Issue no 346

top story

  • An early adopting reader alerted us last week to the existence of Fring. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s free Skype-style client specifically designed for mobile phones. This South African reader had been making use of it to phone friends and business contacts. If the Fring thing catches on – particularly in those African countries with reasonable broadband capacity – then it looks set to put a hole in the revenues of the mobile operators. It does both voice and SMS for the cost of the data use from the mobile provider that is much cheaper than current voice rates. Russell Southwood looks at the coming VoIP challenge for Africa’s new incumbents.

    http://www.fring.com

    The existence of mobile VoIP clients like Fring pose a significant challenge to mobile operators. It is already possible to use an IP client like Skype to make mobile calls over existing data-enabled networks. Depending on the data capacity enabled, quality will vary from the not very good to the perfectly adequate. African mobile operators are vulnerable on network quality issues in many countries (particularly on international calling) and therefore VoIP-enabled mobile calling will be attractive.

    As mobile operators now carry most voice traffic and often operate with low levels of competition, it is not unfair to describe them as having all the characteristics of the new incumbents. And faced with the VoIP threat, a number of operators have reverted to the incumbent’s chosen behaviour: try to close down anything new that threatens revenue. MTN has already announced in South Africa that it has banned Skype and that anyone it catches using it will be charged at its voice rates. This position has neither logic nor past experience behind it.

    European operators like T-Mobile announced publicly that it was banning Skype on its network but in late 2006 it said it was reversing the ban and would reach an agreement with Skype. The latter has already announced deals with Hutchinson in several markets and said it was making available a Pocket PC client that would enable wider user of its services.

    An example of the Hutchinson deals is 3G mobile operator 3 in the UK. Its pitch gives a clear idea of the shift in thinking required to offer a mobile VoIP service:”Why should you pay per minute, per message, per click, per megabit? In the real world, you buy your PC, pay for broadband and that’s it. Our principle is simple – X-Series customers will only pay a flat access fee on top of their basic subscription and then what’s free to use on the internet should be free to use on mobile broadband (subject to fair usage and international roaming conditions, of course)”.

    The other challenge will be Wi-Fi-enabled handsets. By October 2006 10% of hot-spot operator The Cloud’s traffic by kbps was coming from voice. It has achieved this by securing alliances with both traditional players and news entrants including: Net2Phone, Vonage and Skype. Its Ultra Wi-Fi offer allows unlimited use in the UK for US$23.36 a month and it has 7,500 hot-spots across Europe. But as it grows it is also doing business with existing mobile operators. In 2006 it signed an agreement to partner with Vodafone’s German operator D2 to provide WLANs.

    So what will African mobile operators do as they come to terms with a mobile VoIP future? At present, they have yet to commit but most do not yet appear to have come to grips with the implications of this challenge.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - Management of Transnational Corporations(Transcorp), owners NITEL, may have brought back to life its Mobile Telecommunications (MTel) arm, following the completion of the first phase of its re-engineering processes with the restoration of about 60 base stations.

    - Glo Mobile, the wireless arm of Nigeria’s second national operator Globacom, has launched voice-SMS over its network. The service allows subscribers to record and send a thirty second voice message as an alternative to a text message. It is the first service of its kind in the country and costs NGN15 (USD0.12) per message sent. Retrieval is free.

    - Telecommunication services have been reopened in the North and West of the centre of Côte d’Ivoire occupied by the armed rebels. Côte d’Ivoire Telecom and Orange Mobile have reopened infrastructure and outlets.

telecoms

  • The CEO of Portugal Telecom (PT), Henrique Granadeiro, says that his company is examining the possibility of establishing a pan-African mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) based in Angola. ‘The big pan-African operators are centred in South Africa or in the Middle East but we believe in a new pan-African operator based elsewhere, namely in Angola,’ he told Portuguese newspaper Visao.

    Granadeiro added that the new MVNO could be launched in partnership with Angolan mobile operator Unitel, in which PT holds a 25% stake, but that Unitel would be unlikely to form the basis of an international business.

    PT has stakes in mobile operators in several other African states, including Morocco (Médi Télécom), Namibia (Mobile Telecommunications), Cape Verde (Cabo Verde Telecom) and Sao Tome & Principe (Companhia Santomense de Telecomunicações). In March 2006 a consortium of PT (60%) and Unitel (40%) bought a 51% stake in a GSM-900/1800 licensee in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Telegeography

  • Africa’s Second National Operator licence processes run the danger of becoming the beached whale of regulatory liberalisation. The latter usually runs through the following stages: single monopoly operator, same plus mobile operators, and then reaches for a wider and more complex competitive ecology.

    The SNO is the cautious regulator’s option for introducing competition. In the early stages of liberalisation it allows the vertically-integrated monopoly of the incumbent to be converted into a duopoly operated by two vertically-integrated companies.

    So Senegal’s announcement in 2001 that it would introduce an SNO to compete with incumbent Sonatel perhaps fitted the pattern. But here we are six years later and there is still no SNO announcement from the Government and political timetabling (the recent President elections and the latter assembly elections) dictate that there will probably be no announcement until the Autumn. Sonatel has continued to entrench its de-facto monopoly and controls 80-90% of any market worth having. In any other country this degree of monopoly would be the subject of a legal anti-competition challenge.

    Malawi’s SNO bidding process (started in April 2006) appears to be going into a similar holding pattern. A local report leaking the conclusions of the evaluation process for the SNO bidders seems to show that MACRA will not proceed with appointing an SNO if it follows the evaluation report.

    There were three bidders: Access Communications, African Communications Ltd; and AirTel Communications. Terracom (the bidding vehicle of former Telecel owner Rwanda Miko Rwayitare) asked for a licence to do data and VoIP services. The three formal applications are all Malawian. However regulator MACRA’s Acting Director-General Mike Kuntiya says that a successful bidder will be known when the Government has made a final decision. Kuntiya maintains that all its evaluation report has done is make recommendations and the final decision must be made by Government.

    Speed is not a characteristic of the SNO process as it is unlikely that a decision will be made before April, several deadlines having already come and gone. Based on a number of different criteria including ownership and control, the technical and business plans, experience and credibility, the evaluation’s author ranked the three companies as follows: Airtel (86.83 points), Access Communications (73.57), Aircomms (69.5) and Terracom (14.52). The Government’s Information Minister said it was considering the company that scored the highest markets as it only had weaknesses in certain areas and MTL needed competition.

    The wheels have also come off Kenya’s SNO process when the selected winner Vtel Consortium failed to make the first licence payment. After Vtel failed to make its first payment, Reliance was give a week to raise its similar first payment otherwise the process would be cancelled. No news has emerged since that point. The curse of the SNO Licence procedure? We shall see.

  • The Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) has launched the Trans Kalahari fibre optic and SDH project which will cost government about US$32.3 million. The project which will cover approximately 2000 kilometers of optical fiber and take up to 18 months to complete.

    According to Minister Venson Moitoi the Trans-Kalahari project has been sub-divided into three parts. The first part starts in Jwaneng going through Ghanzi and terminating at Mamuno. This phase will connect directly to Namibia.

    The second section starts in Ghanzi, going through Maun and ending in Orapa while the last leg will run from Sebina through Nata, Kasane and end in Ngoma. This last section will ensure onwards connectivity with Zambia and Namibia."

    She said the fiber project comes because telecommunications service providers currently depend on limited connectivity via expensive leased bandwidth on international cable and satellite systems.

    "This acts as a barrier to the development and growth of both the operators and the economy at large. The Trans-Kalahari project, when complete, will therefore open doors to new opportunities," she said.

    These new opportunities, according to Moitoi, will extend to people living in the western and the remotest parts of the country that has been underserved in terms of high capacity telecommunications.

    She said BTC is a signatory to two consortia that are intending to develop undersea optical fiber systems. These, according to the minister, are EASSy that is supposed to run alongside the eastern coast of Africa from Port Sudan through East African seaports down to South Africa. Another one is the West African Festoon Sea System which is intended to run alongside the western coast of Africa from Nigeria through Gabon, DRC down to Angola and possibly Namibia.

    "Once completed, the Trans-Kalahari project will bridge the missing link that is needed to optimally interconnect the planned consortia under sea fiber cable projects. We are currently engaged in discussions with Angola and Namibia to jointly assist each other in realizing the most effective connectivity to both consortia and the region as a whole," she said.

    Government has decided to further liberalise the telecommunication sector by opening the provision of international gateway services and Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) as well as other activities. "The Trans Kalahari project is essential in achieving all these," Minister Moitoi said.

    The Voice

  • A fire at the headquarters of Celtel Malawi has crippled the network, and lead to a mass exodus of customers to rival operator, Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) - who are now themselves suffering from network congestion. Reports in local media are suggesting that the fire broke out at Celtel House at the weekend, and was made worse by delays in calling the fire services.

    When the fire brigade finally arrived, they then ran out of water before being able to access the 4th floor of the building where the fire was at its most intense. Fortunately, a recent delivery of network switches from Ericsson was stored separately and has not been affected by the fire. The fire is believed to have been caused by a faulty air conditioning unit.

    In a statement released on Tuesday evening last week Celtel said a chartered cargo plane carrying replacement supplies arrived in the country on Tuesday and that another one was expected yesterday with additional supplies. "So far the team has managed to restore cabling and power in the Celtel premises. It is now in advanced stages of testing the network capability before switching it on at an appropriate time,"

    Cellular News

  • Just a month ago whereas the executive branch of the Liberian government had decided to review licensing agreements between GSM operators and the Liberian Telecommunications Authority - LTA (the independent national telecom regulatory body). LTA itself had just gone through a very tedious and protracted process of getting the operators to accept its regulatory mandates (perceived or real or both) and was finally able to ink a licensing agreement for the segment. This agreement calls for the GSM operators to pay an annual license renewal fee of $300,000 (US) and to have the life of the individual licenses extended for 18 years.

    "Government wants to make sure that the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), which is responsible to license and interact with GSM companies on behalf of the government act within the confine of the laws when it entered into signing contracts with GSM companies" (a senior government Minister in a local newspaper). He stated further, "where if it is found out that the LTA acted out of the laws, these contracts would be reviewed".

    Now, the question here is this, did the LTA exercise its legal mandate as an independent regulator to license these operators? The answer to the question is yes. So, what did the LTA do wrong to warrant this review and possible overruling of its agreements with the operators? Well, the answer to the second question I will say lies with the same branch of government taking the step to review the agreements.

    The risk of such a drastic move by government could be averted or mitigated through the enactment by the national legislature of the necessary laws that spell out the functions and duties of the LTA. The LTA may have been a legal entity pronounced by an Act of the national legislature (under NTLA) within the vein of sector reform. However, the failure to back this independent body with a permanent and comprehensive national telecommunications law will continue to make way for its legitimacy to be tested. This may have been a problem of putting the 'cart in front of the horse'. Plainly speaking, it is a reform sequencing issue, a common trend in our Sub-Region.

    Concerted efforts should be made to expedite the government's effort in enacting a new telecommunications law and repealing existing telecommunications laws (The Liberian Telecommunications Corporation Act of 1973 - The LTA Act and The Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications Act of 1978 - The MP&T Act) that continue to be the main legal framework for the evolving domestic telecom sector.

    A well-documented telecommunications law that spells-out the LTA's statutory mandates on all regulatory matters (licensing, interconnection, numbering, universal access/service, consumer protection, spectrum management, standards, and technologies) should serve as a shield from political pressure or external interference of any type. This should also help in securing and sustaining the regulator's structural and financial independence and may even help avert 'capture' by any section of society or the sector. The 'Telecom Sector Policy' (for Liberia) authored by the World Bank consultant (Hellerstein & Assosciates) cannot be treated as a substitute to a well-defined and comprehensive telecommunications law or regulatory framework for the nation.

    In insulating LTA's decisions and rulings from outside pressure or negative external actions, the national legislature should heed to the call by Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (in the President's annual message to the National Assembly on January 29, 2007) to provide the nation with a 'comprehensive and permanent' national telecommunications law. If this new law (drafted by the World Bank) resembles anything similar to what we have seen in Ghana, Nigeria, The Gambia or Sierra Leone, the LTA should have the necessary protection or guard against the many 'political storms' (judicial, executive or legislative) that are bound to come its way.

    Concord Times

  • Two British fraud busters are investigating a possible kickback worth billions of shillings by Vodafone (UK) in its acquisition of more shares in mobile service provider, Safaricom. Last week, the two investigators from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), met the chairman of a Parliamentary watchdog committee at a Nairobi hotel over the matter for three hours.

    Reliable sources said the two SFO men-one a banker and another a criminal lawyer-wanted to get more information from the chairman of the Public Investments Committee (PIC) on the changes in the shareholding structure of Safaricom since 1999. Of particular interest to them was to trace how Vodafone (UK), through its local company-Vodafone (K)- increased its shareholding in Safaricom from 30 per cent in January 1999 to 40 per cent in 2002 and the current 35 per cent.

    The series of transactions involving Telkom (K) and Mobitelea Ventures, it was said, have drawn the attention of the British Government, which wanted to know whether Vodafone (UK) was involved in any form of fraud.

    Last week, sources said the two investigators wanted PIC chairman Justin Muturi to assist them with a road map of how the shareholding changes in Safaricom and who were the major players. It was also said they wanted to know how Vodafone (K) file disappeared from the Registrar of Companies offices without the notice of the Kenya Government. The file could provide them with more information on the ownership structure of the Safaricom.

    The Nation

  • - Police had to use teargas to disperse hundreds of retrenched Telkom Kenya employees protesting over unpaid allowances in their terminal benefits.

    - After nearly 40 years of outsourcing, the Botswana Telecommunication Corporation (BTC) has produced its telephone directory internally. Countrywide distribution of the directory has already begun.

    - Fidèle Gouandjika, Central African Republique Minister of Post, Telecommunications and New Technologies has announced that the country will soon have a national framework plan for the development of telecommunications and new technologies. The parliament is currently debating on the country’s new telecommunication Act, drafted on the model of the Senegalese one.

    - Burundi has implemented a new numbering plan. Telephone number digits have increased from 6 to 8 digits. Fixed line numbers are now preceeded by 22 or 29 and mobile numbers have been allocated the following prefix 76, 77, 78, 79 for Econet, Onatel, Africell and Telecel.

internet

  • Globacom Limited, Nigeria's second national carrier has concluded arrangements to launch its submarine cable, Glo-1, which will link 16 African countries. It will start from Lagos to London and through a dedicated link on Apollo 2 to the United States of America. Globacom officials who confirmed the story explained that with the increasing bandwidth requirement of Nigeria and West Africa, there is the urgent need to address the problem.

    The project will link Nigeria (Lagos) and England (Bude) with Branching Units in Spain (Vigo), Portugal (Simsimbra), Morocco (Casablanca), Senegal (Dakar) Mauritania (Nouakchott) Sierra Leone (Freetown), Liberia (Monrovia), Togo (Lome), Cape Verde (Praia), Gambia (Bamjul) Guinea Bisau (Bisau), Guinea (Conakry) Cote d'Ivoire (Abidjan), Benin Republic (Cotonou), Ghana (Accra), Nigeria (Bonny).

    It was also confirmed that the submarine link will have a capacity of 32 channels with each channel holding 10 gigabits per second or STM 64 Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing. This project being undertaken by Alcatel Submarine networks and will connect West Africa to UK (with a dedicated capacity to the USA) on a 32 channel STM64 fibre optic cable capacity.

    This Day

  • The EASSy cable project took a step forward with the official signing of a turnkey Supply Contract. This follows the finalisation of the Supply Contract in Pretoria, South Africa, by the EASSy consortium from 6-8 March 2007. The supply contract has been signed by the 23-member EASSy consortium with Alcatel-Lucent who will lay the first ever optical submarine cable network landing in East Africa.

    The 9900km high performance fibre optic cable will link eight countries from Sudan to South Africa, via Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique. Landings are planned for Port Sudan, Djibouti, Mogadishu (Somalia), Mombasa (Kenya) Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), Tollary (Madagascar), Maputo (Mozambique) and Mtunzini (South Africa).

    Based on Alcatel-Lucent’s submarine and terrestrial optical solutions, EASSy will connect the eastern African seaboard as well as landlocked countries, to the rest of the world. It will also provide connectivity across the continent to support the increase in local traffic from existing and new broadband services.

    “Despite many challenges, EASSy parties proudly announce that EASSy is now a reality. Telecom Operators have confirmed their participation in EASSy by signing on the dotted line," said John Sihra, Director of ZANTEL Tanzania and the EASSy project Coordinator.

    Sammy Kirui, the chairman of the EASSy Project Management Committee (PMC) and Managing Director of Telkom Kenya stated: “We promised EASSy to the Eastern and Southern African Governments, communities and other stakeholders, and rest assured, we will deliver on this promise.”

    Telkom South Africa COO, Reuben September, added that as one of the consortium members, Telkom will now have the opportunity to expand its footprint further into Africa, creating further opportunities for access to future potential markets.

    “Coming soon after our acquisition of Africa Online, this latest development certainly represents a strategic fit with our growth and expansion ambitions in Africa,” stated September.

    In addition, September said that the EASSy cable added to the diversity of solutions that form part of the total ICT solution from Telkom. “In delivering a regional capacity of up to 320 Gbit/s, EASSy complements and increases Telkom’s capacity, especially with regard to taking the 2010 World Cup to the rest of the world.”

    My ADSL

  • MWEB Zimbabwe has introduced a satellite link for outgoing communications, to complement is existing TelOne link, in a bid to eliminate frequent disruptions in communications. The company has until now relied wholly on the TelOne link.

    This new investment in technology has been described by MWEB's chief operating officer, Nikki Lear, as a major development for the country's telecommunications sector which is dogged by poor connection services, network congestion and communications disruptions.

    "As a result of this considerable investment in new technology, MWEB customers will, from now on, have continuous Internet access, higher browsing speeds and more consistent delivery of local and international e-mails, even in the event of downtime on the existing service link," said Ms Lear.

    "We shall also maintain our TelOne links and we understand that a planned upgrade of the TelOne system is also being undertaken, which will enhance the efficiency of that system," she added.

    The Herald

  • Telkom laid out is broadband plans for 2011 at a recent analyst meeting, but consumers looking for drastic price cuts and far higher speeds may be disappointed. Telkom has come under fire from consumers for their very high ADSL tariffs, but it looks like the telecoms giant has no plans to remedy this situation any time soon.

    According to media reports, Telkom executives at the recent analyst meeting said that ‘it would stop drastic price cuts for broadband access”, an announcement that will not sit well with consumers. Telkom’s reluctance to reduce prices may be related to a lack of competition in the fixed line telecoms space, with Neotel indicating that they will only start to deliver residential services by mid-2007. "The fact that the market has lagged on the competitive and regulatory fronts is giving us time to do more smart stuff on the retail front," said Steven Hayward.

    While local ADSL prices are of the highest in the world, speeds are far lower than international norms. African countries like Morocco and Kenya have already broken the 20 Mbps broadband barrier, and both these offerings carry no usage limits. In developed countries services of 50+ Mbps is becoming commonplace, with some countries pushing the 1 Gbps limit.

    Currently Telkom’s fastest service is 4 Mbps, and this situation will not improve dramatically over the next five years. Telkom said that they plan to increase the speed to 10 Mbps by 2011. While a 10 Mbps service may be internationally competitive now, by 2011 it will definitely not measure up to international norms, where Fiber-to-home connections are already starting to take over from ADSL.

    Telkom further said that they are looking at 15-20% ADSL fixed line penetration rate by 2011, once again moving the goal posts further and further away. In November 2005 Telkom’s CEO Papi Molotsane said that his company will reach this target by 2008. The three year target then became three to five years, and has now been moved to 2011.

    It is clear that Telkom is struggling to meet its own deadlines, which may be related to their insistence on retaining inflated prices whilst delivering a sub-standard service.

    Unsurprisingly, wireless broadband services are likely to overtake ADSL in terms of subscriber numbers, making SA one of the only countries in the world where this is the case. It looks like Telkom’s stranglehold on the local telecoms arena and the South African economy as a whole will continue, and the only solution, namely true competition, seems to be a long way off.

    My ADSL

  • The AccessKenya Group has expanded its network coverage to Naivasha. Through its public data network provider - BLUE, the Group has installed two base stations in Naivasha which will provide broadband connectivity to the town - a key area for horticulture.

    The Managing Director of the Group, Jonathan Somen said that expansion of AccessKenya Group’s coverage to the Naivasha area was a further important step forward in its plan for national broadband coverage.

    “The Ksh 5 million investment in the new base stations will service a growing number of companies in the horticultural sector – a highly important sector for Kenya’s economy. We expanded our coverage to Naivasha to give access to companies that wanted a reliable and effective internet solution with fast broadband speeds and high broadband bandwidth with excellent value for money.”

    With the roll out, Naivasha’s horticultural industry is now able to access AccessKenya’s products such as BroadbandMax2 which provides a user with internet downloads that are 4 times faster than a standard offering. Naivasha based companies will also have access to Yello, AccessKenya’s telephone service that can save them up to 75% on their international calls. Yello will also allow Naivasha based companies to make free phone calls to their Nairobi offices.

    The roll out to Naivasha means that the AccessKenya Group now has total network coverage of nearly 3,000 square kilometers in most of Kenya’s main business areas. The Group, which is awaiting approval from the Capital Markets Authority to list on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, hopes to invest part of the funds it raises from the Initial Public Offering to expand its network even further.

    “A listing will help us accelerate our goals, including a further improvement to our latest Broadband Max 2 – quadruple downlink – solution, a reduction or complete elimination of the set up costs to use our Yello telephone service and the launch of a new AccessKenya IT service offering, as well as expansion of our network coverage”, said Somen.

  • - Retail broadband prices are set to decrease in Benin. According to local IT professionals lower new offers will increase competition and drive prices down. The OTI and other local ISP have for example launched a residential offer (128/64 Kbts) between 17,000-18,000 CFA francs ($35-$36).

computing

  • Computer manufacturer Pinnacle has taken umbrage with a government tender that specifically calls for foreign models, preventing local technology developers from bidding. The tender issued by the Services Seta (sector education and training authority) specifically calls for HP equipment worth about R10m. It wants the HP workstations, laptops, laser printers and a multifunction machine to print, copy, scan and fax to be supplied from next month to March next year.

    "The tender is discriminatory and ignores totally the local brands," said Pinnacle director Takalani Tshivhase. "The seta is funded by the government via the labour department, but they are running away from supporting the local manufacturers."

    Pinnacle argues that its locally developed Proline computers are no different from HP models, since they all conform to the same specifications, generally use exactly the same components, and are built in a plant certified to the same production quality standards.

    "Nobody can believe HP is better than Proline. Quality-wise, you won't find any difference. We have the same standards and we have modernised our assembly line to get the same ISO certifications," Tshivhase said.

    Pinnacle had tried to meet the authority to discuss the biased tender, but "when you try to make an appointment it never happens," he said.

    The Services Seta claimed to have standardised on HP equipment, Tshivhase said, but locally manufactured brands would work side-by-side with any of the international models with no interoperability problems.

    The seta's procurement manager, Raam Govender, could not be reached for comment. The seta could also argue that the local industry may benefit from part of the tender, however, as black-owned Matomo Technologies is the local production partner for HP's desktop computers. Matomo's plant in Midrand had assembled 300000 desktop computers from imported components by the end of last year and now has five assembly lines and 45 staff. Pinnacle, Mustek and Safari have frequently campaigned against tenders that call for a certain brand rather than set out the model specifications. Business Day

  • Raya Contact Centre finalised deals earlier this month with EMAAR Misr, the Egyptian branch of the Dubai-based EMAAR Properties real estate company and Piraeus bank, a retail bank headquartered in Athens to provide both companies with customer support outsourcing.

    Spokesmen for the two companies told the local press that the decision to base their support centres in Egypt was made because of the high quality of service they believed their customers would receive there. Raya will help EMAAR Misr build a client database, gathering feedback via customer satisfaction surveys. It will also provide help desk services for two of the company's main ongoing projects while Raya will handle Piraeus' round the clock customer service centre.

    A number of local companies, including Xceed, Raya, C3 and the Egyptian Contact Centre Operators, have set up call centres in Egypt to cater to local and international businesses. Microsoft, Oracle, Vodafone and Alcatel are just some of the other big names to have moved their contact centres to Egypt.

    Khaled Shash, managing director of Raya Contact Centre, told OBG that Egypt's geographical position, infrastructure and workforce provide the ideal environment for customer care centres to flourish. The country's time zone also makes it a practical choice for making and receiving calls from all of Europe and the short flight times between Cairo and European airports makes it convenient for business travel.

    Having visited Bombay, Shash is confident that the telecommunications infrastructure in Egypt more than matches that of India. He told OBG that Egypt's main internal telecommunication network was very good, with many exchanges and very little in the way of old technology. The fibre optic links to the US and UK provide examples of the country's strong international links. The industry has been de-regulated and call centres have been granted a licence to use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that other companies have been denied. Call rates to the US and Europe have dropped to a fixed rate of 5 cents and 7 cents, respectively.

    Shash also feels that Egypt has significant advantages over India and South Africa when it comes to human resources. He believes that the neutral and easily understandable accent that Egyptians have when they speak English is of great value to his clients.

    It is not just in the English language that Egyptian workers perform well. Adel Danish is chairman and CEO of Xceed whose headquarters in Cairo has 1200 workstations and is the biggest contact centre in the Southern Mediterranean region. Danish told OBG that 10% of the 250,000 Egyptians who graduate each year speak a foreign language. The yearly addition of high-calibre bi-lingual workers allows his company to serve 12 countries in nine different languages. It's not enough to speak one language if you want to be part of the global economy, he said.

    The Egyptian government is keen to promote outsourcing to the country. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif has highlighted the fact that the country's young population can fill the technological and communications gap with relatively little investment.

    The ministry of communications and information technology started a call center training program in 2004, aimed at providing qualified people to fill jobs in this sector. The program provides international quality training for some 800 students a year, who are then qualified to become call center agents, supervisors and other personnel. Participants receive training in English, enunciation and customer service, as well as instruction on how to handle different types of callers and how to work effectively under pressure.

    Shash praises the effort by saying, Everything we have asked of the government they have achieved. He believes that the measures have helped Egyptian call centres corner an ideal niche in the market. He told OBG that in India there is a large disparity in call centre quality while Egyptian centres, such as Raya, occupy a middle ground, providing a mid to high-level service at a low cost.

    Xceed's Danish is bullish about the future of the call centre industry in Egypt. He points to figures from the business intelligence firm Datamonitor that forecast a 50% compound annual growth rate through 2009. Shash said he agrees and believes that off-shoring and business-process outsourcing will be a source of major growth for the Egyptian economy.

    Oxford Business Group

  • The Free Software Foundation (FSF) yesterday released a paper entitled, "The road to hardware free from restrictions", detailing ways major hardware manufacturers with power in the market can work with the free software community to establish a "mutually beneficial relationship."

    The paper recommends manufacturers take action in five areas: supporting free software drivers, ending the "Microsoft Tax", removing proprietary BIOS locks, supporting a free BIOS, and rejecting Digital Restrictions Management (DRM).

    Peter Brown, FSF executive director, said, "With the growing utilisation of free software and the rejection of Microsoft's Vista, large vendors like HP, Dell, Lenovo and Sun have the opportunity and responsibility to acknowledge the market for hardware suitable for free software users -- hardware that meets ethical requirements for user freedom, privacy and security. We hope that this paper will focus attention on what needs to get done in the coming months."

    A draft of the paper was first sent on January 10 2007 to HP and Sun Microsystems for their comment. Since then, several related developments have demonstrated that the ideas in "The road to hardware free from restrictions" are widely held within the technology community, said Brown.

    In a release yesterday FSF said "Kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman's open offer to all manufacturers for free Linux kernel driver development has generated a sizable response. Dell's recent solicitation of customer feedback was met primarily with proposals to make all Dell machines optionally available without Microsoft Windows, replacing it with either no operating system or with a choice of GNU/Linux distributions. Suggestions for Dell to support LinuxBIOS and to build their laptops with hardware fully supported by free software drivers were also popular choices.

    In the paper, the Free Software Foundation expresses its eagerness to build on this momentum by assisting hardware vendors interested in making the recommended changes, and it encourages vendors to take a fresh look at this largely unexplored opportunity.

    Tectonic

  • The UN is to set up an initiative to extend the life of computers and electronic equipment and tackle the growing problem of 'e-waste' in the developing world.

    Discarded electronic equipment can contaminate soil and water, and is a growing problem in developing countries as information technology becomes increasingly popular.

    The Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) is a consortium of major hardware manufacturers and software companies -- including Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft -- the UN and partner organisations.

    The initiative will be launched tomorrow (7 March), and will highlight how many electronic items sent to developing countries in the name of charity often end up unused.

    The key goals of the initiative will be to draw up global standards for recycling, extending the life of products thus creating markets for their reuse, and harmonising world legislation and policy toward e-waste.

    It will also take a 'wealth from waste' approach, arguing that it is in the interest of manufacturers to recycle, enabling them to recover many expensive metals -- such as Indium used in flat-screen monitors and mobile phones.

    "There's more than gold in those mountains of high-tech scrap," said Ruediger Kuehr of the United Nations University, which will host the StEP Secretariat in Bonn, Germany.

    Burning e-waste causes emissions of highly toxic chemicals, which contaminate soil and water. Studies have shown rapidly increasing concentrations of heavy metals in humans. In sufficiently high doses they can cause cancer and problems with brain development.

    STeP plans a large-scale project to help China safely dismantle and dispose of its domestic e-scrap. Supporters of the initiative say that maximising resources by reusing e-waste will help meet soaring demand in China and India for increasingly scarce resources such as ruthenium, used in resistors and hard disk drives.

    Some software experts have voiced concerns that Microsoft's new Vista operating system could worsen the problem by requiring more powerful hardware -- making a large number of computers suddenly redundant.

    In February, a study by Toxic Link, an Indian nongovernmental organisation, found that India generates 150,000 tons of e-waste annually.

    SciDev.Net

  • Libya is to build about 100 schools equipped with laboratories and computer hardware and provide this specialisation to more than 50,000 male and female schoolteachers this year in computer technology, according to the new education plan introduced Monday in Tripoli.

    Schoolteachers from all of Libya`s municipalities will specialise and should be added to the 5,000 male and female schoolteachers who are currently undergoing pedagogical training, and to the 3,000 others being reconverted.

    Moreover, contracts for the import and installation of 3,400 computing rooms of a cost of 121,38 million Libyan dinars (1.250 dinar = 1US$) and the training abroad of 100 schoolteachers and 900 others at national level for contracting companies are provided for. Some 1,032 science laboratories will be integrated into basic education cycles and 2,160 laboratory assistants will be trained to that area.

    AGOP

  • The Technologies and Sciences private university (UTEC), whose classes are set to start in the second quarter of 2007, is opening with 480 vacancies in eight courses of a four year-period.

    The new institution counts on the sponsorship of the Sonangol oil company, and started this month the registration for the admission tests to the courses of Management, Economics, Civil Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electric Engineering, Mechanic Engeneering, Production Engineering and Chemical Engineering.

    To be admitted the candidate should have grade 12 or pre-university in the areas of management, economics, accounting in the fields of social sciences and physical sciences, as well as Accounting, management, mechanic engineering, telecommunications, electricity, electronics and civil engineering.

    Angola Press Agency

  • - The first e-learning platform, DZCampus, has been launched in Algeria. Initiated by the national library in cooperation with two Algerian companies specialised in interactive training and communication, this solution for bilingual e-learning is intended particularly to companies, institutions and other training bodies in Algeria.

    - Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, Engr. Obafemi Anibaba, last week justified the deployment of funds from the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to some projects in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

    - InfoDev has updated its Quick guide to low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world, the popular short inventory of known projects and programs aimed at introducing affordable ICT devices in developing countries. Many of these initiatives explicitly target the education sector. The 'Quick guide' is available at infodev.org/devices-list.

Digital Content

  • www.tender.co.tz is a service launched by ALTECH (Alternative Technologies) in Tanzania. The service was launched in October, 2006, and has since attracted over 450 registered users. www.tender.co.tz is essentially a site where you can find tender announcements published at various sources in East Africa. The site currently has over 2000 tenders of which over 600 have been downloaded. Our registered users range from 35 different countries. One of the key and interesting features about the website is that the user/subscriber does not have to repeatedly login and search for tenders since upon initial registration, the user chooses the category of interest, so whenever a tender announcement in the area of interest is loaded, the user receives an e-mail alert.

    While we concentrate primarily on tender announcements in Tanzania, we are already loading various tender announcements across East Africa, and when possible include Rwanda, Burundi, and Sudan. We will soon be launching www.tender.co.ke and www.tender.co.ug The service is FREE up to April, 2007.

  • The Meraka Institute, the Helsinki University of Art and Design in Finland and the University of Pretoria have, over the past 18 months, been working on a project dubbed MobilED, where they are investigating the use of mobile technologies and services for formal and informal learning.

    Motivation for the project springs from the vast potential that mobile phones have as educational tools. Today's high-end mobile phones have the computing power of a mid-1990s PC, while even the simplest, voice-only phones have more complex and powerful chips than the on-board computer that landed a spaceship on the moon in 1969. Many learners in South Africa have access to these powerful devices, yet at present they are seen as a nuisance and disruption to the classroom rather than as a potentially valuable tool

    The first module that has been developed is the audio-Wikipedia - an online encyclopaedia - from which anyone can receive and upload information. Children send an SMS with a key word. In response, they receive a call-back and a speech synthesiser reads the contents of the requested Wikipedia entry. A fast forward and rewind function has been added to make listening to the entry easier.

    In the pilot projects kits have been supplied, which include a cell phone and speakers, so that it can be used in the classroom. Piloting has so far taken place at Cornwall Hill College and Irene Middle School, both in the Centurion area, where the project will run for a further two years. Further pilots are planned for more rural areas, possibly in the Northern Cape.

    As with Wikipedia, there is an interactive element whereby entries can be added to. At the end of each section there is a prompt, giving the option to either continue or to add to the entry. Should the user opt to add to the entry, the system records comments and saves them as a wav file. The additions are then added to the downloaded version of wikipedia which the project uses.

    This function was used in lessons about HIV where the learners could contribute their own experiences and record songs. While these would not be added to the original online version of Wikipedia, they would have huge relevance in allowing children to share their experiences and be exposed to the experiences of others.

    Currently all call costs for the pilot are being covered by the CSIR project. One of the key issues that are being worked on are ways of making this more sustainable and reducing costs, as the project's implementation would be severely hindered by the high cost of calls.

    Merryl Ford, CSIR research group leader for ICT in Education, Youth and Gender, explained that the next step that is being worked on is to use MMS. This would greatly reduce costs and add to the functionality of the system. Another area currently being researched is the incorporation of an instant messaging service such as MXit, which is already highly popular amongst South Africa's teenagers. Doctor Maths is a MXit project that offers high school learners support with their maths syllabus.

    Ford argues, "It seems a great pity that our children and teachers are not using one of the most accessible, affordable computing devices in the developing world in more positive ways. We asked ourselves whether innovations around this technology and its applications can ultimately lead to it being embraced as a learning support tool in a school environment."

    "MobilED has proven that cell phones can be very useful where there's no other access to information sources. Libraries or internet connections no longer need to be the sole access point for educational information for children," she added.

    Ford explained that the project is still in the piloting phase, with the current partners intending to provide only a of proof of concept which they can pass on to either an industry or education institution for commercial implementation. She welcomes any people or institutions that would like to assist or partner with the project. Also welcome are any schools which would be willing to run further pilots in their classrooms.

    Tectonic

  • Extensive documentation of Namibian history can be accessed on the Internet through the recently launched Aluka project, an international online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa. This will be available from June this year.

    The website contains archival materials, periodicals, oral histories, books, posters and photographs that explore the critical pre-independence era. The site aggregates in a single place materials that had been physically scattered and difficult to access, and in this way opens up new possibilities for research and teaching.

    Its primary objective is to provide African researchers and students with scholarly materials originally from Africa, now out of their reach.

    Content selection involved the presentation of multiple and contesting perspectives rather than simply retelling conventional narratives. It covers three areas such as African cultural heritage sites and landscapes; African plants; and the struggles for freedom in Southern Africa.

    Aluka Namibia covers five broad themes. These include the colonial system; popular resistance; organised anti-colonial movements and political groups; regional and international perspectives; and Southern Africa's thirty years of war.

    Plans are also to make available online a set of inventories and finding aids of various archives and depositories in the Southern African region and other parts of the world.

    Much of the material was collected and compiled by the National Archive of Namibia - where the project is based - in tandem with Aluka representatives Tom Nygren and Professor Allen Isaacman. Others come from the Nordic Africa Institute, Russia and Finland. This includes materials from former missionaries and solidarity movements. Also captured are archives of SWAPO (SPARC) UNAM and other academic institutions.

    The project was started in August 2003 building on work previously done on digitizing underground anti-apartheid periodicals from 1960 to 1994, according to the chairperson of Aluka Namibia Committee, Ellen Ndeshi Namhila.

    http://www.aluka.org

    New Era

  • Zenith Bank Plc in partnership with MasterCard International and PUSA Systems Nigeria Limited has concluded arrangement for the introduction of an on-line shopping card that will allow Nigerians buy products from on-line stores in the United States of America.

    Known as the Passport USA Online Shopping Card, the card will allow holders to shop on-line for any product or service from the comfort of their computers and have them delivered directly to their doorsteps without stress.

    The pre-paid card opens the door for holders to over 3 million online merchants based in the USA, removing the bottleneck and challenges associated with buying products from the US under other schemes. To protect cardholders, all transactions through the USA Online Shopping Card will be authenticated by MasterCard while each card is tied to a delivery address.

    Passport USA is a U.S. based company with other regional partners across the African continent which specializes in global e-commerce. It is registered in Nigeria as PUSA Systems Nigeria Limited

    To benefit, customers will be required to open a card account with Zenith Bank after which they would be issued with the Passport USA Shopping Card, with which they then log on to any on-line store of their choice and begin shopping.

    The bank already has a rich offering of e-payment products including Internet banking, telephone banking, mobile banking, eazycard (debit or ATM card), deposit notification, automated direct payment system, ValuCard and MasterCard, among many others.

    This Day

  • - In a bid to promote public awareness on issues relating to environment, the National Environment Agency of Gambia has launched its website. One can get access to the website by clicking on www.nea.gm

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Libya Africa Portfolio's (LAP) Green Com has acquired majority shares in Uganda Telecom (utl). Sources revealed that the company, the investment arm of the Libyan government, acquired 51% shareholding in utl after buying out UCOM.

    UCOM is the consortium that owned a 51% stake in utl. The remaining shares are owned by the government of Uganda. "The deal is done. LAP Green Com has bought into utl. The process is being finalised and once concluded, it will be announced," a source explained.

    Last year, South Africa's largest landline company, Telkom South Africa, was in the process of buying into utl when it pulled out. Sources disclosed that the Libyan company would invest a substantial amount of money to expand utl and improve its services.

    Investment State minister Prof. Ssemakula Kiwanuka could not comment on the utl deal. "I have no information to that effect. I do not give comments on issues that I have no information about," he said.

    New Vision

  • Moroccan incumbent fixed line operator Maroc Télécom has reported a 16% rise in 2006 net income to EUR607 million (USD800 million), compared to EUR523 million in 2005, with the improvement primarily attributable to robust operating profitability in its mobile business.

    Full-year group operating profit stood at EUR904 million, up 15.5% year-on-year, whilst mobile operating profit climbed 28% to EUR621 million, more than offsetting a 4.4% decline in operating profit for fixed telephony and internet activities to EUR283 million.

    Télécom’s 2006 revenues increased from EUR1.92 billion to EUR2.11 billion, driven by a 30% increase in mobile subscribers to 10.71 million. For 2007, the group, 51%-owned by French media and telecoms group Vivendi, predicts growth in excess of 6% in revenues, and over 10% in operating profit. In December 2006 Maroc Télécom launched an MVNO service in France, called Mobisud, which registered an operating loss of EUR3 million, on sales of EUR36,000.

    Telegeography

  • Computer company Mustek has probably suffered a slight loss of market share as well as a dip in profit in the past six months of trading. Mustek manufactures SA's best-selling Mecer PCs as well as importing technology equipment from other suppliers. In the six months to December, its overall unit sales were 1% down on those of a year before in a market growing more than 15% a year.

    The lower sales plus losses inflicted by its operations in Brazil left Mecer with a revenue of R1.57bn, down from R1.43bn, and a profit that dropped to R52m from a previous R55m. Headline earnings a share of 41c were down 9% from 45,2c. Nevertheless it declared an interim dividend of 30c a share.

    Its major clients include the government and parastatals, and public sector spending on technology has been sluggish in the past few months. Mustek's growth prospects in the second half will depend on how much equipment the government buys, the volatility of the currency and the demand for hardware and software from corporate buyers and consumers.

    CEO David Kan said the results were satisfactory, despite severe fluctuations in the rand-dollar exchange rate. Mecer Brazil suffered a loss of R10.6m even though its operations had already been scaled back after previous losses. Mustek will continue to operate in Brazil, but will not invest any more cash.

    Business Day

  • Safaricom last week launched a mobile payment service, that allows its customers to transfer money, and deposit or withdraw funds using their cell phones Known as M-Pesa, it will also extend access to financial services to those with no bank accounts. Users can also buy Safaricom prepaid airtime.

    They will deposit their money with authorised M-Pesa agents, and make withdrawals from Safaricom's airtime distribution outlets. M-Pesa account does not require a minimum amount, unlike commercial banks. Finance minister Amos Kimunya said yesterday said that access to financial services by most Kenyans is among the three main objectives of financial sector reforms. Only 9.8 per cent of Kenyans have bank accounts, and access to financial services outside Nairobi and other major towns is limited.

    The Nation

  • - AccessKenya Group, the holding company which owns AccessKenya, Kenya’s leading corporate ISP, and BLUE, one of Kenya’s largest Public Data Network Operators, has applied to the Capital Markets Authority and the Nairobi Stock Exchange to list on the Stock Exchange this year through an Initial Public Offer.

    - CEO of South African firm Econet Wireless Group (EWG) Strive Masiyiwa has said that he is confident that his company will win a court ruling to reverse the May 2006 sale of 65% of Nigerian cellco V-Mobile to the pan-African Celtel group. Two separate hearings are currently before the Nigerian courts, which if ruled in Econet’s favour will result in the setting aside of the USD1.005 billion deal.

    - Qtel in Qatar announced that it will acquire 51% of the share capital of Wataniya from Kuwait Projects Company Holding KSC (KIPCO) and other related parties as well as further and additional direct investments in its Algeria and Iraq operations for a total consideration of $3.7 billion.

    - The government of Akwa Ibom, a small state in the south-east of Nigeria, has announced the investment of USD67.5 million for an undisclosed stake in the equity of Celtel Nigeria, the country’s third largest cellco by subscribers.

    - Vodacom Group has announced that Intelec Holdings Limitada has taken up a shareholding in VM S.A.R.L., trading as Vodacom Mozambique.

More

  • - THE AFRICAN E-GOV FORUM'07

    27th - 29th March 2007, Accra, Ghana

    The forum in Accra, Ghana, will discuss pan-African issues and methodologies within E-Governance.The event will provide a unique platform for stakeholders in government, industry and the academic world.

    m.dawes@cto.int

    - SMB ROADSHOW 2007 - MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

    26th March 2007, Nile Hilton, Cairo, Egypt.

    IDC's SMB Roadshow provides a comprehensive and trustworthy platform for discussing strategic IT issues directly impacting the SMB sector. Debate led by recognised experts and based on best practices and sound technology analysis provide objective and critical insights required by leaders in this sector. This event will target IT decision makers - by vertical industry sector - within SMBs across the region.

    http://www.idc-cema.com/events/smbeg07

    - 1stWEST AFRICAN E-CONTENT SUMMIT

    4-7 April 2007 – Cotonou, Benin

    This ICT symposium expects to launch the official discussions to establish the “Panafrican Agency for New Media, advocated to provide training courses in new media management for young people in Africa in to bridge the content gap.

    http://www.icnm.net/

    - E-LIBERIA: VISION 2010

    23 April 2007, Morovia, Liberia

    Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, is delighted to host a national dialog on the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Liberia’s post-conflict development. E-Liberia:Vision 2010 will take place in Monrovia the week of 23 April, 2007. The program will include the unveiling of the new National ICT Policy for Liberia; a high-level workshop (on the 26th and 27th of April) with participation from domestic, regional, and international experts; a gala dinner; and a private sector innovation fair.

    http://www.mopt.gov.lr/

    calvin.yu@gatech.edu

    - eLEARNING AFRICA 2007

    28-30th May 2007, Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

    The subject is Building Infrastructures and Capacities to Reach out to the Whole of Africa, reflecting the significant efforts of African countries to set up their national and regional ICT infrastructures to create access to education, training and services for all.

    www.icwe.net

    - ICTS FOR CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE

    June 2007 – South Africa

    The conference and exhibition organised by SANGONeT will be aimed at increasing NGOs’ awareness of the strategic importance of their websites and the online environment in general.

    http://sangonet.org.za

    - TELECOMS WORLD AFRICA

    31st July - 2nd August 2007, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Key decision-makers in South Africa and leading international players will share their expertise and forge invaluable business relationships in a highly interactive environment.

    www.terrapinn.com/2007/telecomza

    - WI-WORLD AFRICA 2007

    27 – 30 August 2007, Michelangelo Hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa.

    In Africa, fixed-line infrastructure is lacking and there is a major problem with copper wire theft. Wireless communication is therefore a great alternative.

    www.terrapinn.com/2007/telecomza

  • * GLOBAL ONLINE COURSE IN ICT JOURNALISM

    The International Institute for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Journalism - Penplusbytes is pleased to announce a three month (April 20th - July 20th 2007) online training opportunity for journalists in the area of ICT Journalism. Participants will be exposed to the wider context of ICTs assisted journalism including its history, how these technologies are impacting on the world of journalism, how ICT can be used in producing stories and how to manage change process in using innovative ICT tools.

    Closing date for receipt of application and statement is 20th March 2007.

    http://www.dgroups.org/admin/index.cfm?op=dsp_resource_

    details&resource_id=37813&cat_id=704

    * CITI’S WOMEN IN ICT ENTREPRENEUR COMPETITION 2007

    A group of 20 participants will be selected to take part in a series of 10 half day Business Capacity Building workshops between May and August 2007.

    In September the participants will be invited to present their businesses to “the Lions Den” - a panel of industry experts who will offer constructive criticism and advice. An overall winner will be selected from the businesses that have taken part in the programme. The judges’ decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.

    Zaheera.mathews@citi.org.za

    AXE/IN SUPPORT ENGINEER – SUDAN

    AXE/IN Support Engineer required immediately for rolling contract. The ideal candidate should have knowledge and experience on: APZ21233/33C/40 and AXE810 ; GSM Core Network elements (MSC/VLR, HLR) and MIN nodes ; IN/Charging solution handling in the GSM core network ; IN/CS troubleshooting.; GSM signaling in the core network.; MSC Server and MGW troubleshooting; APZ21250 is a plus; Support experience and knowledge of Ericsson tools is a plus.

    advertising@balancingact-africa.com

  • * SOTELMA AND SIEMENS – MALI

    The Malian operator Sotelma has commissioned Siemens Networks to expand its nationwide GSM network. Siemens will manage the development and implementation of the network in areas such as Mopti, Segou and the capital Bamako including the introduction of GPRS and EDGE. The contract has a value of 36 million Euro.

    * SAFCOR PANALPINA AND LORGE – SOUTH AFRICA

    Lorge, the mid-market ERP solutions provider, has been awarded a contract to install and implement an Accpac CRM software solution at Safcor Panalpina, the freight, forwarding and logistics service provider.

    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

Web and Mobile Data_old

  • The television industry has recently taken on a competitive dimension. In a bid to attract more viewers, television stations have come up with new and more entertaining programmes. Godwin Muhwezi-Bonge spoke to Multichoice Uganda Sales and Marketing Manager Peter Mungoma on how the company is dealing with such challenges.

    The television industry has recently experienced growth in the number of television stations in the country. How do you deal with this competition?

    The entry of new television stations is positive for Uganda and the industry in general.

    The penetration of television sets in Uganda is still very low. Out of a population of 24 million people we only have about 300,000 television sets in the country. The entry of new TV stations such NTV, WBS is good because people are going to buy more television set because they want to get these free-to-air stations.

    As they get used to these television stations, chances are that it is those viewers that will yearn for better programming or more entertainment and the only option will be DSTV.

    But more stations now focus on entertainment and better programming. Do you see such stations as direct competitors?

    One thing we cannot ignore is that the television viewer now is becoming more sophisticated because they have travelled, they have been exposed and in so doing they are demanding a higher level of programming.

    You have to show them that you are able to provide good programmes to keep them glued to your television station. And there is no doubt that DSTV knows about this. That is why we have a wide range of programming.

    DSTV was initially considered a preserve of the rich but in recent times we have seen more people especially the middle income earners take on the service. How have you managed to achieve this?

    Pay television has been in the Ugandan market for just more than ten years now. It was something more alien to the Uganda market. Of course with the introduction of analog service around 1994 people got used to the concept of pay television.

    It was realised that for pay television to work you must provide people with channels and entertainment that they are willing to pay for as opposed to the free television. But people were a bit skeptical to try it.

    In 1997, DSTV launched into this market and with digital technology it was easy to enhance product offering: Provide more television channels and with such a broad spectrum of channels we were able to attract very many subscribers onto the digital satellite platform.

    How big is your subscriber base?

    We are not obliged to divulge our subscriber number because we are not a listed company. But to give an idea, in the whole of Africa we have in excess of 1.4 million subscribers and in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) we could go more than 400,000 subscribers.

    The number has grown consistently over the last couple of years.

    What about in Uganda?

    I cannot divulge those numbers

    How do you intend to grow your subscriber base?

    We are using two major strategies at the moment and from a marketing point of view we look at programming.

    People subscribe to DSTV because of good programming we provide. From sports, to news, to movies; we are enhancing that product offering. Last year, we added about six channels to the DSTV bouquet like MTV base, entertainment and others. This helps to increase the number of people interested in our product.

    The other is price. We have tried to lower the entry price for DSTV subscribers.

    In the beginning you would get a DSTV in the excess of $1,000 (more than Shs1.8 million) but right now, a new set goes for about $300 (about Shs540,000). We have managed to bring down the price considerably.

    Last year, we introduced DSTV compact where you are able to get about 24 channels for only Shs46, 000.

    It provides a lot of value to subscribers who previously found it difficult to subscribe because of price.

    What has brought about such price changes?

    There are number of things but most important is the economies of scale.

    Because of an increasing market we are able to negotiate better deals with our suppliers and therefore we are able to bring down on the cost of equipment.

    Most of the advertising on DSTV is from foreign companies. Why is it so?

    DSTV being a satellite service is distributed to many countries and it is very difficult to isolate it to a particular country at this point in time.

    Advertisers on DSTV at the moment are people who are selling a product that is relevant across so many other countries. It is usually the big brands and international brands that will find it cost effective to advertise on DSTV. But we have local companies advertising on DSTV as well. Adverts of Bell lager, Uganda telecom, and even one of presidential candidates have featured on DSTV. It is a question of strategy.

    What is cost of advertising on DSTV?

    Oracle Airtime Services is in charge of advertising on DSTV.

    There are different rates depending on which channel one chooses to place his advert. Advertising on CNN is not the same as advertising on Super Sport. But on average for between $200 (about Shs360, 000) and $300 (540,000) you can get a 30 second advertising spot on some DSTV channels.

    What are some of latest DSTV products on market?

     From the hardware point of view, we recently introduced the Personalised Video Recorder (PVR) decoder.

    With this decoder you are able to pose live television and you can record more than 80 hours of television. This means you can choose to answer a phone call in a middle of a live game then come back and start off from where you left.

    At what cost?

    The PVR goes for Shs1.2 million for new subscribers and Shs721, 000 for those who wish to upgrade.

    Do you feel there are some gaps yet to be addressed in terms of viewership?

    We have not done any major gap analysis on the programming point of view.

    But I do know that one of our key objectives is to continue to enhance our offering on programming.

    But from feedback for instance most of our sports viewers feel that we are not giving attention to Ugandan sport. May be that is one area we need to look at.

    But Ugandans have to understand that before that happens we must raise the quality of our game and the spirit of competition.

    The Monitor

  • Nigerian followers of English Premiership clubs who are anxious to have a feel of their idols may not wait much longer, as the country's newly liscensed PayTV channel, HiTV plans to bring "a top five Premiership side" next July in a pre-season training programme.

    Toyin Subair, Chief Executive Officer of Entertainment Highway, (HiTV) told Vanguard Monday on a visit to the newspaper's Corporate Head Office that everything has been concluded for a Premiership team to have its pre-season training programme in Nigeria. It is part of a programme aimed at promoting HiTV's Premiership bouquet in Nigeria and the start of the 2007/2008 Premiership season.

    "A top five Premiership side would be in the country in a pre-season training programme to promote our launch in the second or third week of July. We are not letting out the identity of the club yet. We'll keep that close to our hearts for now. But when the time is ripe, I'll let you know," said Mr. Subair.

    The HiTV boss still oozing much confidence after the formal sealing of the Barclay's Premiership deal last week promised viewers that HiTV would try to live up to the expectation of Nigerians, but prayed for time to mature. "We've just made our formal payment for the Premiership contract and it gives us much confidence to know we're in business now."

    He would not let out the total cost of the deal, although he gave out a leak. "It's in the region of well over $28 million." You could feel his satisfaction in the broad smile spread across the face as he made that last statement. "The entire package is formally sealed with the payment. Our contract runs till 2011."

    HiTV already is on air with 17 channels, with a promise to add three more. The full package would have 20 channels excluding products from other independent carriers like DoveVision who would be using the HiTV portal to broadcast their programmes at no extra cost to the subscribers.

    "Our products include HiSports -- four channels including HiSoccer, HiMix, (an urban hybrid channel that would carry music, movie, variety show etc) HiNolly (a 24 hours Nigerian movie channel). We have also signed contract with the American NBA ( National Basketball Association)." It also has such international channels as CNN, BBC and FoxSports.

    Besides the Premiership which appears to be the biggest attraction to PayTV subscribers in Nigeria, Subair said they have also sealed deals with other top European football leagues. "We also have the rights to the Italian Serie A and the Spanish League, and a lot more are coming onboard."

    Entertainment Highway is obviously blazing a trail and taking a big risk in daring established industry players in a field several Nigerian companies had tried and failed. And despite the near dearth in infrastructure for businesses to thrive, Subair believes HiTV would enjoy the market. "I am extremely optimistic about Nigeria. I believe in this country that we would pull through. I have no doubts in my mind that we would succeed."

    He believes the country presently enjoys favourable international FDI rating. "Actually, you'd be surprised to know that a lot of international investors call us to know what we're doing and want to be a part of us. They want to be a part of what we're doing. Some of them are already talking to us about re-branding HiTV to meet international demands," Subair said.

    He was very thankful to the Nigerian government and, especially the Minister of Information and Communications Mr. Frank Nweke, Jr. for the support the company received throughout the negotiation and the eventual success in the race for the Premiership rights. "We're very grateful to the government for the support we got throughout the entire process of the negotiation. The Minister of Information (Frank Nweke Jr.) for his great support."

    Apart from carrying European Football Leagues, HiTV also plans to launch the Nigerian league both in its bouquet and other international portals as a means to developing the local game. "All over the world, PayTV has helped in building the local league, whether it is Baseball, Basket or Golf. So we also would be taking the Nigerian Premier League both on our bouquet, and with some of our international partner stations as means to showcase the game in Nigeria."

    As a proof they are not just talking, Subair said: "We already have in place a state of the art studio on ground in Lagos complete with the latest equipment from Sony. What we promise is the very best for our subscribers. It is not just a statement, it is a promise."

    Vanguard

  • MyVideo.co.za is a new South African video portal that hopes to give local film makers, musicians and designers a chance to expose their work to the public.

    MyVideo CEO, Rowan Polovin, says the motivation behind the site was to offer a place for South Africans to post South Africa-generated content. Comparing the site to the international YouTube, Polovin says the site is aiming to maintain a South African niche rather than becoming internationally generic.

    Launched in January this year, the site is still in its infancy, with about 200 signed up members and about 250 videos on the site.

    Asked if SA is ready for this, especially in light of our limitations on bandwidth and connectivity, Polovin said that he is targeting the broadband market, which he says totals around half a million users in South Africa and is growing rapidly. He also hopes that with the introduction of the second national operator this year, broadband costs will be reduced and more people will come online.

    As an example of SA's rapid introduction to the internet, and its potential for future growth, MyVideo cites the fact that over the course of five years the internet now reaches three million homes. Radio took over 38 years to reach the same audience.

    The site is also aimed at the large ex pat community of South Africans around the world, most of whom have cheap broadband connections and spend much of their time on the internet. MyVideo believes its portal will also be ideal for parents and overseas offspring to keep in touch, face-to-face and for free.

    With its focus on youth, one of the priorities of the site is to keep it free of pornography. "We realise that access to pornography and unsuitable imagery, especially to youngsters, is of major concern to parents. At MyVideo we have succeeded in introducing particular methods that enable the flagging of unsavoury content and its removal: anyone can flag a video for investigation and it is immediately blocked to all other users until we have assessed it," says Polovin.

    As a video portal, the amount of bandwidth required is far greater than most other web sites, presenting a great challenge to a South African company. Due to the prohibitive cost of bandwidth locally, the site has been hosted internationally.

    Polovin explained that the primary revenue source for the site is advertising, but money is also brought in by sponsorships of pages, viral videos and the use of a tracking service for clients. Polovin revealed that there are plans over the next two months to move into the mobile arena.

    Tectonic

  • Intelsat has announced that the U.K.-based ViewAfrica and ViewAsia Networks have launched two regional platforms on the Intelsat system, expanding their programme offering in Africa and Asia.

    In a press release made avialble to THISDAY, the company revealed that through its multi-year contract on the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 10 satellites ViewAfrica Network is distributing a free-to-air programming bouquet that now reaches all the Sub-Saharan countries with specific DTH focus on South Africa and Nigeria, and ViewAsia is distributing its programming into the cable headends of Asia.

    "Intelsat offers broadcasters the best video neighborhoods and works closely with its customers to find the ideal distribution solution for their market and product," said Stephen Spengler, Senior Vice President, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific Sales. "DTH is the perfect way to reach African communities that are geographically dispersed and separated by varied terrain. By launching this platform on IS-7 and IS-10, ViewAfrica and ViewAsia Networks gain instant access to established neighborhoods, enabling them to reach their key distribution penetration goals in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia."

    ViewAfrica Network, uplinking out of Telemedia in South Africa, carries a free-to-air bouquet of religious programming that currently includes the following networks: Daystar, LoveWorld, Divine Truth Broadcasting and Emmanuel TV. ViewAfrica is among 27 DTH platforms built on the global Intelsat system.

    "Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 10 offer the most comprehensive regional coverage that we are looking for, enabling us to deliver our programming into markets that would otherwise be inaccessible," said Awaes Jaswal, CEO, ViewAfrica Network. "Intelsat's industry-leading reliability enables us to distribute our programming easily, from one place, and with the highest quality possible."

    The Intelsat 7 provides video, direct-to-home and telecommunications services throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Intelsat 10's Ku-band payload contains multiple high-powered beams focused on Africa, Europe, India, the Middle East, Central and Western Asia as well as Northeast Asia. The beams on Intelsat 10 can be switched between the various regions, offering greater flexibility in the creation of new platforms for the delivery of video, data and IP-based services.

    Intelsat is the largest provider of fixed satellite services worldwide and is the leading provider of these services to each of the media, network services/telecom and government customer sectors, enabling people and businesses everywhere constant access to information and entertainment. Intelsat offers customers a greater business potential by providing them unrivaled resources with ease of business and peace of mind. Intelsat's services are utilized by an extensive customer base, including some of the world's leading media and communications companies, multinational corporations, Internet service providers and government/military organizations.

    This Day

  • - Btv in Botswana reported that it broadcasts a total of 18 hours 45 minutes of local content a week, out of which five hours was outsourced. The outsourced component constituted 27 per cent of the total broadcast time of local content per week. The plan is to attain 60 per cent by the year 2009, she said.

    * MTN says has appointed Eric Tronel to head up its Congo Brazzaville operation. Tronel joins MTN Congo from Telecel Burkina Faso.

    * Nigeria based, Hirest Africa Limited has announced the appointment of two new directors. They are Leo Ikeson, Commercial Director and Fatai Alugo, Regional Sales Director.

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