest rate and currency exchange trends, SBC decided it was time to sell half its stake.
Last week, SBC announced it would sell its 23.7% holding in Danish telecommunications firm TDC worth more than US$2 billion (RM7.60 billion). At current prices, SBC’s stake in Telkom is valued at about US$600 million.
The Edge Daily
The proposed USD140 million transaction involving Econet Wireless International (EWI) and Allied Technologies Limited (Altech) moved closer to consummation this week following conclusion of the due diligence exercise on EWI. Sources privy to developments said Altech finalised the due diligence last Friday and indications were that the company was eager to press on with the deal.
Contacted for comment, an official at Altech’s Johannesburg head office said the company would make a further announcement pertaining to the deal at the end of June."Our CEO has committed to making a statement on the findings of the diligence exercise at the end of the month," the official said.
The sources said indications were that Altech had liked what it saw during the protracted due diligence exercise, which had led to speculation that the deal might fall through.However, there could be some alterations to the original deal, with Altech now reported to be keen on keeping a wide berth on Lesotho, where EWI has 70 percent equity in Telecom Lesotho, a joint venture with the government.
This was because of penalties the Lesotho regulators slapped on operators who failed to reach certain subscriber thresholds.The loss of Lesotho looks set to be offset by the addition of Papua New Guinea under EWI’s broadening ambit.Negotiations for the Papua New Guinea project are reported to have progressed well.
EWI investor relations executive Kevin Kachidza said the group had never been unnerved by the length of time the diligence exercise had taken since the deal was first announced in January.
"We have been in discussions with Altech for about three years. Altech is a conservative company, and we are conservative too, in our own way, but we have always noted that there are numerous synergies that make the deal attractive.
"We were in no way alarmed by the length of the due diligence because of the geographic spread of the EWI assets," Kachidza said.Following the conclusion of the due diligence exercise, the proposed transaction will now be considered by the Altech board, before shareholders vote on it.
Should it be sewn up, the deal entails Altech taking up 50 percent equity in EWI, which has business interests in Nigeria (a five percent stake in what was Econet Nigeria but now VMobile), Botswana, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Kenya, as well as a satellite services division and the upcoming Papua New Guinea venture.The Lesotho and Zimbabwe operations would initially be excluded from the transaction, although the door has not been shut on the possibility of future participation.
Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless Holdings Limited, which played midwife to the international operation, cannot be brought into the deal due to exchange control constraints, but shareholders in Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone firm stand to benefit from the Altech deal via the Econet Wireless Holdings Shares Trust, which will warehouse the shares until exchange control approval is obtained for EWHL shareholders to accept them.
While Altech will get 50 percent of the NewCo to be established should directors and shareholders approve the deal, the other half will be held by Econet Wireless Ventures.Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa and his family will own 47.62 percent through TSMI Limited, while the Econet Wireless Shares Trust will hold 46.16 percent and an employees’ trust will own 6.22 percent.
The consolidated company to emerge from the merger is expected to launch an aggressive bid for majority control of VMobile in Nigeria, following the decision by South Africa’ Vodacom, a prospective ultimate shareholder in the undercapitalised venture, to pull out.Altech is an investment holding company, and is a leading South African multi-billion-rand telecommunications multi-media technology group.
The company’s main operating subsidiaries are Autopage Cellular, Netstar, UEC Technologies, Arrow Altech Distribution, Alcatel Altech Telecoms, Alcom Systems, Alcom Radio Distributors and Altech Data.The cash-rich and technologically endowed Altech is expected to provide the muscle for EWI’s international expansion drive.
- Bytes Technology Group (BTG) reported a strong performance for the year ended 29 February 2004 with a 27% improvement on adjusted headline earnings per share and an increase of more than 37% in its dividend declared of 22 cents per share. Bytes Technology Group has also emerged as the preferred bidder for CS Holdings.
- The MTN group reported a 94% increase in profit to R4,312bn, driven by strong performances across all its operations during the 2004 financial year. The group recorded a 77% increase in adjusted headline earnings per share to 253,1 cents. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) increased by 44% to R8,983bn, resulting in profit after tax (PAT) of R4,312bn, 94% up on the previous financial year.
* Project Facilitator Tina James this week announced the South African Government’s ICT roadmap: "In other countries, roadmaps streamlined R&D, and fast-tracked commercialisation of products and services." James added that such an initiative could also promote international investment. "It is possible, although it would be a lot more difficult in a country like SA, because we are a developing nation and we don’t have the resources of a country like China." Sun Microsystems senior systems engineer Dumisani Mtoba also promoted the concept of roadmapping to the industry. "In Singapore, they have gotten to a stage where they are globally competitive, and that is something for us to work towards. If they can do it, why can’t we?" The government’s ICT roadmap has entered phase two of its roll-out plan, and, as expected, the main focus is on encouraging business to take up the initiative.
* According to the Nigeria’s Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), "In view of the proceedings at the Cybercourts, Cyberlaw and Cyberworld conference (in the USA) the government will send additional information to the National Assembly on the cybercrime bill."He further pledged that conflicts of functions among Federal Government agencies responsible for law enforcement would be resolved.
* Mathew Galvani, the KenCell Communications Ltd chief marketing manager has resigned. The company said Olivier Antonnucio, one of the marketing managers has taken over in an acting capacity.Galvani quits barely a month after former company CEO, Philippe Vandebroucke resigned allegedly because of disagreements with Vivendi and the Sameer Group CEO, Naushad Merali.Speaking to the East African Standard shortly before departure, Vandebrouk said the two shareholders locked him out of the board, a decision that instigated his resignation."I respect their decision but it was not fair at all considering all what I had laboured for," he said.Galvani, like Vandebroucke were associated with Vivendi, the former majority equity holders who have since sold off their 60 per cent stake in the company to Celtel.
- Kenya’s Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura has extended an olive branch to the ICT sector. In a letter to one representative he wrote:’ Apparently, there are issues requiring urgent resolution in the sector. Unfortunately, these cannot be resolved through murmuring. There is need to get together for a solution’ ‘....will be appreciated if we can have a brainstorming meeting with representatives of the various stakeholders to chart the way forward for this crucial sector.’ A meeting is being arranged with some speed.
- CCK’s D-G Sammy Kirui has apparently landed a job at the ITU.
RIPE NCC REGIONAL MEETING (28-30 JULY), NAIROBI
RIPE NCC Regional meeting is to be held in Nairobi from 28-30 July 2004 at the Norfolk Hotel.Attendance to the RIPE NCC Regional Meeting is open and free of charge. However, attendees are responsible for covering their own travel and accommodation costs. Conference attendees will include RIPE NCC members, industry partners, government representatives and regulators with particular interest in wide area IP networking.
The RIPE NCC Regional Meeting in Nairobi will focus on Internet Resource management issues specific to the region, including:
- The industry self-regulatory open structures and processes used by the RIPE NCC and the global Internet community;
- How to participate in and influence IP address management policy-making;
- AfriNIC - The emerging RIR;
- Peering and Exchange Points;
- Are we running out of IPv4 address space?;
- An update on IPv6;
- Domain Name management on the Internet;
- Root Server Operations.
The draft agenda and registration details for the Regional Meeting can be found at:
ORACLE DEVELOPER DAY ON 27 JULY
Oracle SA has announced that its next developer and technologist-orientated conference (Developer Day) will take place on July 27 at Vodaworld. According to the company, its first annual Developer Day, held in October last year, attracted more than 500 developers, and it expects a bigger crowed this year.
Bev Scott, ISV Channel Manager at Oracle SA, says that technology community has an opportunity to experience Oracle’s new technology, with an in-depth look at Oracle 10g, live demos of Oracle technology and keynote discussions from international Oracle and Intel representatives delivering the highest level of technical content.
"Because of the sheer volume of information we need to get through at this year’s Developer Day, we have divided the agenda into separate database and developer tracks. The database track will be aimed squarely at the Oracle 10g Database and the development track will be aimed at the use of Oracle 10g Application Server and Oracle Developer Tools in conjunction with the database," Scott says.
"We expect a significant increase of developers this year, based on the massive growth that our ISV community has undergone over the past year. Where last year’s Developer Day was instrumental in showing the development community that Oracle has more to offer than a database, this year’s Developer Day will focus on showcasing the new technologies that we have brought to market in the interim and why grid computing is a superior concept," Scott continues.
According to the company, one of the highlights will be that all demonstrations will take place on a ‘mini’ grid implementation, using both the Linux and Windows operating systems. "Last year’s Developer Day gave us an opportunity to talk about the 10g technology and the benefits that Oracle will be rolling down the line," says Scott. "This year we will be actually showing the technology off in a real world environment.
"The fact that the topic matter will consist mainly of demonstrations and live showcases is something that we believe will truly excite local developers. Last year’s response to this format of event was extremely rewarding, and, with the turnout predicted to be even more impressive this year, we aim to up the ante and deliver even more value to the local technical community," Scott concludes.
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