Issue no 439 30th January 2009
This week saw Orange announce the roll-out of its M-money service into Mali (Orange Money) and Zain saying that it will soon launch a service (Zap) to compete with Safaricom’s m-Pesa. But the really huge market for M-money will be Nigeria if operators can get it right. Although Nigerian banks are among the more energetic on the continent, there is still plenty of potential writes Emmanuel Okoegwale.
The ability to pay for goods and services without having to carry cash or cards has universal appeal. In Africa it is being driven by the need to reduce the risk of theft. The mobile is ideal because it is cheap and ubiquitous and can authenticate the payer and payee and record the transaction.
The mobile payment industry will change the way consumers interact with financial services and make payments. Mobile financial services will include consumer accounts information, updates, alerts, bill payments, person to person transactions and remittances.
In Nigeria where electricity and transportation are unreliable, the mobile phone is a driving force for change – and not just for voice calls. Mobile phones can address one of the biggest cost barriers in the value chain.
The success of M-pesa in Kenya (over 2 million users) has demonstrated the strong compelling need for a platform that can empower Africans to make transaction cashless and without need to visit a Bank. Nigeria’s seeming slow uptake of mobile payment presents a huge opportunity that can revolutionize the payment world, create new set of mobile entrepreneurs and new Business models in a market of 54 million mobile subscribers and an addressable market of 140 million people.
The mobile phone is a powerful channel for developing business. The Banks have so far been unable to win youth segment accounts because they are approaching them via traditional channel and not what they always have with them, the mobile phone. The youth segment will most likely adopt mobile payment faster than the older segment because they are early adopters of technology and the good news is that they constitute a large segment in the mobile subscription pyramid in Nigeria and still largely unbanked or under-banked. Simple arithmetic from total subscriber base in Nigeria, shows that 54 million mobile subscription base is twice the Bank account holders of about 24 million, this clearly shows a huge 30 million people out there with mobile phones but without a Bank account.
Nigeria financial industry players seeks elusive mobile technologies and standards but slow progress is being made towards achieving interoperable and transparent standards for mobile payments. The process is complicated by the large number of stakeholders involved, in addition to the challenge of integrating various business models and technology layers into one platform. Even the term ‘mobile payments’ has different definitions. Some Banks currently offering mobile banking are erroneously classifying their service as mobile payment even when the subscribers cannot do more than check account balance or transfer money between self account in same Bank.
Mobile operators are known not to be very adept in providing core payment and financial services, hence there is need for cross industry collaborations like what we have seen in the Glo / First bank cash card and the MTN / UBA x-change cards. These collaborations are paying off in the mobile banking arena in the partnership between South Africa’s MTN and Standard Bank.
In South Africa, MTN, launched a SIM-based m-banking service with Standard Bank in a 50:50 joint venture, MTN MobileMoney. The Y’ello Bank, as it is often referred to after MTN’s pan-regional Y’ello branding campaign, operates as a separate division of Standard Bank, and as such is regulated under Standard Bank’s banking licence which brings compliance and interoperability to the rest of the payment infrastructure.
Many Nigerian Banks are evaluating different mobile payment systems from offshore providers but they are yet to learn from Africa’s own painful experiences in wap Banking. Offshore transfer of WAP banking technology was a disaster because an Internet-based technology was applied to the mobile phone, resulting in an experience that was slow, unreliable and costly for consumers in a continent with expensive mobile internet cost, poor coverage, hand set limitations and inadequate customer education. Simpler technologies would have achieved more. However, to be fair, this was before most of the mobile operators started implementing data network upgrades.
SMS text messages will continue to be the dominant channel for mobile payments, although take-up of WAP, USSD and near field communications (NFC) contactless services will also grow. NFC technology seems to be attracting attention of players in Nigeria because of its ease of use and the European Hype but they are not factoring the end user into the plan at this early stage. The main draw back for NFC is that users will require acquiring NFC enabled handsets and that will be a major obstacle in a economy where income per head is low and average Hand set replacement rate is four years. Near sound Data transfer technology of the likes of Tag attitude of France are clear gap bridging measures not requiring any form of new hand set acquisition from the end user and it is immediately compatible with all Phone models.
Already, informal exchanges of Mobile Airtime locally in Nigeria accounts for over 5 percent of airtime purchases and banks might start losing market share if people found it more convenient to move money around and repay their debts, send little amounts to friends and relatives via this informal channel for small value payments.
Mobile payment is not a problem of technology. It is the management of the ecosystems of players like Banks which lack the technology, telcos industry non collaborative positions and inadequate understanding of financial matters and lastly, regulations which does not take into consideration, the speed of technology innovation that will hinder the growth of the sector that is already striving underground though not illegally but informally.
Correction on Issue 438: Michael Joseph, CEO, Safaricom writes:Your article on The Top-10 Fastest Growing Mobile Operators in Africa and Middle East you comment “We note with some amusement that the table on p54 of Safaricom’s March 08 IPO prospectus shows Telkom Kenya as having 2% of the mobile market as at Dec 07 – quite an achievement, given that its Orange mobile service did not launch until September 08!” Please note that Telkom Kenya did claim to have about 200,000 CDMA customers on their so-called “fixed” CDMA system. However this was a completely mobile system at the time despite the lack of a mobile license!
- No fewer than ten financial institutions in Nigeria have started to roll out, InterSwitch, an electronic transaction switching and payment processing platform in order to deliver Nigeria's first Virtual Top Up (VTU) solution. The service is currently available only to MTN prepaid subscribers.
- Rwandatel has started a roaming service with Uganda Telecom (UTL). The service is also under technical testing in Kenya and Tanzania before proceeding to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)," said Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Patrick Kariningufu. Competitor MTN Rwanda has announced the launch of a Blackberry phone in Rwanda.
- According to the Ugandan ICT minister, the number of wireless subscribers rose to 8.2 million at the end of 2008. While addressing a delegation of member countries of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), Ham Mulira added that mobile penetration stood at around 25%.
- MTN Ghana, has launched 3.5G technology onto the Ghanaian market to offer a range of data-orientated services like video streaming, games, music videos, sports and news. It is based on HSDPA technology.
- Etisalat Misr, the Egyptian operator, has reportedly crossed the subscriber base target it had set for 2008, as the operator reached the mark of 7 million subscribers at 2008-end. The Egyptian subsidiary of Etisalat had set a target of 6.8 million sign-ups by end-2008, and its end of year total represented a 126% rise against the same time a year earlier. Saleh Abdooli, Etisalat Misr’s CEO, claimed that the operator now aims to reach a subscriber base of 10 million by 2009-end.
- Nigeria’s Q3 08 growth could not match the record-breaking levels seen in the previous quarter, when 7.38m new connections were added - more than double the best figure recorded in any other African nation. However, its third-quarter boost of 4.11m was the second best figure ever recorded in the market, which is particularly impressive given that one of the top three operators, Glo, suffered a loss of 0.6m customers in the quarter. At the end of Q3, there were 55.8m connections in Nigeria, up 51% year on year with annual net additions of 18.8m.
In a move that has shades of what happened to the mobile operators in Benin when a new Government came to power, Ghana’s new Government has decided that it will re-open the terms of the contract made under the previous Government with Vodafone International.
This is the worst kind of nightmare for an international investor: you’ve paid the price, you’re in the hole but there’s no control over the cost of the political risk incurred. For the new Government, it risk’s throwing away Ghana’s reputation as one of the most liberal telecoms environments in the sub-region.
The Minister designate for Communications, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu has hinted that his ministry would review the sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone International. He said though he would have to contact the Presidency for approval before his Ministry would embark on such a move, he was hopeful that the government would support the idea.
Speaking in an interview with The Chronicle in Accra last week, Iddrisu said the review was not meant to revoke the Sale and Purchase agreement that Vodafone International signed with the government of Ghana, but to ascertain whether the contract was a genuine one.
The previous Government was never entirely straightforward about the sum it had raised. For although there was a headline figure for the sale which sounded impressive, the Government had to pick up a number of debts and liabilities.
"My brother, I am not saying that we are going to take the deal from them but we are going to make sure that Ghanaians get value for their money," he reiterated. He was emphatic that government was going to evaluate and review most of such transactions that were executed by the former government.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC), while they were in opposition did not vote for the $900 million Vodafone deal in Parliament, on the grounds that though they were not against the sale, the “secrecy” under which government was going about the process raised suspicion, and that some procedures did not conform to the Public Procurement Act.
The NDC questioned the basis upon which government decided to choose Vodafone Plc UK, as the sole investor to acquire majority shares in GT. The then opposition questioned the basis by which government exclusively negotiated with only Vodafone PIc UK, without considering other bidders who were likely to offer higher bids than Vodafone, and address the socio-economic needs of the country. It should be remembered that initially France Telecom was chosen as a likely buyer but the Government felt it could get more money than the company was offering.
The Minister designate for Communications, who was at the forefront in demanding transparency in the sale of GT, told the paper that among his priorities as a Minister would be the setting up of a National Information Technology Council, to serve as an advisory body for the Ministry of Communications on Information Technology (IT).
The Zambian government has finally bowed to pressure to deregulate the country's international telecommunications gateway in order to promote competition and foreign investment in the sector and lower the high cost of communications.
Zambia's international telephone calls are among the highest in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region. The World Bank and private mobile service providers including Zain and MTN have been pushing the Zambian government to liberalize international gateways in order to reduce the high cost of communication and the cost of doing business in the telecom sector.
Minister of Communications and Transport Dora Siliya (who was previously vehemently opposed) said her ministry has been carrying out comprehensive consultations and addressing all concerns from service providers before fully liberalizing the international gateway.
After the consultations, Siliya said, "We should be able to undertake the full liberalization of the international gateway. I'm therefore taking a bill to parliament that seeks to liberalize the gateway to help improve telecom service in Zambia."
The Zambian government had pegged the international gateway license fee at US$18 million, which service providers said was prohibitive. The new cost of the international gateway has however, not yet been revealed.
Vodacom has plans to start aggressively attacking the mobile data market, starting with a tariff cut. According to the group's commercial director, Romeo Khumalo, the company wants to start doing to the data market what it did with pre-paid solutions. Speaking at the unveiling of the much anticipated Blackberry Storm last week, he noted that the company was going to lower prices to go after more pre-paid customers.
The company's price shift will be implemented both on the new Research in Motion Blackberry product, as well as the data market in general. Khumalo noted that Vodacom's plan was to “aggressively” move on the market, with a particular focus on affordability. “The success we had with our pre-paid solution, we want to replicate with mobile Internet,” he added.
The release of the latest Blackberry smart phone is already showing signs of Vodacom's decision to drop rates. According to Khumalo, the R59 per month rate, for access to the Blackberry services, which used to be for pre-paid users only, has now become available to contract holders.
Customers hoping to buy the phone without contract subscription will be looking a little bleak, with the Blackberry Storm coming in at R8,500. For the enterprise, the services have dropped from R138 per month, to R98 per month. Research in Motion (RIM) sub-Saharan Africa director Deon Liebenberg said: “We are basing our predictions of success on the number of Vodacom's users. We are going to drive this through pre-paid.”
Whatever their circumstances, telco incumbents rarely seem to die but they do come back from having had a near death experience. After years of nothing much happening, the Liberia Telecommunication Corporation (LTC) is ready to begin full operations, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced last week.
She said that after a long period of planning and resource mobilization the agency is now ready for business, to provide a wide range of services including the restoration of that great 20th century technology, the fax. She said LTC would compete in certain categories with the four GSM companies currently operating in Liberia.
President Johnson-Sirleaf to the Legislators that in keeping with the telecommunications law, government has made significant progress in negotiating the standardization of licenses for Lone Star and LiberCell GSM Companies.
“This is a clear victory for the national interest consistent with the practice in other African Countries; many of you may recall that licenses were granted to all GSM companies for US$50,000 per annum for variable tenures ranging from ten to 15 years,” President Johnson-Sirleaf stated.
But she disclosed that the four GSM Companies would now be standardized at a fee of US$15 million each with rights over a 15-year period. She pointed out that appropriate measures are now being considered to ensure compliance by CellCOM and COMIUM GSM Companies.
The Liberian Journal
- Zimbabwe’s mobile market leader Econet Wireless has resumed offering its post-paid services, which were suspended last November because of a shortage of foreign currency and lack of funding to pay for a new billing system. The move was made possible by the recent government initiative to allow operators to bill their users in foreign currency.
- The Gambian leader, Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, has reaffirmed his government's unreserved commitment to revive the country's telecommunication giant, Gamtel, to help it regain its old glory not only in Africa but in the rest of the world. Last week the company suffered two major fires in its premises which initial investigation has put down to old wiring.
- In Nigeria, Nitel’s workers are back on an indefinite strike (including the shut down of the SAT-3 network cable) to demand their allowances and pension buyout amounting to N7 billion. Nitel’s management has appealed to workers to call off the on-going industrial action and reassured them that “the Federal Government and Transcorp have put a plan in place for the funding of Nitel’s operations which the unions are aware of. Management believes that this will soon come to fruition and all outstanding issues will be resolved”.
- Despite the fact that the House of Representatives rejected fresh investigation into the activities of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) particularly on its oversight role on the operations of service providers in the country, the regulator remains under strong political pressures to improve the quality of services of the telecommunication providers in the country. Its Executive Vice-Chairman, Chief Ernest Ndukwe, is also under parliamentary scrutiny over tax waivers granted to some telecommunications companies.
- The date for the launch of the much-anticipated SumbandilaSat science satellite has been set for 25 March by the Department of Science and Technology of South Africa. The Sumbandila, a low-orbit satellite which will collect data to be used to monitor and manage disasters such as floods, oil spills and fires within Southern Africa, will be launched into space from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
- A World Bank supported telecommunication company, GiCELL Wireless Limited is rolling out a mobile network in Nigeria. The new network is a CDMA 2000 on a 450 megahertz (MHZ) frequency and the initial take off of the network will cover five states which are: Adamawa, Borno, Kwara, Oyo and Cross River States. The company is said to have started with these five states to meet the World Bank requirement as their first Universal Access Service provider in Nigeria.
Libya's only Internet service provider is launching its first commercial wireless network which it says is one of the most advanced in the world. The state-owned firm said only a handful of countries have rolled out the advanced Internet connection known as WiMax on such a wide scale.
Libya Telecom and Technology aims to start with WiMax coverage, including a mobile feature, in 18 cities. The network is meant to be cost effective in the long run and does not depend on often poor conventional wire infrastructure.
Anyone with a simple USB device which can be plugged into a laptop can connect to the Internet within the coverage area of any WiMax tower. The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says six years ago most Libyans depended on Internet cafes to connect to the web, but technology has moved a long way since then.
The new WiMax network, which has a capacity for 300,000 subscribers, will begin taking on business clients from next week and individual customers the week after.
There are an estimated 51,000 broadband subscribers in Libya and some 170,000 still depend on the much slower dial-up internet. Libya Telecom and Technology said the new service would cost US$30 per month - twice the existing cost of broadband - although prices are expected to drop in the long-run. It requires a one-year advance payment of around $400 (£290), including the cost of a USB device.
A team of environmental scientists and bird experts have discovered a remote treasure in Mozambique's hidden Mount Mabu.
Using Google Earth to identify a remote patch of pristine forest, the scientists on an expedition to the site discovered new species of butterfly and snake, along with seven Globally Threatened birds, in the area that they acknowledge to be locally known, but unmapped, also adding that scientific collections and literature also failed to shed light on the area.
“This is potentially the biggest area of medium-altitude forest I’m aware of in southern Africa, yet it was not on the map,” related Jonathan Timberlake from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), who led the expedition. “Most Mozambicans would not even have recognised the name Mount Mabu,” he said.
Following scoping trips, a team of 28 experts from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Belgium, Ireland, and Switzerland, that included scientists from BirdLife, ventured into the forest, having to challenge the steep terrain and dense vegetation.
Inside, they found a wealth of wildlife, including three new species of butterfly and an undiscovered species of adder. The scientists believe there are at least two novel species of plant and perhaps more new insects to identify. They took home over 500 samples. “The phenomenal diversity is just mind-boggling”, exclaimed Jonathan Timberlake. Despite civil war from 1975 to 1992 ravaging parts of Mozambique, the landscape was found virtually untouched, the group said.
The site also proved to be important for birds, especially endangered Thyolo Alethe Alethe choloensis, which is common throughout. “This may be the most important population of Thyolo Alethe known,” remarked Dr Lincoln Fishpool, BirdLife’s Global IBA Co-ordinator, who joined the expedition. “At other sites, forest is rapidly being lost or much of the habitat is sub-optimal,” he said.
BirdLife also reports that the group found that there were six other globally threatened birds among the 126 species identified. Of these, mentioning the Vulnerable Swynnerton's Robin Swynnertonia swynnertoni is particularly significant - bridging a large gap between known populations. Mozambique’s only endemic species, Near Threatened Namuli Apalis Apalis lynesi, was also seen. This was the first record of it away from nearby Mount Namuli, they observed.
The group says conserving Mount Mabu is now a priority, saying the forest’s value as a refuge to villagers during the war has thus far helped to protect it, along with poor access and ignorance of its existence. However local people are returning to the area and Mozambique’s economy is booming. There is a risk the forest will come under pressure to be cut for wood or burnt for crop space.
As for Google Earth, Jonathan Timberlake says the digital imagery has helped scientists realise more about the world, saying it may reveal further unnoticed pockets of diversity, especially in areas like Mozambique or Papua New Guinea. “We cannot say we have discovered all the biodiversity areas in the world,” he said.
The residents of Bamenda in Cameroon are up in arms about Internet scamming, according to a report in the Cameroon Tribune. Last week, two young men, Mathias Sam Ngonain and Vincent Suh, were arrested by the intervention squad of the Bamenda First Police District for allegedly luring an American woman, Margaret Wood, into an illegal cyber scam. Wood and Ngonain are said to have been in closed contact since November 2008, exchanging information and documents concerning "an imaginary chimpanzee" on sale.
But, while they charted out the mode of payment and transportation, Wood smelled foul. She then sought the service of the North West Regional Delegate for Forestry and Wildlife to authenticate Cite Permit series # ETO163C purportedly issued by the delegate, authorizing Ngonain to trade in protected wildlife species. With the intervention of the delegate, Ngonain and Suh were arrested in a local financial establishment at the Commercial Avenue while they filled documents to cash the sum of CFA 650,000 purportedly paid in by Margaret Wood.
The Cameroon Tribune says it has infiltrated the scamming network and discovered that scamming is firm, with accurate division of labour, that students are mere ordinary partners, and that the business track is greased by avaricious businessmen and civil servants. The scammers have ganged up with some financial organizations that transit cash from vulnerable overseas clients to the conmen on a 30% commission.
In such banks, the scammers are given express priority to jump queues. Apart from the bankers, some cyber owners have agreed to halt security officers at their doorsteps, preventing any form of interrogation or arrest. And, even when arrests are forcefully made, the culprits arrogantly bounce back thereafter, boasting of their financial capabilities to overturn the law.
- Andrew Mthembu, chairman of South Africa’s a state-owned firm Infraco that owns a stake in the group building the WACS cable, confirmed local media reports that the cable would not be completed in time for the 2010 soccer World Cup as planned, but rather in 2011. Mthembu said the WACS consortium will announce its decision on the project's supplier and the contract value in March 2009.
- In Nigeria, connectivity provider Galaxy has been chosen to build a fibre optic access to the country’s national ID database. The institutions that will benefit from this first phase of the project will include the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigerian Police Force (NPF), and the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS).
- South Africa’s branch of staffing solutions company Kelly Group aims to grow its candidate base by making use of online social networking tools, such as Facebook, as it seeks to grow in a skills-scarce market..
- The Malawi government has announced plans to provide the whole country with access to the Internet by 2012, with the aim of closing what it calls the ‘digital divide’ between rural and urban areas. The government has started to roll out the first phase of a project which will focus on providing half of the country’s 28 rural districts with community managed ‘telecenters’, where people can use telephones and computers with internet access.
- UUNET Kenya is investing Sh5.6 million ($73,000) in a network management and monitoring system with the aim of raising the company’s quality of service to its customers while avoiding hefty refunds to its clients due to down-times.
Following the Satyam Scandal in India, there were fears in many quarters that the development would affect the multi-million dollar IT transformation project of Ethiopian Airlines since Satyam, with partner Ernst & Young, is a major actor in the project. However, authoritaties at Ethiopian have been given reassurances that the IT project will not be affected by the scandal at Satyam.
Amid management turmoil following the financial scandal of its founder, Satyam Computer Services Ltd, still remains the consultant for quality check and project management for the Ethiopian Airlines' multi-million dollar IT transformation project.
The management of Satyam assured the Airlines through Ernst & Young, the company which was involved in developing Ethiopian's repositioning programme in 2004, that the project it is handling will remain unaffected by the situation.
"We wrote Satyam about our concerns when we heard news of the scandal," Kemeredin Bedru, Ethiopian's vice president (VP) for IT told Fortune. "We asked whether they are still up to the commitment."
In a reply last Friday, January 23, 2009 to Zemedineh Negatu, managing partner of Ernst & Young, the Indian software and IT services firm, stated that despite the management changes by the Indian government it will continue to deliver its services in accordance with the commitment it made when the agreement was signed.
About six months ago Ernst & Young and Satyam, as a consortium, signed an agreement with Ethiopian Airlines under which Satyam has become the IT Consultant and System Integrator for the airline's 30 million dollar worth IT and Business Transformation Programme.
IT strategy development is one component of the national carrier's programme to grow into a world class airline. It includes software procurement and training of its staff.
Under the agreement Satyam provides staff resources and IT experts who ensure that the various technology equipment and software Ethiopian procures to upgrade its entire IT system are up to standard, efficient and installed properly.
Nevertheless, both the Airline and Ernst & Young are confident that the work they have given to Satyam remains unaffected by the situation.
"It is something that has to do with their accounting system and financial operations," Zemedineh told Fortune. "Their business model is still the same."
The problem Satyam is currently facing is different from its ability to handle the project, according to Zemedineh.
Kemeredin shares Zemedeneh's view that the company still can handle the project effectively. "I am completely confident that the company will finalize the project as agreed," he told Fortune.
Ethiopian's IT and Business Transformation Programme is a two-to-three-year project for which Satyam assigned one programme director and deploys subject matter experts. "Ownership and management changes will not affect the employees and experts," Kemeredin said.
Though both the Airlines and Ernst & Young consider the Indian company dependable, they, at the same time have their own contingency plans. "Our staff have been working with Satyam; thus we have been building our own capacity," the VP said. "In cases of default, we will continue to manage the programme and use experts available in the market."
Zemedineh believes that Ernst & Young can take over the programme in such cases.
Ethiopian involves its staff in the programme because it targets taking it over by itself at the end of the project period.
A group of Uganda ICT enthusiasts have moved to create a consumer lobby that will help address concerns of dissatisfied users of computer products and services. Members of the private sector, civil society and the media have joined to create the Uganda ICT Consumer Protection Association.
ISPs in the country are widely known for poor customer service, and up to now customers have not had a consumer group to help them troubleshoot problems with PCs and computer peripherals.
"The association is here to awaken responsibility among users of ICT products and services, providers of the services and regulators, considering that users pay a lot of money for these products and services," James Wire Lunghabo, the chairman of the new lobby said in an interview.
"We are coming out not necessarily to antagonize providers; we are simply coming out to champion the rights of users," Lunghabo said.
According to Lunghabo, the lobby will strive to see that consumers get value for money. The lobby group intends to play a proactive and independent role and set standards for service providers, act as an arbiter between consumers and service providers and also create an avenue for educating the public on consumer rights.
The group will help consumers understand what suppliers can offer, and service providers will realize that they cannot get away with poor service, Lunghabo said.
The lobby is not out to antagonize service providers but to hold them accountable and make them understand that "quality of service in the ICT sector is a right, not a favor," Lunghabo said. The association, which is scheduled to start work at the end of this month, will work to complement the industry regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).
Consumer protection and education is one of the functions of the UCC. But the UCC runs a consumer relations desk that is seen by many as dormant. Critics say that despite its mandate to handle consumer complaints, the UCC has failed or not attempted to address problems, especially with the big players in the sector because they contribute funds to some of its activities.
It is against that background that industry watchers have raised an alarm about the consumer lobby's acceptance of funding from the UCC. "I would prefer if we did not operate under the government's wing but since UCC have said they will not interfere in our activities, I will take them at their word but be sure that should we see any kind of influence coming from them, we will be ready to say no," said Paul Asiimwe, one of the founding members of the new lobby.
The lobby has already registered a domain name and is building a Web site. The site will be interactive, offering reporting procedures to make it easy for visitors to post comments and complaints. The site will also have service and product profiles as well as pricing charts to enable users make informed decisions.
The association will intervene on behalf of consumers by interfacing with service providers when complaints crop up. Should a provider fail to address an issue, the consumer lobby will then go to UCC with the case.
The lobby, which will fund its activities largely through membership contributions, will then go public with the cases that fail to get resolved by inviting the media to "name and shame" those providers that will not comply.
Through writing and publishing of columns in the print press, blogs and dissemination of information via mailing lists, the lobby will seek to educate the Ugandan consumer on ICT.
One challenge the association will face is the lack of specific consumer protection legislation and laws in Uganda. But according to Lunghabo, users will become more aggressive in demanding value for money, providers will be reluctant to take customers for granted and as a result they will be pushed to use better technologies to meet client's expectations.
A new project to make South African heritage available to a broader audience was launched in Johannesburg today. The OpenSA! pilot project aims to “nurture creativity by making it easier for young creators to find and share media about our heritage safely and legally”.
OpenSA! is a collaborative venture between SARocks and the African Commons Project. OpenSA! is collecting, tagging and managing donations from people who are willing to make their material freely available online. The project will also be helping to coordinate outreach to South Africa’s young creators to enable them to learn more about how to find open content that they are free to remix and share.
“As access to the Internet grows in South Africa, so too does the range of creative activity by a new generation of active online citizens,” said African Commons’ Heather Ford in a statement today. “Internet publishing in the form of blogging and citizen journalism, online publishing of photographic, video and music publishing are all part of a wide range of democratic speech that we as a young nation are trying to encourage and nurture.”
“There are some moments in the history and culture of South Africa that are part of our shared heritage - such as Nelson Mandela’s speech when he was released from prison in 1990 or Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African’ speech. For the first time in history we have the means to make those moments available to more than just the professional journalists, filmmakers and researchers who were traditionally authorized to re-publish them.”
- Just three weeks ahead of its final voter registration drive, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa has made good on its promise to make its website accessible to citizens using non-Microsoft software.
- A specialised committee in charge of examining "E-Algeria 2013" programme has been set up. The programme is mainly meant for the "appropriation" and "use" of ICTs, through a combination of objectives to be achieved within the next five years.
Mobile instant messaging service Mxit is to expand aggressively into Africa and Asia, as its growing subscriber base and financial stability allows it to flex its marketing muscle, founder and CEO Herman Heunis said.
Speaking at the Advertising and Marketing Association of SA meeting, Heunis said this expansion will largely be done in partnership with other companies and organisations, “...when and where it makes sense”.
Mxit would like to tie up with organisations that are willing to provide free educational services using the instant messaging service to Africans, he said. It would like to tie up with telecommunications operators that will allow the Mxit service to be carried free of charge.
Mxit also plans to team up with some big name social networking sites, which Heunis said will be announced later this year. A new version of the service will be launched in the coming months and a version that can work on Apple's iPhone is being beta-tested, he added.
Mxit is also considering going open source to allow a substantial amount of its development to take place in the broader community, Heunis said.
Mxit, which was originally an acronym for “message exchange”) now has about 11 million subscribers, of whom nine million are located in SA. The next biggest subscriber base is in Indonesia, with one million people, and subscribers are based in 123 countries in total.
Heunis said initially the majority of subscribers fell within the age group of between 18 and 21 years, but this has now shifted to between 19 and 25.
Mxit is able to tell what kind of phone its subscribers are using, where they are located and a host of other information that is useful for marketing purposes: “For instance, an advertiser can tell us that they want their message to be sent to someone within a certain age group, using a particular mobile phone, in a certain area.”
However, Heunis stressed that protection of personal information is absolutely essential and that Mxit does not give it out.
“Not even the police will get information without a proper subpoena... any social network that gives out this information freely is just asking for death,” he said.
On a typical day, Mxit receives about 25,000 new subscribers, its Web site gets 17 million log-ins and 250 million messages are transmitted over its network.
Its servers, which are located in Mauritius, Cape Town and Frankfurt, receive 25 million gigabytes of data and transmit 145 million gigabytes of data per day.
Heunis said the cost of sending messages via Mxit had been reduced drastically and, whereas in the past it used to claim that to send a message cost one cent, it is now a fraction of that. He also said mobile phone development was advancing at a rapid rate and described the devices as the “remote controls of the universe”.
A new race for supremacy is shaping up among Kenya’s mobile service providers as they seek to boost revenues through mobile money transfers.
Following on the successes of Safaricom’s M-Pesa, m-commerce is set to expand with Zain’s launch of a new mobile money transfer service in coming weeks. Already, Safaricom has announced that it will be revising its M-Pesa offering to target businesses in a quest to drive the product into the mainstream economic payments system.
Its competitor, Zain has spent the last few months developing Zap, the mobile money product which is expected to entice the banking community to become part of the mobile commerce movement.
The service - slated for launch in this quarter, subject to regulatory approvals — will allow users of the m-commerce facility to trade using electronic funds, lowering operational costs and increasing opportunities for e-trade.
“Right now, the service is technically and commercially ready to launch. We’ve already signed agreements with dealers and retailers,” said Rene Meza, managing director Zain Kenya.
Zain hopes to use Zap to introduce the concept of m-commerce in Kenya. This will enable commercial transactions like utility bill payments, mobile banking, shopping, and other transactions to be carried out using a mobile device.
Engineering and research company Pioneer Consulting has been appointed by Main One to supervise the design, engineering and implementation of the project. Phase one of the Main One undersea cable project which the company said has already commenced, is expected to connect Africa through Europe to the rest of the world. The first phase is 6,900 kilometers long and will extend from Portugal to Nigeria and Ghana respectively. The second phase is expected to extend by another 6,000 kilometers to South Africa.
Using Dense Wave Multiplexing technology of 1.92 Terabits per second with two fibre pairs, the Main One cable is designed to deliver more capacity to the region than any other existing or proposed undersea fibre projects.
In so doing, Main One cable is expected to enhance broadband access considerably in the region while lowering tariffs, providing open access to regional telecommunication operators and Internet service providers.
Managing Partner of Pioneer Consulting, Howard Kidorf, while expressing happiness over the deal, said "our team of experts is delighted at the opportunity to work with the team at Main One Cable Company. We are also pleased that Main One Cable Company recognized that Pioneer Consulting can deliver the comprehensive project management and engineering services that this project needs to be successful".
Also, Keith Schofield, Director of Submarine Networks at Pioneer Consulting and lead project manager stated that "Main One is progressing ahead of schedule with marine route survey activities underway and key licenses being confirmed. We have also undertaken a full contract review audit of the system supplier. Main One Cable Company and Pioneer Consulting are gearing up for the busy manufacturing schedule and construction of cable stations in both Nigeria and Ghana, to complement the Portuguese station already in place. Pioneer Consulting's long experience in submarine networks makes us the natural choice for soundly implemented projects."
Meanwhile, Main One Chief Executive Officer, Funke Opeke, noted that the company still remained very focused on ensuring that its deadlines are met and was very happy at the tremendous progress so far recorded.
She said: "We trust that on completion in May 2010, the Main One project will usher a new lease of life in international connectivity on the West African coast."
The share which was traded for $130 million has given Telkom 100 per cent ownership of the company having acquired 75 per cent of the company earlier in 2007. The 2007 deal, changed the company's name to Multi-Links Telkom
Telko, bought the private telecommunications operator from Kenston Investment Ltd. The deal was effective from January 21. Telkom acquired 75 per cent of Multi-Links in May 2007. It has a Universal Access Licence that allows it to provide fixed, mobile, fixed wireless, international and data services in Nigeria, the fastest growing telecommunications markets in Africa. It also owns an ISP licence.
"Our 100 per cent ownership of Multi-Links, therefore, not only meets Telkom's broader investment criteria but also provides us with the opportunity to expand our mobile capability," said Telkom CEO, Reuben September. Multi-Links' mobile subscriber growth since its 75 per cent acquisition by Telkom nearly two years ago has been impressive.
Since September 2007, the company has grown its customer base from 262,431 to more than 1.7 million subscribers as at 30 September 2008. At the same time, Multi-Links has effected network and capacity improvements that will bolster its ability to provide quality data products, especially to the corporate market.
September said” The value of the 25 percent purchase from Kenston Investment Ltd is US$130 million, the price having being determined by an independent expert”. Vanguard
Mobile operator Vodacom has pumped up its revenue 13.7% for the nine months to December 31, generating R40.5bn for the period. The growth was spurred by an even more robust 14.3% surge in subscribers to see it serve 37.8-million users through operations in five countries.
For the first time it can now claim that 30% of its customers are beyond SA's borders, with 11.3-million users in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Mozambique. Vodacom has not disclosed how much of its revenue or profits come from those countries, but it will be proportionally far less. One major difference is the average revenue per user , which measures how much a customer typically spends.
In South Africa, the average user spends R135 a month, compared to just R55 in Tanzania and R42 in Mozambique. Vodacom has managed to drive up that average monthly spending in each country, despite a general trend for it to fall as cellular networks expand and more low-income customers sign up.
One figure of concern will be its relatively high churn of 41.3%, which records the number of customers who leave its network and defect to rivals. That has declined a fraction from 42.3% in the previous quarter.
In South Africa its customer base rose another 1.3-million to a total of 26.5-million, up 4.8% from the end of September to give Vodacom 52% of the market share.
That growth still outstrips the number of new customers joining its foreign networks, where the total rose by just under 1-million
CEO Pieter Uys said one of the pillars of Vodacom's growth strategy was expanding its African footprint beyond SA. "I'm pleased to say that this quarter we reached an important milestone with 30% of our total customer base now coming from our operations in Tanzania, the Congo, Lesotho and Mozambique," he said.
It has been a long time since Vodacom entered any new territories in its own right, in stark contrast with the relentless foreign expansion of its larger rival, MTN. Uys hopes Vodacom will finally be able to expand later this year, once Telkom sheds its 50% stake in the business. Simultaneously, the UK operator Vodafone will increase its stake to 65% and begin to use Vodacom as its vehicle for expansion in sub-Saharan Africa.
Minister of Communication Technologies El Hadj Gley announced that the share of the information and communication technologies (ICTs) sector in the GDP will exceed 13% by the end of the 11th Development Plan (2007-2011), compared with 10% presently.
The minister underlined, at the opening on Wednesday in Tunis of a seminar on "technological innovation and content production" held by the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), that Tunisia seeks to boost this sector so that it would become one of the most productive and highly employable sector in the country, notably for higher graduates.
He underlined that the presidential decisions taken on January 16, 2009 at the cabinet meeting devoted to the communication technologies sector development programme in the coming period aim to endow the sector with a capacity to create 10 thousand jobs a year for higher graduates. International studies showed that each direct job created in this sector helps create 3 to 4 indirect jobs and that the use of Internet and the generalisation of computer applications and communication networks in economic companies improve their productivity by 30%.
During this seminar, two papers were presented on the " role of civil society in boosting investment in ICTs" and "partnership between the public sector, the private sector and civil society and its role in boosting investment and making the most of digital opportunities."
- Bahrain-based Bintel plans to invest $250m to increase its presence in Africa and at least three new markets over the next two years as part of its future expansion. Established in 2007, Bintel, whose Middle East offices are located in Bahrain, Dubai and Lebanon, has already built a presence in Africa, operating GSM networks in Central African Republic and Somaliland.
- MTN Nigeria is expecting to invest at least US$1.5 billion on its network during this year to boost its carrying capacity. Corporate Service Executive, MTN Nigeria, Wale Goodluck, told The Punch newspaper that the planned investment was a calculated effort by the company to improve on the quality of service on its network.
- The number of listed stocks under the Information Communication and Telecommunications sub sector at the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) has gone up to four, as IHS Nigeria Plc 4.4 billion shares became the first company to be listed by way of introduction this year. IHS is a telecommunication infrastructure service provider established in 2001 with the target of providing support services to the Nigerian growing telecom sector.
* The General Manager of the Cameroon Telecommunications CAMTEL, David Nkoto Emane, has appeared before the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde on January 22, to answer charges of corruption, favouritism, denial of service and abuse of power.
* The State IT Agency (SITA) has been thrown into turmoil by the resignation of four board members, as well as acting CEO Femke Pienaar – who has reportedly been convinced to stay, for the time being, by public service and administration minister Richard Baloyi.
* According to Nigeria’s Technology Times, CEO of Multi-Links Telkom, Justin Ramayia, has been recalled home to South Africa in the wake of some of the fundamental restructuring of Nigeria's pioneer telephone operator by South Africa's biggest fixed line service, Telkom SA.
* TELECOMS FRAUD AND RISK
23rd-26th March 2009 Hilton London Tower Bridge, London, UK
* 3RD ANNUAL AFRICAN E-GOV FORUM
24-26 March 2009, Kigali, Rwanda
The CTO is honoured that this year the Ministry of Science and Technology, Rwanda will be hosting the 3rd Annual African e-Gov Forum. Join key ICT stakeholders in the region, including Ministers of technology, heads of e-Gov projects, civil society leaders and representatives from IT organisations; mobile operators; infrastructure providers; foundations; development and donor agencies to discuss current issues and witness success stories on e-Gov in Africa.
* 1ST EURO-AFRICA COOPERATION FORUM ON ICT RESEARCH
25-26 March 2009, Brussels, Belgium
For the first time in Europe, sub-Saharan African and European policy-makers and research organisations are being brought together to address the development of research collaborative projects in the ICT field. This 2-day event is co-organised by the European Commission (EC Directorate-General Information Society and Media) and the African Union Commission (AUC) with the support of the EuroAfriCa-ICT project, a FP7 coordination and support action aiming at enhancing ICT research cooperation between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
* THE WORLD WIDE WEB CONSORTIUM
1-2 April 2009, Maputo, Mozambique
* EXPERT FOR STUDY ON FREE AND OPEN SOURCE SOFWARE FOR THE COMESA REGION
The Danish Management are presently searching for a FOSS expert for the ToR: A study on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for the COMESA region. The objective of the assignment is to develop a FOSS framework for the COMESA region.The study will also provide a clear way forward for the FOSS programme in COMESA.
The application deadline is Wednesday 4th February 2009.
* Ghana Telecom and Huawei - Ghana
Ghanaian fixed line and mobile operator Ghana Telecom (GT) has signed a USD120 million contract with China’s Huawei Technologies to upgrade its existing 2G network with 3G technology. The project is expected to take 18 months to complete, at which date GT’s mobile service, which will soon be rebranded to Vodafone Ghana, will be able to offer high speed internet access, multimedia content and videocalling, amongst other advanced features.
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