Issue no 389
African governments are one of the biggest buyers of ICT services in most markets and none comes bigger than the Nigerian Government. It employs a million civil servants. Galaxy Backbone was set up with the intention of providing a single cost effective service to Government bodies rather than see each build their own networks. Russell Southwood interviewed Galaxy Backbone CEO, Gerald Ilukwe this week in Abuja.
Gerald Ilukwe, CEO, Galaxy Backbone PLC has worked for over 20 years in the IT sector before he was asked to run this new Government company, working for a string of well-known IT companies, including most recently Microsoft.
Q: How did Galaxy come to be set up?
In 2004 the Ministry of Science and Technology bought a memo for approval to the Federal Executive Council for the networking of secondary schools. The former President and two members of Cabinet observed that there was a proliferation of Government networks and asked the question: why not use the networks we already have to serve everybody in Government.
Out of this, the Committee for the Harmonisation of IT Initiatives was set up. It took a broad look and concluded that it was possible to build a national IT infrastructure by consolidating networks and that an entity should be created to operate the network created.
Q: What does Galaxy want to do?
Primarily it was set up to operate a single infrastructure platform for all of the Government. This includes network services and also national databases and transversal applications and services. In addition it was envisaged that we would provide connectivity and Internet access to rural and underserved communities and third party customers.
The universal service access responsibilities we might have are under review. We provide a backbone that can support the provision of universal access but whether it is practical or in our strategic interest, we have to determine. We need to stick to our core mission – providing services to Government – where we are adding value and where we are needed most. I have never been favourably disposed to us running telecentres but we want can support their roll-out.
Q: What assets has Galaxy got to support its core mission?
The original concept was to take over existing Government network assets. One of these was a moribund network. What we are about to commence is an audit of existing Federal Government assets.
We are in discussions with Jigawa State Government about taking over its IT service provider, Galaxy ITT and these discussions are at a fairly advanced stage. The building we’re operating from in Abuja belongs to them.
Government doesn’t have many network assets relative to the size of Government. There is not much that is close to being able to be described as a Government network. There’s probably not more than 10% coverage. There are a number of Ministries and government organisations like the Electoral Commission that want to build their own networks. So we are seeking to integrate networks of:
- Those who own networks.
- Those who already subscribe to a service provider.
- Those who want to build a network.
The key project we have inherited from the Ministry of Communications is NICEP. It’s a fully fledged VSAT network with 5,000 sites across the country and this will provide a robust backbone, especially for outlying areas of the country.
Q: How will Government become a customer? Is it a single customer or lots of Ministries and organisations approaching Galaxy separately?
We’re working on an operating framework and looking at other models. Any Government entity can walk in and ask for service. It will be a direct business relationship where the Ministries and others buy services. They’ll either pay directly or they’ll be a contract covering a group of services. But as this is new, nothing is set in stone.
Q: Will you sell services to the private sector?
This was the original intent but there have been discussions with (the regulator) NCC where concerns have been expressed about a level playing field. As someone who comes from the private sector, I don’t want to compete with the private sector unfairly.
In the longer term, I would like Galaxy to evolve into being a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) but we only really have a set of possible development options at this stage. We have to ask: how much of the Government is comfortable in receiving services from Galaxy if the private sector is involved and to what extent will the private sector get involved if Government is the main shareholder?
It’s a policy/strategy consideration. I’m a businessman so I have to ask: have I serviced my primary market (Government) before going into other markets.
Q: Have you started operating yet?
Within the limits of take-off funding, we’re providing services. We’re selling something in the order of 12.5 megs of capacity and we might have to double that capacity by the end of March this year.
Q: What’s Government using the services for?
Firstly, they’re providing Internet access. Coming from the private sector, we take that for granted but it’s still a significant in Government. Secondly, we’re providing a small number of VPNs.
Future services will include messaging and collaboration, hosting portals and recovery services.
We have a commitment to providing connectivity to the post office through Netpost. There are plans to turn post offices into full service centres.
There won’t be a formal start date and we’ll evolve our operations over time. The Government is formally communicating to Ministries that they have to use us and it will resolve who pays and how.
Q: Will you be building your own fibre networks?
This is purely a business decision. There was an e-Government infrastructure project which focused on connecting everything by fibre. We have to ask: do we build our own fibre or use stuff that’s already there? We have experience of using third party suppliers and they have been reliable over time. If they’re unreliable, we can build our own fibre or lease it.
However, there’s a scarcity of infrastructure and this is very much an issue. A person asked me recently whether we would be interested in getting involved in building a cable from the (SAT3) Nigerian landing station to another West African country. We have to have a level of market intelligence to do things like that and there’s always the danger of over-supply.
So my focus is service to Government and other areas that puts me in the direction of. Our policy and strategic objectives come from Government. I can give them advice but they set the direction.
Q: Are you taking responsibility for NigCommSat?
No. We are collaborating to avoid overlaps. Most times we will use capacity from NigCommSat.
Arguably we have the most advanced VSAT network in Nigeria, offering both KU and C band capacity. It’s probably the single biggest network in West Africa. There’s a hub in all local government centres and we’ll go wherever Government offices might require service, to places like post offices and schools. For example, as I mentioned earlier, we have a request to interconnect 2,500 post offices.
The impact will be revolutionary. Access for Government will be provided on an unprecedented scale. Government will be the single biggest buyer.
In terms of fibre, VSAT is the option we’ve inherited and it’s there. With other technologies, it’s a case of how quickly you get things like fibre and Wi-MAX off the ground. So at that level, we’ll use whatever technology works and is available. Connectivity, service and infrastructure are the main elements of what we do.
Q: How much do you think demand will grow?
Final demand is not going to be anything like initial demand. After the mobile revolution, the second revolution in Nigeria has been ATMs which are being put in all over the place. I can now see a “common man” queueing to use an ATM.
There are million civil servants in the public sector. There could eventually be one connected computer for every one of those civil servants. But even if you assume one machine for every civil servant in the medium term, that’s 300,000 connected computers. And that’s before you look at education and the schools….
Q: Why is the Internet not on a larger scale in Nigeria given the size of the country?
It’s a combination of factors. There’s cost fact and there’s an investment factor. The argument that the Internet is a utility service that Government might provide or will back the providing of has not really been accepted. To a certain extent, the performance of Nitel undermined our development as it should have been doing this. The question is who will fill the breach?
The Nigerian House of Representatives continues to try and strong-arm the Nigerian regulator NCC into giving the state communications satellite project a 3G licence. Why does a satellite bandwidth seller want to be a service provider? Word in Nigeria has it that NIGCOMSAT’s business plan will not work without it having this licence which makes you wonder at the overall viability of the project.
The NCC had insisted that NIGCOMSAT must be registered as a private owned Company among other things, before the Commission will issue it a license, despite a resolution from the House of Representatives in November last year, giving the Commission a two-week ultimatum to do so.
The lawmakers and the NCC harmonized the differences on NIGCOMSAT last week at the Hearing Room 2 of the National Assembly during a public hearing on the matter, which lasted till late evening, after the representatives of the Ministries of Science and Technology and Communications, all testified.
The representatives who appeared during the hearing which also had the Speaker of the House Honourable Dimeji Bankole agreed with the Committees on Communication and Legislative Compliance that NIGCOMSAT, actually submitted its form to the NCC January 14, 2008, with details of all the requirements for 3G spectrum license.
Though the NCC boss, Ndukwe, earlier assured the Committee that ordinarily, an application form once received and requirements met, the issuance of license follows in a maximum of one month, he pleaded with the House not to push it into taking a decision that would backfire on the nation. Ndukwe's words: "We would do whatever it takes to comply with the instruction of the President and the House, however, the House should not force the NCC to do what would cause us problems in the international Community, because once a decision is taken and we are told who to give this license to we will not hesitate to do so." The Director General of NIGCOMSAT, Engineer Ahmed Rufai, while answering questions from members of the Committee, said "We have complied. As far as we are concerned we have complied with the requirements for a 3G license”.
We were asked (by NCC) to make a presentation and we did on December 7, 2008." A member of the Committee, Honourable Gbenga Oduwaye(Ogun PDP), after an exhaustive deliberation by all stakeholders, warned that the issue needed not drag any longer, as the NCC had not denied the NIGCOMSAT a license to offer telecommunication services in its downstream sector, while the Ministries of Science and Technology and Communications had not said anything to the contrary, deliberations on the matter be closed.
The chairman of the Committee, Honourable Jerry Manwe (PDP Taraba ), while ruling on the issues said it needed all documents filled in the NCC application form and details on when the spectrum license will be issued. It will be recalled that the House of Representatives had on Wednesday November 15, 2007 passed a resolution in the House calling on the NCC to issue a spectrum license toNIGCOMSAT.
The resolution was taken after an ad hoc Committee headed by Representative Leo Ogor(Delta PDP), turned in a damning report on the poor services of GSM service operators in the Country. The recommendation, had in part, also placed an embargo on the sales of SIM cards by MTN, GLO and other networks, until they improved their services.
In a bid to ensure that the Nigeria Communication Commission adheres strictly to guidelines set for the registration and issuance of licenses, the House of Representatives wants the Nigerian Communication Satellite, NIGCOMSAT, desirous of taking part in providing end-line telecommunication services to follow Due Process of getting the a approval.
Chairman of the House Committee on Communication Honourable Jerry Manwe confirmed that in as much as the NIGCOMSAT has recorded successes in the provision of satellite services, the organisation should not circumvent laid down rules and regulations in its bid to get a license from the NCC.
Manwe said the House gave his committee two weeks to report back on the inability of the NCC to comply with the resolution passed two months ago recommending that NiGCOMSAT be issued a license , he will not be stampeded to recommending sanctions against NCC, without finding out why the organisation had not complied. He said " we are still investigating and we invited the two bodies. But we are not going to jump into conclusions. If NIGCOMSAT wants an end-line service license, we have the NCC act and which was passed by the National Assembly.
Mobile cellular phone service provider NetOne has bought a high capacity fibre optic system that is expected to help ease current network congestion. According to NetOne managing director Reward Kangai, the system would be used to link NetOne with other operators to enable cross-network communication to flow without hindrance.
To this end, he said, NetOne subscribers would now be able to make calls to other networks with ease."The inter-connection or high capacity link should be able to cater for the current capacity which we intend to improve. The capacity of the inter-connection will be increased by over 750 percent," he said.
Fibre optic linkage is broadband-based system that is more reliable than dial-up connections, transferring information at a much faster pace than the latter. Kangai said NetOne was aware of problems being experienced by its customers and most of these were associated with congestion. NetOne announced last year that it was rolling out more base stations in Harare and its environs to ease congestion and these would be installed in Mount Pleasant, Dura, Queensdale, Prospect and Glen View, among other areas.
This was after an earlier resolution in April where the company undertook to construct additional base stations in the urban areas while simultaneously extending coverage in rural areas, where the company has an edge over its competitors.
The organisation has already rolled out 35 new base stations across the country, with 17 installed in Harare. NetOne also recently launched and commissioned its second Mobile Switching Centre in Bulawayo.
This enabled it to commission 42 new base stations so as to de-congest the network. As a result, NetOne customers in and around Bulawayo are now enjoying a more convenient and less congested network.
The Malaysia based handset design firm, M.Mobile is investing US$3 million in setting up a production factory in Zambia. Commerce Trade and Industry Minister Felix Mutati said in an interview with the Times of Zambia that M.Mobile, which is to establish the plant in partnership with a local company Melcome, is expected to start operations later this year. The factory will have a unit capacity of 500,000 per year.
The minister said the assembly plant would be able to assemble cellular phones for both the local and export markets within the Southern Africa Development community (SADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) regions. "Zambia will become the hub for exports of cell phones in the region," Mr Mutati said.
M.Mobile says that it is the world's first Muslim-owned mobile phone R&D and marketing company, in a partnership between Malaysia and China. This company is currently in operation under its parent company, Kosmo Technology which announced the acquisition of a 30% stake in M.Mobile in February 2006.
Times of Zambia
Mobile technology company Clickatell is encouraging people to complain more often about bad service, in the hope of making money as incensed consumers air their gripes by SMS.
Clickatell has teamed up with consumer advocate website Don't go to launch an instant SMS feedback service so companies can find out what their customers think.
People can send a text message to report bad service as it happens, so the organisation can respond almost immediately.
Only a fraction of customers complain to a business directly when they receive bad service, giving companies little chance to deal with the problem. Most people simply withdraw their support and criticise the establishment to their friends.
"Businesses everywhere are challenged by not knowing the reasons why customers don't come back, other than telling the manager on the spot, which most people simply don't do," said Clickatell CEO Pieter de Villiers.
"Customers everywhere carry cellphones, which now can easily be used to provide honest customer feedback via simple text messaging in real time at the point of service," he said.
Companies that subscribe to the service will advertise a phone number in their outlets. Customers can type the word "dont", followed by the name of the company and their comment and send it to that number. Don't go then forwards the message to the company via e-mail.
So far in SA some restaurants, hotels, airlines and grocery store chains have signed up. If complaints are received about companies that have not subscribed to the service, they will be sent an alert for free the first time. Consumers can also report good service using the system. E ach SMS would cost R2.
In reference to your article in Issue 388, you published an article headed UCC Gets Sh6b for Rural Phones in Uganda.
In this article you reported that:
“Three mobile telephone providers yesterday gave sh6.7b to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for the expansion of telecommunications services to rural areas. MTN contributed sh3,281,618,603, Celtel gave sh2,100,000,000, while UTL donated sh1,361,640,535. The chief executives of the firms handed dummy cheques to the officials from the commission at the UCC offices in Kampala. The contribution is 1% levy stipulated by the law on the gross annual revenue of each of the licensed telecom services providers. The money goes to the universal access fund called the Rural Communication Development Fund.”
I am writing to correct this position. Celtel Uganda had made an error in their calculations. In truth, they contributed Ush704 million towards the fund. The Rural Communications Development Fund was established in 2003 to bring affordable and accessible communication services in rural and underserved areas. The project is mainly funded by taxing a 1% levy on revenues of existing telecom operators, contributions from Government of Uganda and donations from other bodies including the World Bank under the Energy for Rural Transformation (ERT) communication component.
The national projects UCC is implementing through the RCDF public pay phones, internet points of presence, internet cafes, ICT training centres, web portals, postal support projects, schools ICT projects, multi- purposes community telecentres, research projects, health ICT projects and call centres.
Public Relations Manager
- The Uganda Communication Commission has clarified that it has licenced five national telecommunications operators and not six as was reported by the media in the last few days. The statement said, "The commission has not received any application for Public Service Provider and or Public Infrastructure Provider licences from Reliance Communications Limited."
- More than half of Telkom Kenya employees (4,000) are to be laid off over the next two weeks as the loss-making firm starts implementing a plan expected to help it return to profitability. The layoffs will save Telkom Sh4.2 billion in labour costs annually. The staff numbers currently stand at about 7, 521 after it sent home 9, 767 last year, earning the firm the distinction of having retrenched the most workers in Kenya's corporate history within a span of eight months.
- The Nigerian Telecommunications Subscribers Association NATCOMS has called on the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and all the telecomms operating companies in the country to provide free anti-mobile phone theft service to Nigerian subscribers.
- The Gambia’s Trust Bank Ltd has introduced SMS banking services. Customers will be able to view their account balance, receive details of their last five transactions, transfer funds from account to account, view up to date foreign exchange rates. They will also be able to top up their mobile phone credit using money in their bank account.
- A notice was published in the press by the Ministry of Finance of Namibia to advise that prepaid telecommunication cards for airtime sold by any person that is registered for value-added tax will be subject to value-added tax at 15 per cent from February 1 2008.
- Maktoob Research has published the findings of a recent online study which canvassed the opinions of 4,618 cellular subscribers of various nationalities, aged 18 and above, across four countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan. Among the findings of the survey, 76% of Vodafone Egypt's users claimed to be satisfied with its services, while 66% of Etisalat Misr and 47% of Mobinil users said the same. Vodafone (59%) claims highest brand recognition in Egypt followed by Mobinil (56%) and Etisalat Misr (46%). An overwhelming majority of respondents in all four countries were not comfortable with the idea of watching live television on their mobiles (Jordan 78%, Egypt 88%, KSA 82% and UAE 58%).
- During an interview with local newspaper “l’Express de Madagascar” Celtel, CEO, Ihab El Fouly has announced that it targets to reach 1 million subscribers by the end of the year and extend coverage to 89% by the end of 2009.
- In order to improve service quality on its network, MTN Nigeria has announced that it would add 36 additional MSCs (mobile switching centre) to its network and 12 new BSC (base station controllers) to reach a total of 63. In the meantime competitor Celtel has extended its network coverage map to more communities in the South East Region of Nigeria. The newly added communities are in Abia, Imo and Ebonyi States.
- Nedjma, Algeria's third private mobile operator has reinforced its innovative and multimedia leadership in Algeria with the launch of its Zhoo portal. “Zhoo”, the Arabic meaning for entertainment, offers a wide range of music, sports, films and other programs and content.
- Angola Telecom announced successful tests of a new optic fibre audio-visual communication system in the Malanje province of the country.
- In South Africa, MTN has launched a digital content service for their subscribers with all the news from the 2008 MTN Africa Cup of Nations.
- Nokia has unveiled two mobile handsets aimed at consumers in emerging markets. Nokia 2600 classic, which will retail for approximately EUR 65 (US$94) before applicable taxes or subsidies, has begun shipping, ramping up in all key markets during the first quarter of 2008. Nokia 1209 will become available globally during the second quarter of 2008 and will retail for approximately EUR 35 (US$51) before applicable taxes or subsidies.
- Celtel Congo has announced that it will be introducing low calling rates on its network.
- National incumbent Sotelgui has announced the roll out of its mobile service in the provinces of Lélouma et de Tougué in Guinea
Consumers of Internet services will have to wait much longer for faster and cheaper access that was to come through the National Fibre Optic Backbone. Industry insiders said construction of the terrestrial fibre optic cable that was commissioned last year is running behind schedule as a result of political skirmishes that followed the December 27 presidential election raising the prospect of delayed launch.
Mwenda Makathimo, the chairman of Institution of Surveyors Kenya (ISK), said the 18-month deadline previously set by the Ministry of Information could not be realised because of political unrest. Other than insecurity, he said, it will be difficult for surveyors to do their part of the job such as processing the acquisition of land and routing of the cables.
The terrestrial network was expected to be complete ahead of next year's landing of the undersea fibre optic cable in the port city of Mombasa. "The cables have to pass either on government or private land and its security must be assured," said Mr Makathimo. "Lack of goodwill from communities residing in any locality will only lead to vandalism or prompt very costly security operations."
Last year the Government commissioned the Sh3.5 billion project to three different companies namely, Sagem Communications, Huawei Technologies and ZTE corporation to cover various parts of the country including Nairobi, Narok , Kericho, Rongo , Isibania, Kisumu, Kakamega, Webuye. Thika, Murang'a Nyeri, Embu, Meru, Nanyuki, Nyahururu, Nakuru, Matuu, Mwingi, Garissa, Tala ,Kitui Kajiado, Namanga, Garsen, Lamu, Isiolo, Wajir. Marsabit, Moyale and Mandera.
Construction of the terrestrial fibre optic cable was to last 18 months. Many parts of the country still don't have internet connection and according to latest survey on Internet connectivity in the country there are only 2.5 million people out of the total population who have access to the Internet. Out of this number majority are mainly found in the major towns of Nairobi and Mombasa.
The survey was commissioned by the regulator Communication Commission of Kenya CCK last year to find out the factors affecting the Internet penetration in the country , it found out that out of the 23 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) less than ten are active with two dominating the sector but mostly offering services to corporate users.
The Court ordered Nitel to pay Interstella
In a letter written to its lawyer Messrs. Ikechukwu Uzuegbu & Co, dated 3rd July, 2007 and signed by the company's secretary, Hadiza Dogabana Sani, Nitel confirmed that Interstella Communication Limited paid the sum of N65.6million for 1 STM-1 Half Circuit on SAT3.
However, Nitel explained that the service could not be provided due to the restriction placed on Nitel by the SAT-3 Network administrator on new capacity activation in view of Nitel's unpaid liabilities.
The ailing national carrier further explained to her attorney that Intestella's request for colocation services at NECOM House, Lagos has been confirmed and the cost implication is already prepared in line with the network administrator.
It would be recalled that a Federal High Court of Nigeria, in the Umuahia Judicial Division recently ordered Nitel to pay over N14billion to Intestella for the breach of contract.
Intestella had dragged Nitel to the court 15th of June, 2007, praying that the court should declare among others that Nitel's conduct is a breach of contract, an order directing it to provide it with one STM1 circuit on SAT 3 which it paid for since October, 2006.
Intestella also asked the court to order Nitel to pay it the sum of N1.9 billion per annum as revenue accruable to it per annum, 150.000 dollars, being the loss of medical treatment of the Chief Executive Officer of the Company and $2.4million per month, being the monthly revenue accruable to the plaintiff's investment on an STM2 circuit on SAT3 since October 2006.
The company also prayed the court to order Nitel to pay it the sum of N2billion as exemplary damages for damage inflicted on interstellar business.
And after hearing Chief S.A Solomon Esq., the counsel to Intestella and Ikechukwu Izuegbu, Nitel's attorney, the court presided over by Hon. Justice H.T Soba granted all the relief's sought by Intestella.
The court ruled that Nitel's conduct is a breach of contract, by failing, refusing and/or neglecting to provide the services contracted by it when leased out its 36 E1 switch ports, 9 E1 transmission Links; and 1 STM1 Circuit on SAT3 to the plaintiff
Subsequently, the court directed Nitel to immediately provide the plaintiffs with _ ISTM1 Circuit on SAT3, which the plaintiffs paid for since October 2006. Nitel was also ordered to pay the sum of N1, 944 billion per annum accruable to the plaintiffs per annum as revenue from their investment on 36 E1 switch port beginning from 2002 accumulated is paid in arrears.
Besides, Nitel was also ordered to pay the cost of medical treatment of the 2nd plaintiff/ Chief Executive Officer amounting to the sum of 150,000:00 Dollars.
And to cap it all the court directed Nitel to pay 30 per cent percent interest rate until date of judgement and thereafter at 25 per cent until date the liquidation of judgement debt hereby granted.
Telkom is on its way to meet its ADSL target of at least 700,000 subscribers by 2011
Current estimates indicate that Telkom is on its way to meeting its target of ADSL customers equating to 15-20% of Telkom’s fixed access lines by 2010/2011.
This view was expressed by Alphonzo Samuels, Group Executive for Wholesale Sales and Marketing Operations who said that in most developed countries, broadband penetration ranges from 25% to 50% of fixed lines.
Samuels continued: “Considering our current penetration of just over 7%, we are clearly still in the infancy stage of the broadband maturity curve, with plenty of room to grow.”
He said that his confidence is borne out by the latest demand trends in the marketplace, adding: “Our traditional ADSL customer base has been the high LSM groups. While the demand among these groups is still there, it is now also spreading to the middle to lower LSM levels.”
Samuels believes that the demand among these “non-traditional” customers is mainly influenced by both the growing use of the Internet in the education system and the value proposition that ADSL offers.
“With outcomes-based education, parents are forced to assist their children with research and, increasingly, schools expect the internet to be used as a research resource. This creates a momentum for ADSL,” said Samuels.
Growth is also expected to be stimulated by the commoditisation of ADSL, the Do Broadband offering, the Self-Install Option, ADSL port automation and wholesale services.
Added Samuels: “At this point, we are only selling high-speed internet and have yet to move into value-added services like IPTV, video-on-demand and interactive gaming - these services will stimulate demand for ADSL, especially in the younger market.”
He said that young people in particular fully understand the benefits of triple-play and they will be the ones who will push Telkom’s customer base to allow the Company to meet its targets.
He pointed out, however, that successfully climbing the ADSL growth curve is not without its challenges, saying that the main challenge is to try to build ahead of demand.
“Demand is starting to come from areas not historically pre-provisioned for ADSL, notably the traditional Black, Coloured and Indian ‘townships’. Although there has been some penetration in townships, this has mainly been around shopping centres and business parks,” explained Samuels. The demand is also coming from the residential areas, where the Company does not have pre-existing infrastructure in place.
“An important step forward in matching supply with demand has been the creation of Telkom’s Broadband Register. Where there is demand but no infrastructure, the intelligence goes into the Broadband Register, which is fed into our build programme so that we are able to prioritise more effectively and efficiently,” said Samuels.
He explained that the build programme itself consists of two technology options. Where there is sufficient demand, we use fibre to the node, which puts an ADSL point of presence closer to customers. On the other hand, if there is sufficient demand but customers are outside the cable footprint, Telkom will deploy WiMAX technology.
“We will continue to seek various strategies aimed at increasing customer satisfaction in our efforts at seeking increased ADSL penetration,” concluded Samuels.
- Mobily is expanding the reach of its national fiber-optic network regionally and globally as part of a consortium that includes Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates and Etisalat Misr in Egypt. Dubbed the "E-Cable," with "e" being short for "Etisalat, the part terrestrial and part submarine cable will be live and ready for use by the end of the second quarter of 2009. The cable itself is expected to cost $150 million and will run from Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, across Saudi Arabia, passing through Jeddah, and through the Suez Canal and Alexandria in Egypt, by Italy in the Mediterranean and entering Europe through France.
- Ghanaian broadband access provider Allterra Gridline Communications Ghana Limited, has begun piloting broadband over powerline (BPL) technology in the country in collaboration with the Volta River Authority. The company is conducting a two-month pilot trial in the Volta Hotel in Akosombo, demonstrating the technology’s ability to provide video-on-demand (VoD), voice-over-IP (VoIP), and high speed Internet access over the utility’s municipal power grid.
- DATAFundi, an Unganda information and communication technology service provider, has signed an agreement with Emperion, a Danish broadband (Internet) and telecommunications solutions provider to establish a teleport in East Africa.
- In Gabon, Artel, the Telecommunication regulator has announced the introduction of a new licence regime for ISPs and data service companies in a bid to curb informal activities in this segment of the market. Existing internet service providers will need to apply for a new licence which has much more stringent conditions (e.g financial and technical guaranties, 5 year viable business plan, conditions are much more, etc)
- In South Africa, the Limpopo government has undertaken a massive project to install the infrastructure for wireless broadband technology so residents can gain access to Internet throughout the province.
In a sustained effort to mainstream Nigeria as a technologically driven economy, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is to champion the establishment of Science parks in the six geopolitical zones of the country.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Grace Ekpiwhre gave this indication in her preface to a new publication by the Ministry titled "The Development of Viable Science Parks in Nigeria" which outlines the blueprint of this initiative.
She said the Science Park Programme would address the loose ends in the outputs, relevance and linkage to national needs of the formal National Science, Technology and Innovation Infrastructure.
The Minister expressed the belief that the successful implementation of the Programme would be critical to the realisation of the Yar'Adua administration's 7-Point Agenda and the industrialisation Vision of Nigeria.
In line with standard practice, Ekpiwhre said that each of the Science parks would be operated as a registered Limited liability Company. Each park is estimated to cost about N5.0 billion to establish and the Federal Government has already invested about N500 million to energise the take-off of the Programme, the minister said. The Programme is envisaged to be funded by the Federal Government, State government, private sector and development support from relevant international Agencies
The Mozambican and Chinese Ministers of Science and Technology, Venancio Massingue and Wan Gang, on Monday signed an agreement to step up co-operation in scientific and technological matters.
Under the agreement, signed at the end of Wan's two day visit to Mozambique, China will help Mozambique train staff in the area of science and technology, boost the transfer of agricultural technology, and promote innovation as a fundamental condition for accelerated development. Wan told Massingue "everything is difficult at the beginning, but with joint efforts we can attain the planned objectives".
To implement the agreement, joint committees formed by the two countries will meet every year to assess progress, and set guidelines for the coming period.
Massingue thanked China for its solidarity and declared "Our struggle is for sustainable development and the weapons we need are the technological skills to transform production and to add value to our raw materials, generating services and products that increase our country's GDP".
The agreement also envisages the establishment of a centre for research into transmissible diseases, and twinning arrangement between regional science and technology centres.
China is already committed to supporting an agricultural research and technology transfer centre at Umbeluzi and a Technology Park in Moamba, both in Maputo province. These are large scale projects, with a total cost of US$700.
Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique
Do you ever find yourself frustrated by having to type in accented letters, international characters or symbols into Firefox? If so, the FireFox add-on abcTajpu may just make your life a little easier.
While the English language has relatively few such letters, this is a particularly useful tool for people working other languages such as Afrikaan, or needing to deal with symbols on a regular basis.
This extension was originally developed for European Language Day and supports the CEN Multilingual European Subset, including Cyrillic, Greek and Arabic among others.
As an online journalist, all of my articles are typed, or copied, into our publishing system via FireFox. Luckily I have not had to deal with much in the way of accented letters, but it does crop up from time to time.
The add-on uses multiple hot-keys, however these do sometimes cause conflicts with other programs. For example, the Alt-F1 hot-key, which brings up the abcTajpu menu, instead accesses my Ubuntu menu. Trying out other hot-keys I discovered a wide range of what until now were unknown ubuntu hot-keys.
Fortunately the hot-keys can be customized so as not to conflict with existing ones, but aside from these shortcuts, there are other ways of inserting special characters.
keyboard.pngA keyboard can be accessed off of the abcTajpu menu, found under the FireFox tools dropdown menu. From within the keyboard one can type as usual and special characters can be selected off of the keyboard and inserted into the text one was originally working on.
charactermenu.pngRight-clicking to bring up a context menu can also access the add-on. Through this menu a selection of alphabets can be chosen from, which can be customised to suit your needs.
- Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) has expanded its automated trading floor system to the Ilorin branch in the Kwara state.
- Algeria’s e-governance project, which aims at creating an electronic portal linking the state’s institutions and the citizen, has reached above 80% maturity, indicated Postal Services and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Minister Boudjemaâ Haichour.
- As part of a fresh initiative to ensure qualitative training in computer education/technology in the country, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Kaduna and the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the joint accreditation of computer education programmes in polytechnics and monotechnics.
- Microsoft has signed a partnership with local Senegalese IT company Planet Finance Senegal. The latter will train 400 small entrepreneurs to use a computer and desktop applications to enhance their business skills.
CellBook, a Cape Town-based mobile applications developer, has recently developed technology enabling book publishers to publish and distribute books on mobile phone handsets. It is also in the process of developing a range of new technologies intended to change the face of mobile book publishing.
The CellBook technology have been adopted by some of the largest Christian and secular publishers in South Africa such as Lux Verbi Publishers (part of Media24), Struik Christian Books and New Holland Publishers, which have already distributed more than 2000 books through this medium in the first week of the launch.
Downloading a CellBook is as easy as sending a SMS message. A user simply sends a keyword to a mobile short code, a CellBook link is then delivered to the phone, the user clicks on the link and downloads the CellBook, the download process literally takes seconds and the book is stored on the phone itself or on the phone's memory card. CellBook technology reportedly works on about 95% of mobile phones in the market. Publishers do not pay for making their books available via the CellBook technology. "We are excited about the CellBook technology as it allows every mobile phone subscriber the possibility to read an entire book on a mobile phone. ChristianMobile was the first company in the world to deliver the whole bible on mobile phones via text-sms and distributed more than 50 000 biblest Testaments and individual bible books through this medium in South Africa alone," said Bertus Preller, marketing executive at ChristianMobile, one of CellBook's distributors.
"Solly Ozrovech... became the first South African author to publish a book on a mobile phone and we were honoured to have played a role in making this possible utilizing the CellBook technology. Even more remarkable is the fact that the first complete book ever delivered via premium sms-text message in the world was the oldest, first printed and all-time bestseller, the Bible."
Says Pieter Traut, director at CellBook, "The possibility to distribute books on mobile devices opens up new and untapped revenue streams for publishers and enables them to monetise content in a dynamic way in a world where the mobile phone has become the world's most popular digital device.
We have engaged with some of the world's largest publishers to create CellBook versions of a host of exciting Christian and secular book titles. Our aim is to have 500 book titles available for download by July 2008."
Internet entrepreneurs Mark Shuttleworth and Jimmy Wales launched a formal declaration yesterday urging governments and publishers to make publicly funded educational materials freely available on the internet, a move that could cause a revolution in education.
With more than 100000 "open" educational resources available on the internet now, there is a movement towards using the internet as a collaborative tool in teaching.
The Cape Town open education declaration forms part of the internet-based revolution in the way in which knowledge is developed and presented to those seeking it.
Allowing free internet access to educational materials would encourage and make easier collaboration between teachers, and this would enrich children's learning experience, Mark Horner, a Shuttleworth Foundation project manager, said yesterday.
The declaration, a worldwide initiative born out of a meeting held in Cape Town last year, has been signed by hundreds of people, including luminaries such as Sir John Daniel, president of the Commonwealth of Learning; Yehuda Elkana, rector of the Central European University; Thomas Alexander, former director for education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and musician Peter Gabriel.
It encourages teachers and schools to join the international trend towards using the internet to share, remix and translate information, making it more widely accessible and more flexible, and giving pupils access to high-quality, constantly improving course materials, just as the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia has done in the world of reference materials.
"It'll be extraordinary one day to have teachers in New Zealand collaborating with students in China to build documents that will be used by learners in South America," Shuttleworth said at the declaration launch in Cape Town yesterday.
The public spiritedness of the declaration was to be praised, but the education publishers had a responsibility to protect the copyright of those who produced the materials, said Lindelwe Mabandla, chairman of the Publisher s' Association of SA's education executive. The association has about 160 members.
"Copyright is a very important thing. If (publishers) want to, we can't stop them from participating, but we would discourage the Shuttleworth approach.
"Authors battle for months, sometimes years, to produce these materials and publishers need to protect them. They (the publishers) hold the copyright, but the authors need to be protected," Mabandla said.
But Horner said author copyright would be protected. The signatories to the declaration were not trying to put publishers out of business, and there would always be "a space" for physical textbooks in classrooms.
Telkom's future direction is once again uncertain after the Saudi operator Oger Telecom disclosed that it had bid for a stake in the business. Oger Telecom's parent company Saudi Oger owns 60% of SA's struggling third cellular network Cell C, and the potential investment carries an expectation that Telkom would forge a far closer relationship with Cell C to help it finally clear a profit.
Telkom's shares gained more than 10% yesterday, yet analysts said the bid was probably unsolicited and was probably not to Telkom's advantage. "Oger Telecom submitted an offer which we believe to be in the interest of both Telkom and Cell C," said Oger Telecom CEO Paul Doany. "We hope to see progress with this soon."
What lends the move more credibility is that Doany was based in SA for several years after Cell C launched in 2001, making him au fait with Telkom's strengths and weaknesses.
Doany did not specify what size stake Oger Telecom is chasing, nor how much it has offered. If the deal went ahead it would be structured like its activities in Turkey, where it paid $6.5bn for 55% of Turk Telekom, and gained a controlling interest in the mobile player Avea.
Telkom issued a statement last week saying it would consider the "non-binding expression of interest" from Oger Telecom, along with other alternative options to enhance its converged fixed and mobile services.
Cell C's failure to turn a profit often prompts speculation that the Saudis will bale out. Instead, the tactic seems to be to help Cell C gain faster and cheaper access to Telkom's fixed line infrastructure that the cellphone operators rely on.
The bid comes in the wake of aborted talks for Telkom to sell part of its 50% stake in Vodacom to the UK's Vodafone -- which already owns the other half. That was cancelled when Telkom failed to agree a tie-up with MTN, so the gap created by selling its mobile assets would be plugged with the more impressive reach of MTN.
Yet the offer might go ahead if Telkom's stakeholders -- such as the government with 38,9% -- wanted an exit strategy, he said. "For Oger it makes a lot of sense. Cell C is struggling, and with a stake in Telkom it could do a lot better because it could collaborate to offer converged services."
Annual gross revenues of telecom operators in Uganda have gone up by 33 per cent, with main players Celtel and MTN posting the biggest increases.
The third player Uganda Telecom Ltd (UTL) lost ground to its competitors with its annual income going up by a small margin, according to the latest figures.
The figures were released last week when the three companies last week issued cheques to the sector regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the compulsory one per cent of total annual earnings.
Market leader MTN issued a cheque of Ush3.2 billion ($1.8 million); UTL, Ushs1.36 billion ($777,714) and Celtel, Ush704 million ($402,285).
This means MTN's gross revenue for 2006 was over Ush326 billion ($186 million), an improvement from slightly over Ush200 billion ($114 million) in 2005, while Uganda Telecom posted Ush136 billion ($77 million), up from its previous showing of Ush114 billion ($65 million).
Despite making inroads against its immediate competitor, Celtel raked in just over Ush70 billion ($40 million) from only its mobile and Internet services, which is $37 million shy of UTL's revenue. UTL's revenue streams include mobile, landline, Internet and data systems.
Celtel's earnings remain the lowest, but previous figures show that the company's earning nearly doubled in 2006. In the 2004/05 financial year, for instance, Celtel recorded annual revenue of about Ush36.7 billion ($20.9 million), while the year earlier its revenue card registered Ush15.3 billion ($8.7 million).
Managing director Yesse Oenga said during the cheque presentation that his company had reaped the benefits of its expansion within the country and the region. "We've managed to deliver that contribution from a commercially viable expansion programme," said Mr Oenga.
Celtel was the first company in September 2006 to expand its network beyond the borders across the East African region, later moving into Central Africa, and now has a network spread over 12 African countries. Competitors MTN and UTL have since been forced to responds to this move by entering deals with players across the borders in Kenya and Tanzania.
A source at UCC said that figures of the companies' income are credible as they are determined from the fully audited accounts of the operators. As part of its licensing duties, UCC is mandated to impose a one per cent levy on the companies' gross annual income, remitted to the regulator as contribution to funding rural communications projects in the country.
The Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF) set up in 2001 has now seen investment of over $24.5 million from the World Bank alone and over $10 million raised from the levy on operator incomes and parliamentary allocations.
Although Uganda's tele-density has improved, it is still below the recommended universal access figure "of a phone within 15-minutes walk" in the case of Uganda, which begs the question whether investment in the area or even the one per cent levy are adequate.
UCC executive director Patrick Masambu told The EastAfrican that his outfit has not received ant instructions from the minister in charge of ICT to raise the levy so as to cover more ground.
Instead, the hope of better access is hinged on completing the projects on the ground - which ambitiously target phone access for every hamlet in the country have access to a phone by 2010 - implying a penetration rate well in excess of 20 per cent.
"Our target is to have a phone in every hamlet by 2010, and have a change in the RCDF policy to focus more on moving away from voice telephony," said Mr Masambu. He also added that more players coming into the sector would translate into more funds available to improve rural communication facilities.
Since its establishment, RCDF has seen over 500 projects completed - Internet points of presence, cafes, training centres, web portals, pay phones, research projects, postal support projects, multi-purpose community centres and school ICT projects. However, 2,500 projects are still under way, yet to deliver service, while not a single health ICT project has been completed and only one call centre is under way.
When 2007 figures come in later this year, the companies' earnings are expected to go above $305 million as subscriber numbers in the sector went up from just over three million in March 2007 to 4.7 million, according to the UCC executive director.
The East African
Maroc Telecom, Morocco's dominant telecoms company, reported a 30 percent gain in fourth-quarter revenue as promotions and special offers boosted growth at its mobile phone subsidiaries.
Revenue in the three-month period climbed to 7.21 billion dirhams ($931 million), while full-year 2007 sales grew 22 percent to 27.53 billion dirhams, it said in a statement.
At the end of 2007, Maroc Telecom’ fixed line customer base reached 1.289 million lines, up 1.8% compared to the end of 200 whilst domestic fixed line revenues were MAD9.451 billion, down 5.5% year-on-year
ADSL subscribers stood at 470,000, up 22.4%. Compared to 2006, internet segment revenues increased by more than 25% to over MAD1 billion.
The operator’s mobile user base reached 13.327 million at end-December, up 24.5% year-on-year, and ARPU stood at MAD108.3, down by 4.1%. Moroccan mobile turnover climbed 20.3% to MAD17.096 billion.
French media and telecoms group Vivendi increased its stake in Maroc Telecom to 53 percent from 51 percent in October.
Traders said domestic market growth looked to be on track despite stiff competition from Maroc Telecom's rivals Wana and Meditel -- a joint venture of Spain's Telefonica and Portugal Telecom.
Maroc Telecom has fended off its nimble new rivals through heavy network investment and cut-price airtime deals that kept its client base growing fast in the country of 33 million.
"For now they're seeing no sign of saturation -- every month they propose new products which maintain the rhythm of growth," said Mohamed Bachir Tazi, a trader at Casablanca Finance Intermediation. "They just launched 3G services and that could boost sales further."
Profits from Maroc Telecom's lucrative domestic operations are funding expansion elsewhere in Africa. Tazi said revenue consolidated from its affiliates Gabon Telecom and Mauritel showed good progress. Mauritel registered 50.4% growth to finish the year with 905,000 cellular customers, and Onatel's mobile subscriber base grew by 131% in the year to 564,000, whilst 386,000 users had signed up to Gabon Telecom’s mobile unit Libertis by the end of 2007, a 60.3% increase from end-2006.
Government said it was considering an ad valorem tax proposal by the telecom operators instead of a flat rate for the introduction of the air/talk time tax. Fred Opare-Ansah, Deputy Minister of Communication who announced this during a familiarization tour at the Ghana Telecom Company said the operators had indicated that a flat rate would be unfriendly to their system and hence make implementation difficult.
An Ad valorem tax such as sales or value added tax is a tax based on the value of a product imposed at a time of a transaction. He said: "We've had consultation with operators in the industry organised by the Ministry of Finance and at present everybody is happy with the current stage of negotiation.
"As you are aware Ghana is moving forward and we need everybody to make a little contribution," Opare-Ansah explained and said a committee had been tasked to look into the various proposals to make the tax non discriminatory.
The Deputy Minister said government was committed to ensuring that, operators' revenues were not affected in any way when the tax came into force before the end of March this year.
He said as far as the 2008 budget was concerned, legislation introducing the tax had already been passed, but what was left now was the drafting of a specific tariff structure after which Parliament would review it for passage.
- Market speculation has it that UK telecommunications giant BT is in discussion to acquire JSE-listed GijimaAst. ITWeb revealed that it has received a detailed tip that the local company was the subject of a £100 million takeover bid from an unnamed UK telco.
- Nigeria’s mobile operator, Visafone which received its Unified Access Service[UAS] licence as a telecom operator from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on August 1, 2007 has met with 13 Nigerian banks to raise $200 million to finance the company's roll out, capacity building and expansion. The mobile company tends to roll out fully early February 2008 in over 40 cities and 12 states including the FCT Abuja.
- Namibian mobile operator, Cell One has announced the reassignment of Lars Christian Iuel by Telenor. He will take up a new executive position at Telenor in South East Asia. Another Norwegian national, Frode Haugen, has been appointed CEO with effect March 1 2008.
- Business Connexion (BCX) non-executive chairman Reg Berkowitz has retired from his position on the company's board.
* 3RD ANNUAL DIGITAL BROADCASTING SWITCHOVER FORUM
29 Jan – 1 Feb 2008, Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa
Covering National Switchover Frameworks and Planning, the Digital Dividend, the Results of WRC 07, Dual Illumination, the Broadcasting Skills Shortage, African Content Production as well as a host of other critical issues that were raised in the 2007 event.
* E-TISSAL EXPO 2008
6-8 February 2008, International Congress and Expo Center of the Exchange Office of Casablanca, Morocco.
e-Tissal is organized by the media and communication professionals for every professional that creates, uses, delivers or services media and communication in the Mediterranean, African and Middle East Region, the third most active media market in the world.
* ICT AFRICA
13-15 February 2008, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
ICT Africa 2008 offers:
A Plenary session featuring policy makers, Business leaders and key ICT research leaders
High quality, peer reviewed technical presentations
Technical tutorials on emerging ICT technologies
Workshops on ongoing projects
* AFRICA & MIDDLE EAST NEXT GENERATION NETWORKS SUMMIT 2008
18th - 19th February 2008, Indaba Hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa
The conference revolves B2B, B2G, G2G Next Generation Networks business opportunities and challenges, convergence challenges, security, quality of service, pricing and billing, operator strategy, mobile content and applications, interoperability, network and infrastructure etc. Attendance is by invitation only.
* THE AFRICAN BANKING TECHNOLOGY CONFERENCE
19 -21 February 2008, Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, Kenya
The conference theme is “sharing knowledge and best practices in banking across Africa”.
* 2nd ANNUAL CALL CENTRE CONFERENCE
20-21 February 2008, Birchwood Executive Hotel & Conference Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa
This annual conference twill give you the ideas and insights you need to achieve outstanding service in South Africa’s most challenging work environment.
* CAPACITY MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA 2008
25th – 26th February 2008, Dubai
Now in its 3rd successful year Capacity Middle East & North Africa 2008 provides the leading high-level, important meeting point for executives from international telecommunications companies and companies in the GCC and North Africa to discuss strategic domestic and international wholesale telecommunications market opportunities.
Capacity Middle East & North Africa 2008 provides attendees with the optimum networking forum to forge business partnerships and execute business deals. Offering high-level content in the form of interactive panel discussions and presentations, this event is not to be missed!
22- 23 April 2008, Algier, Algeria
The fifth edition of this B2B exhibition will provide plenty of opportunities to develop contacts and relationship with local companies in the IT and Telecoms sectors.
The exhibition main topics are: new mobile services, call centre solutions and equipment, VoIP, IT security, banking software, CRM, ERP and storage solutions.
- E-LEARNING AFRICA
29-30 May 2008, Accra, Ghana
- SEMINAR ON E-GOVERNMENT FOR DEVELOPMENT: STRATEGIES AND POLICIES
13-27 June 2008, Washington DC, USA
This intensive face-to-face seminar includes lectures, panel discussions, and interactive workshops presented by leading e-Government experts from USAID, USTTI Board member corporations, private sector firms, universities, NGOs, and multinational organizations.
* Technical advice for the setting up of a video- conference system in the IOC and its member states
We are presently searching for individual experts or a team to set up a videoconferencing system that will facilitate communication between the IOC and its member states and reduce travelling costs.
The expert will advice the IOC on the financial and technical feasibility of the different approaches to a video conferencing system and set-up. The sustainability of each of the various options should be studied as well, including the technical issues linked to connectivity and bandwidth, based on the most cost-effective solution, taking into account the setting up of a VSAT Closed User Group network to be implemented by COMESA. The expert will then prepare the technical specifications for the video conferencing equipment after the best option has been decided by IOC and will assist in the preparation of the tender dossier. His/her expertise will also be required to assist IOC in the evaluation of the tender proposals. The application deadline is January 30th 2008.
* Striata and New Clicks Holdings – South Africa
Secure e-mail and messaging specialist Striata has won, on open tender, an electronic communications service provision contract with the JSE-listed specialist retail group, New Clicks Holdings. The contract covers e-mail and messaging services nationally for the health, beauty, entertainment and homeware retail brands Clicks, The Body Shop and Musica.
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