Issue no 454 15th May 2009

top story

  • 2009 is the year of the Big Change. Cheaper and more abundant international fibre capacity will come to East Africa and 2010 will see the same happen in West Africa. New cross-border fibre connections will tie more countries together: two announcements are in the news sections below. But Africa is in danger of getting all the pipes and hardware in place and missing out on thinking about the user and the services and applications they might use. There is a danger of it becoming one hand clapping in an empty room. Russell Southwood looks at how services and applications will need to be local to drive higher levels of use.

    The CEO of Nigeria’s Socketworks, Aloy Chife could be heard complaining this week that corporate customers are increasingly buying internationally branded software from the likes of Microsoft and Oracle in preference to locally generated products. He said the danger was that it would undermine innovation and the growth of the local software development community in the country.

    The difficulty for local software providers is that multinational corporates are increasingly implementing the same software as their corporate headquarters. They need to deliver management information in the same way as their parent company does globally and manage their human resources in a uniform way. As the new international fibre capacity becomes available, ERP software provided by the likes of Oracle and SAP can increasingly be operated online.

    Large regional corporates like the banks in Nigeria might opt for potentially cheaper local software but what IT manager wants to buy software for which there is a limited user base only to be found in one country. In olden times before the arrival of Microsoft, there was a corporate saying: no-one got fired for buying IBM. This probably also covers how the larger African corporates react to local software. Local African software companies serving corporates do exist and this is not an attempt to talk down their chances but the going is getting tougher.

    Africa’s software developer ecology is very fragile because its markets are very small and the majority of revenue comes from Government (usually donor-funded) and corporates. As a result, it has little of the academic software research “back-story” that has supported the development of successful open source software elsewhere. The generosity and track record of the Shuttleworth Foundation is considerable but it stands out in a fairly empty landscape. There are very few African software developers specialising in services and apps for individuals. There’s few places which have the kind of creative buzz about software opportunities that will turn the near-impossible into the probable.

    Now here’s the dilemma: how are Africa’s software developers going to make much-need local apps and services from this rather unpromising starting position? When all this cheap international bandwidth arrives, if companies pass on the savings to users, then the number of Internet users - particularly on mobiles - will increase rapidly and should reach a “critical mass”. These users will be hungry for content that they can use that fits the pattern of their lives. So South Africa has become the eight largest user of Facebook and things like You Tube, Blogger.com and Facebook already feature in the Top 10 sites in the African countries analysed by Alexa.com

    The next stage in the process is usually the localisation of some part of this pent-up user demand. Two things start to happen: sites like Gumtree localise and then absolutely local versions of these types of sites get set up. In India there are sites like Ibibo.com and Indyarocks.com The same has happened in Latin America where the use levels are high: two examples are Argentina’s Sonico.com (2.9 million users) and Brazil’s 8P.com.br (1.4 million).

    Some are in local languages but others are in English as this provides a “critical mass” of users that might not be available in the more limited pool of those who speak that language and use the Internet.

    This is why a relatively “unflashy” service launched this week in Kenya may be the first swallow of spring. The Symbiotic Media Consortium has released Sembuse, what it claims is East Africa's first mobile social network and content platform, where users can purchase stock information, news and videos. (see Web and Mobile Data News below).

    Sembuse allows users to communicate cheaply at 50 Kenya cents (US$0.006) per message, up to 1,000 characters, using the SMS (Sembuse Messaging Suite) within the Sembuse network. It has steered clear of using the Internet because it wants to create an immediate large user base. Fair enough, but if both it and the Internet are successful, there is no barrier to offering it more widely. It supports the use of Swahili. Whether or not this particular service is successful is not really the point because it will be the first of several contenders in Africa’s larger mid-scale markets.

    But here’s the problem, as expressed by Symbiotic Media’s CEO Mbugua Njihia: "There exists a disconnect within the financing circles because of lack of local venture capital firms or angel investors; it was indeed difficult to find a venture capital firm or individual investor willing to cater for the costs of development and marketing Sembuse."

    As the market transitions from making money out of selling high-price bandwidth to corporates to bandwidth becoming a commodity that enables a services and applications market for individuals, all those currently playing in the market need to focus on how to produce the services and apps that will create the new market. Africa needs not one M-Pesa-style service but many that cater for the life that is lived by Africans on the continent.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - Angola Telecom will launch a new digital exchange in Moxico this week with the capacity of 528 telephone lines, said Wednesday the company's director, Mbungo Lutumba. It also added capacity for 1,500 CDMA fixed wireless lines.

    - Angola mobile phone company Unitel has announced that it has reached five million users, this year, countrywide.

    - The inhabitants of Eden semi-urban center in Elabered sub-zone in Eritrea expressed satisfaction with the access they have got to 24-hour automatic telephone service.

    - Rwandatel has started the exercise of changing the use of its CDMA mobile phones to its newly acquired GSM network. This month will see some 20,000 Rwandatel clients receive new handsets and it will also push the company's GSM subscribers to 300,000.

    - Kuwait-based mobile group Zain has added Internet access, e-mail, MMS, BlackBerry services and mobile portal applications to its ‘One Network’ local rate voice and SMS international roaming scheme. The data services can now be accessed at local rates by its subscribers roaming across Zain networks in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and by the end of the year the list will include all African subsidiaries currently covered by One Network.

    - Zimbabwe's largest mobile operator by subscribers, Econet Wireless, has resumed the sale of pre-paid lines, following recent upgrades to network capacity and regulatory clearance to charge users in foreign currency. Econet released more than 50,000 SIM cards for sale.

    - Orange Cameroun is expanding its WiMAX network to the northern cities of Garoua, Maroua and Kousseri, according to internet news website CameroonOnline.

    - In Tanzania, Zantel has introduced high speed, unlimited pre-paid Internet service based on 3G technology known as ZConnect. The new unlimited High Speed Internet packages for pre-paid customers will cost as low as 6,000/- per day for daily subscription, 30,000/- a week for weekly package and 90,000/- for month-long internet usage. ZConnect service is available in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Pemba, Tanga, Dodoma, Morogoro, Arusha, Moshi, Mwanza, Tabora, Musoma, Shinyanga, Mbeya, Iringa and Ruvuma.

    - MTN Group, Africa's biggest mobile-phone company, has released the Android-based HTC Dream smart phone in South Africa and is expected to start sales in 22 other countries.

telecoms

  • Expresso Telecom, the international investment arm of Sudanese operator, Sudatel, that acquired Nigeria's Intercellular says it plans to re-launch the CDMA operator by the fourth quarter of 2009.

    It comes just as rival player, Mobitel has also unveiled plans to return to the telecoms market with last week’s high profile acquisition of a WiMAX licence slot at N1.3billion as well as a $5million contract for the rollout of new generation networks to offer services in two states in the initial phase.

    However, Sudatel is attributing the delay in the market return to challenges faced locally in its bid to rebuild the CDMA network from ground up.

    Sudatel had in 2007 sealed a deal under which it bought 70 per cent stakes in Intercellular and very little turnaround has so far been seen in the company after the acquisition.

    However, CEO of Expresso Telecom, the international investment arm of the Sudanese operator Sudatel, Emad Sukker, who dropped the hint of the market return of Intercellular in an interview with UAE’s Comm is confident of the future of the CDMA operator in the competitive telecoms market in Nigeria.

    Under its relaunch plan, Intercellular has its eyes on an undisclosed market segment to deliver 1.5million users in the first year but has no intention of battling the big GSM networks that control over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s telecoms market officially estimated at over 67million active lines.

    “We will not go and compete with the large operators ; rather we know what segment of the market we are after. We know what can and cannot be achieved, we know what is reasonable. I think the market can give enough to everyone,” said Sukker in the interview.

    According to him, “Intercellular was the first telecoms operator in Nigeria, it was the pioneer. It is a very small company with around 50,000 subscribers and an old network. Therefore we are rebuilding the network from scratch.” Sudatel plans to inject $500 million over the next two years.

    He added further that, “Nigeria is a large and difficult country, so it will take us some time before the new network is ready and I don’t expect we will launch before the fourth quarter.”

    Expresso is 100 per cent owned by Sudatel, but is undergoing a process where new shareholders, yet to be named, are to acquire 25 per cent of the company.

    Technology Times

  • Moroccan telecoms regulator the ANRT has issued a report for the first quarter of 2009, showing that the country’s fixed lines in service reached 3.093 million at the end of March, up from 2.711 million at end-March 2008. The latest total included 1.791 million limited mobility fixed-wireless CDMA lines, up from 1.367 million, accounting for 57.9% of the overall fixed market at end-March 2009, up from 50.5% a year earlier. The vast majority of the limited mobility lines are operated by Wana, which accounted for 58.07% of the overall fixed line market by the end of 1Q 2009, ahead of Maroc Telecom with 41.69% of all lines, and Medi Telecom (Meditel) with 0.24%.

    In the residential segment, Wana's market share rises to 70.16%, but Maroc Telecom still dominates the lucrative business user market, with 96.57% of the country's 381,000 fixed lines registered to companies.

    In Morocco's cellular market, the regulator calculated that there were 23.516 million mobile subscribers at the end of the first quarter, up from 20.616 million a year earlier, translating to a population penetration of over 75%. Maroc Telecom was reported to have 14.630 million, or 62.21% of these lines, ahead of Meditel with 35.57% (8.365 million subscriptions), and Wana with 521,000 users (2.22%) all served under its 3G mobile licence. Wana is preparing to join its two rivals in the 2G mobile arena under a recently awarded 1800MHz concession. 96% of all mobile customers take pre-paid services, according to the watchdog.

    Morocco’s 3G wireless broadband subscriptions (mobile and fixed-wireless) nearly quadrupled in a year to reach 339,000 at the end of 1Q 2009, with Wana taking a 62.5% share (212,000 accounts) with its CDMA2000 1xEV-DO-based services, ahead of the W-CDMA/HSDPA-based competition from Maroc Telecom (19%) and Meditel (18.5%).

    The country’s fixed broadband ADSL market remains almost completely dominated by Maroc Telecom, which served 98.95% of the nation's 489,000 subscribers (up by just 0.2% y-o-y) by the end of the trimester, with Wana and others sharing the small remaining number.

    Telegeography

  • Gateway Communications, Africa's leading provider of telecommunications services to mobile operators, has been awarded a contract to provide Etisalat with cellular backhaul for its Nigerian mobile network. The deal, worth $6 million over a two year term, provides satellite cellular backhaul from Gateway Communications to Etisalat which will connect three major cities in Nigeria.

    In awarding the contract to Gateway, Etisalat considered qualities such as high quality of service rendered, secure and reliable network services with local, on-the-ground support services available throughout Nigeria, amongst other criteria. Gateway has Nigerian offices in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano and provides technical support throughout the rest of the country. With more than 47 transponders of capacity, Gateway carries more satellite cellular backhaul in Africa than any other operator.

    Nigeria is now the largest telecoms market in Africa by subscriber numbers. The Nigerian regulator reports over 64 million SIMs in operation at the end of January this year, with 23 million new subscribers signing up in 2008. This represents a growth of 55% in 2008. With a relatively low mobile penetration, a large population and a rapidly growing economy forecast to grow at almost 8% again this year, Nigeria is certainly one of the continent's most exciting markets.

  • Mobile operators have pointed the finger at Telkom, saying the network troubles that callers have complained about over the last few weeks could stem from the utility's infrastructure.

    Over the last few weeks, the three mobile operators have been given a tongue lashing over network quality, which has seen customer calls dropped, missing or delayed SMSes and poor access to the networks.

    The vast number of complaints hauled the regulator into action and requested each of the operators to explain the source of the network troubles. Vodacom, MTN and Cell C held individual meetings with the regulator last week.

    These meetings at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) saw the operators lambast Telkom for service quality, which they are saying is the cause of the majority of network trouble. MTN SA MD Tim Lowry says of 53.11% of all the problems on MTN's network can be traced back to Telkom's transmission.

    Lowry spoke to journalists this morning at the company's media forum and included part of the presentation he made to the regulator last week. He says the company defended its network position, saying that another large factor in network quality can also be blamed on Eskom, with another 37% of problems attributed to electricity failure.

    MTN says it can attribute around 7% of network quality problems to technical issues it experiences internally. “We believe that the regulator should focus on the Telkom issue,” adds Lowry.

    ICASA released a statement this morning on the outcome of last week's meeting with the operators, saying it has instructed MTN, Cell C and Vodacom to find a solution to the problems as soon as possible. “Failing which, the complaints raised by consumers would be referred to the Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) for adjudication and possible penalties.” The regulator says it will not take the problem sitting down. “The matter is of great concern to the authority as its mandate is to protect the interests of consumers.”

    In the meantime, all the operators have agreed to make network statistics available to the general public, much like their financial reports. Lowry says these will make network degradation, or quality of service, become an integral part of competition between the operators.

    ICASA says the mobile companies will be reporting in three basic categories: network performance and availability; network parameters, including reports about dropped calls and delayed text messages; and active subscriber Information.

    According to Lowry, all that remains is to standardise the reporting process, so that customers can view the same standard of information from all three operators.

    Telkom is assessing the accusations made and could not comment in time for publication.

    ITWeb

  • - Three companies, Mobitel Limited, Spectranet Limited and Galaxy Wireless Communications Limited, have met Friday’s payment deadline for four slots of 2.3GHz frequency spectrum offered by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to drive the growth of WiMAX services across the country. They were given a deadline of Friday May 8, 2009 for payment of the slot fixed at N1,368,000,000 (US$9.3 million) on a first-pay, first-served basis.

    http://www.deltapartnersgroup.com/images/documents/tower_mgt_wp.pdf

    - A Zimbabwean cabinet minister revealed last week that the government was halting the planned sale of stakes in loss-making state enterprises, including mobile operator NetOne, until the global economic climate improves.

internet

  • The Ghanaian government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the interconnection of fibre optic networks with Burkina Faso to enhance communications between the two west African neighbours. The Ghanaian communications minister has said the signing of the MOU is in line with the commitment of ECOWAS member states to foster economic integration.

    Minister Harunah Iddrisu and his Burkinabe counterpart Noel Kabore, affirmed their commitment in ensuring the interconnection between the two countries and to enhance cooperation and economic development.

    The meeting in Tamale in the northern region of Ghana also considered the report of technical experts from the two countries who jointly undertook site visits to assess the practical feasibility of interconnecting their fibre optic networks and the possible time frame for the interconnection.

    Reports further stated that due to the terrain challenges to enhancing network, the ministers agreed to focus on the alternative routes from Ghana to Burkina Faso for easier and smooth connection.

    Ghana and Burkina Faso also declared their determination to prioritise their optic fibre development plans to achieve interconnection by 2010.

    Afrol News

  • Majority of Nigeria's 10million internet users still surf the information highway from cybercafe and other public access points according to a new report from Nigerian research company, eShekels which also revealed the country as one of the most challenging but exciting markets.

    According to the internet market report 2008 for Nigeria, with over 10 million users, the market has grown revealing one of the most challenging and exciting markets in the world where usage has contributed to economic development.

    According to eShekel report, 41 per cent of users surf the Internet daily with 84 per cent doing so from home while 82 per cent surf from the workplace. However, the majority, forming 89 per cent of this daily surfers' segment use the Internet from public domain or cybercafés.

    According to the report, it is estimated that Nigeria has the highest number of Internet users in Africa in 2008 with an estimated penetration rate of 7.2 per cent. Lagos State, the commercial capital of the country polled the highest number with 2,689,418 internet users.

    The report also revealed low utilization of Internet banking and ecommerce services because of issues of security, trust, and accessibility, among others.

    Technology Times

  • At several places in rural Botswana, digital citizenship and participation is becoming more and more tangible through an ambitious national development initiative. With the so-called Kitsong Centres, Botswana has mobilised a project for the establishment of information centres equipped with a broad range of digital services across the country, including access to local and community information; eGovernment offerings such as requesting birth certificates , passport applications and school registration; as well as access to distance learning facilities. At the moment 25 centres are functional - most of them in post offices - and an additional 25 centres are being set up. Leatile Nthaga, an IT consultant from the Botswana Technology Centre (BOTEC), will show how learners can be optimally supported at such a Kitsong Centre.

    QUeLA: What are the main challenges to be addressed in your centre or in the others you know?

    According to studies done by BOTEC, computer illiteracy in rural communities is one of the inhibiting factors delaying the uptake of computer services. To intercede with dedicated trainings, though, is the main future objective. The fact that the patrons of these centres are young people up to 40 years of age shows the need of bringing the adult community onboard. Another task is to address and to invite women to actively participate in the field of ICT. Female patrons running such a facility, for example, are generally fewer compared to male patrons, though they make up the majority of the population in the rural villages.

    QUeLA: What role does eLearning play in your centre? How many people use it and for what purposes?

    The Kitsong Centre in the village of Sikwane is used mainly by students of institutions of higher education. These are the University of Botswana and the Limkokwing University of Technology. Members of the public use it for research and communication over the Internet. Since these are public facilities, there is no particular eLearning programme that is run by the centre. Patrons use it to access eLearning materials offered by other institutions. Some use it to access accounting programmes, like AAT, run by other institutions.

    QUeLA: About half the number of the intended Kitsong Centres have opened in the last few years. What would you say are the basic findings and achievements so far?

    I think the project has been able to mobilise a significant number of people in villages to use the centres, and these numbers continue to grow. On the one hand, the communities have been sensitised about the value of ICT services to improve their lives and business activities. On the other hand, the Kitsong initiative enhanced the awareness of various corporate stakeholders about the potential benefits of ICT to rural communities and how they could be used to enhance service delivery in those places. And it also gave clear indicators about the need for additional sensitisation or training of the communities still needed in order to appreciate ICT applications.

    QUeLA: Where is the future of the Kitsong Centres going?

    It is evident that there are growing information needs in the rural areas. Therefore, the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology has now started rolling out the Kitsong Centres throughout Botswana. These centres have been made part of the Botswana Postal Services (BPS). However, as BPS has 113 offices and only 25 Kitsong Centres have opened their doors so far, much potential is left to drive the initiative forward. The most salient needs I see are to offer trainings for ICT usage as well as making more local content available in each village.

    eLearning Africa

  • - In the capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare, Blue Chip Village Cyber Café has introduced the first public real-time online video chat facility. Internet patrons can now access skype, yahoo messenger, msnlive and google and have single or conference chats to business associates, family and friends.

    - SABMiller, the parent company of Nile Breweries, has launched a website to educate Uganda’s consumers about responsible consumption of alcohol.

    - Former state-run Burkina Faso telco Onatel has signed an agreement with Benin Telecom to give the Burkinabe operator access to the SAT-3 international submarine cable via the landing point in Benin’s capital Cotonou, according to a Telecompaper report. Benin Telecom’s CEO Patrick Benon said that the fibre-optic link's current capacity stood at 9.7Gbps.

    - The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international association with the mission to develop open standards for the web, is inviting the general public to its Senegal Office Launch at eLearning Africa 2009 in Dakar. By launching a new office in Senegal - W3C's first in West Africa and 17th facility worldwide - the consortium seeks to work with regional web communities to promote W3C technologies in local languages, broaden its geographical base and encourage international participation in its activities.

    - The Film and Publication Board (FPB) has joined the International Association of Internet Hotlines, also known as Inhope, to boost its fight against child pornography. SA is the 32nd country to sign up.

    - The Deputy Minister of Energy, Dr Kwabena Donkor quoted Sir John Bond, chairman of Vodafone Group PIc, as expressing concern about the integrity of the national fibre optic sold to the Group along with Ghana Telecom last year. Even though the deputy minister would not elaborate further, he said the President told Sir John that the government did not intend to abrogate the deal but would review aspects of it to the satisfaction of both sides.

    - Mozambique Airlines (LAM) last Thursday launched its Direct Internet Sales, whereby passengers can make reservations and buy and receive LAM tickets on the Internet.

computing

  • Software piracy on personal computers (PCs) in SA rose marginally from 34% to 35% between 2007 and last year, resulting in a R3,1bn loss for the industry, an annual global PC software piracy study released by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) yesterday shows.

    The study, which was conducted by IT market research firm International Data Corporation , covered 110 countries. BSA president and CEO Robert Holleyman said last week that software piracy affected almost everyone.

    "For every dollar of software that is sold, another three to four dollars is paid to local IT service firms, the people who install and service your computers at work. Software piracy means fewer jobs in the IT industry and that is terrible news in the current economy."

    The rate for software piracy in SA had been reducing slightly since 2004, when it peaked at 37%.

    Marcel Warmerdam, the Industrial Development Corporation's associate vice-president of IT markets, said one of the reasons for the increase in software piracy was the growth of the PC market. Close to 2-million PCs were sold in South Africa last year.

    "If the PC market is growing, there is a platform for pirated software. There is a continued penetration of PCs in households," he said. In the Middle East and Africa region, the countries with the most piracy were Zimbabwe at 92%, Yemen at 89%, and Libya at 87%. SA had one of the lowest levels of piracy, close to Israel at 32% and the United Arab Emirates at 36%.

    "This report demonstrates that we have more work to do in SA to further reduce software piracy. In these uncertain economic times it is vital that companies do not cut corners and use unlicensed software, as this would increase the detrimental impact on businesses and consumers, as well as the local and global economy," said BSA South African committee chairman Alastair de Wet.

    The study found that individuals were more active than businesses in replacing software on older computers, often replacing pirated software with new pirated software. "In general, the piracy rate is higher for software shipped to older computers," it said.

    The study found that piracy levels dropped or were flat in central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, North America, Latin America, and Western Europe. It went up in the Asia-Pacific region because of the emerging market growth.

    "In Asia, for instance, shipments of PCs to China and India outpaced shipments to Japan and Australia by 29 million units, and the installed base grew 25% , compared to 6% for Japan and Australia."

  • Founder/CEO, Socketworks Global Limited, Aloy Chife has said that absence of an effective local market for innovation has continued to undermine the growth of the local software development community in Nigeria.

    According to the software maker, private sector players like bank and other companies as well as government institutions rather place their orders from multinational software companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, a trend that has not encouraged indigenous application software builders.

    He spoke today at second day of CTO 2009, hosted by the U.S. Commercial Service Nigeria at the Muson Centre, Lagos where he gave insights with attendees at the seminar session on "Partnering for Success: Global Perspectives on Systems and Software Development."

    Chife, who now resides and does business from Ghana where he also runs his company, an Application Software Provider (ASP), also decried the state of technology in Nigeria, one of the reasons he adduced for migrating from Nigeria to Ghana.

    He advised that software builders could create market for themselves adding that this informed why he opted from selling software to providing IT infrastructure and software solutions to digitally manage operations.

    Further, he said because decision makers in all fields are looking to technology to provide solutions and drive desired changes by combining local, national and global resources in innovations and urged Nigerians to explore outsourcing partnerships that could grow the software business in Nigeria.

    According to him, it is strategic partnerships with global firms that would enable indigenous application software builders to leverage their local capacities with international expertise to deliver cutting-edge solutions.

    Chife said that, we now live in a digital economy that has no physical boundaries so individuals should create an innovative and profitable platform for growth.

    He added that partnership alliances are needed to grow the software business. This could be in the form of joint venture with a legally independent company, equity strategic alliance in which individuals own a percentage of the company formed; non- equity strategic alliance or a contractual relationship. Another option could be a global strategic alliance, which is a working partnership between companies, often more than two, across national boundaries and across industries could work.

    Global strategic alliance could sometimes be formed between a company and a foreign government, or among companies and governments, he said adding that his organization SW Global, is an example of a Nigerian company benefiting from strategic alliances as it has relationships with global partners such as Google, Motorola, L-1 Identity Solutions, International Finance Corporation (IFC), among others.

    According to him, in a short time frame, the company is already exploring partnerships and advanced pursuit of opportunities with the Ghana Electoral Commission, the Federal Road Safety Commission of Nigeria and the Ministry of Immigration in Kenya.

    Technology Times

  • Scientists are using grids - high-speed computing networks - as a large-scale and cheaper way to kick-start new drug development against malaria parasites. Wide In Silico Docking On Malaria (WISDOM) links a network of high-power computers that 'match' the structures of known chemical compounds with three-dimensional structural data describing important metabolic proteins from the parasite.

    Using virtual screening researchers can suggest promising new weak points within the protein for drug designers to target. They have already screened one well-known target enzyme and a promising new enzyme found in malaria parasites against 4.3 million compounds. The results are published in Malaria Journal this month (1 May)

    "Computers are especially useful in finding the best sources for new drugs - so we can tackle multi-drug resistance as the parasite evolves to survive existing drugs," said bioinformatics researcher and PhD student Marli Botha, of South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a co-author of the study and one of only two African researchers involved.

    Disease laboratories in under-resourced countries can use this open-source information to run effective and inexpensive small-scale drug design programmes, said co-author Giulio Rastelli, from Italy's University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

    In future, said lead researcher Vinod Kasam, from the Clermont-Ferrand particle physics laboratory in France, the computer will 'hit' multiple targets simultaneously, speeding up the process and reducing costs even more.

    Virtual screening' is not just cost-effective; it produces a vast library of information which can be used by other researchers in other aspects of malaria research, according to co-author Raul Isea from Venezuela's Biosciences and Molecular Medicine Centre at the Advanced Studies Institute Foundation.

    And computer-based drug design projects are already helping find new drugs against HIV/AIDS, flu, polio and other diseases. Virtual screening should also be ideal for combating the fourteen neglected diseases listed by the WHO.

    "We want to draw attention to the opportunity offered by this grid-enabled virtual screening approach for producing short lists of particularly promising molecules, which can be tested in the laboratory at a reduced cost," says Martin Hofmann-Apitius, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing in Germany, who helped to create and supervise the study.

    Grids also form a convenient global platform for exchanging the chemical data produced, said Vincent Breton, a founder of the WISDOM and several other grid initiatives.

    SciDev.net

  • - Kano State Government in Nigeria has agreed to release N171.4 million for the take-off of an ICT Park situated at Ado Bayero House in Kano city; which is expected to be a major site for ICT businesses - such as software, hardware and outsourcing - in the state.

    - As a way of embracing ICT for efficiency, Rwanda Revenue Authority will soon, launch an application for issuing Tax Clearance Certificates (TCC) online.

    - No fewer than 158 teams from all tertiary institutions across Nigeria will compete for a place at the regional finals of the 2009 edition of the Imagine Cup competition, a global software development competition, organised by Microsoft. Winner of the competition will join other teams from other parts of the world for the global finals, which would hold in July in Egypt.

    - Tunisia's First Lady, Mrs Leila Ben Ali received from the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), the "Enabling Technology Excellence Award" in token of her efforts for the integration of the disabled as the president of the BASMA association for the promotion of employment among disabled persons.

    - Although confident it the future of the IT sector in Nigeria, the Chairman of Zinox Technologies Limited, Leo Stan Ekeh, reported to local newspaper Vanguard that Nigeria would be a different and better place if the Government were to inject N150billion to provide subsidized computers and free internet access for all Nigerians.

    - At least 120,000 laptops are to be received by children across Uganda under the government-championed One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) programme. In Sierra Leone, the plan is to distribute 5,000 XO laptops by 2011, according to Mohammed Kaindaneh, secretary general of the Human Rights Respect Awareness Raising Campaigners (HURRARC). Fundraising to pay for the project, which will cost about US $1 million, will take place over the next two years.

    - The long awaited electronic driving licenses are finally out for distribution in Rwanda. The Minister of Infrastructure Eng. Linda Bihire was the first Rwandan to receive a driving license followed by the ICT Minister in the President's Office Prof. Romain Murenzi. Several other ministers followed in the queue presenting their payment receipts and picking their licenses.

    - The Pretoria High Court has dismissed the State IT Agency's (SITA's) R5 million claim against business consultancy Tedaka Business Consulting, with costs. The organisation said it is still awaiting a report from the High Court judge and would then “chart a way forward”. However, it is understood that one of the main reasons for the case being thrown out is that SITA failed to prove Tedaka was awarded the contract legitimately.

Digital Content

  • Symbiotic Media Consortium has released Sembuse, East Africa's first mobile social network and content platform, where users can purchase stock information, news and videos.

    Sembuse allows users to communicate cheaply at 50 Kenya cents (US$0.006) per message, up to 1,000 characters, using the SMS (Sembuse Messaging Suite) within the Sembuse network.

    Conventional text within the GSM service is limited to 160 characters and an average cost of 3.50 Kenyan shillings (US$0.043). Sembuse users can text to other GSM networks across East Africa at a subsidized rate of 2.50 Kenya shillings.

    "Symbiotic Media has entered into agreements with mobile networks that allow us to buy capacity in bulk," said Mbugua Njihia, CEO at Symbiotic Media.

    Sembuse currently supports three languages -- English, Swahili and German -- with French and Chinese due for release in four weeks. The service is expected to receive support from young people given that they have been faster in adopting new technologies.

    Symbiotic decided to target mobile handsets given the faster growth of mobile phone usage compared to Internet services.

    "Until there is decent Internet penetration in Africa, the use of Web-based services will continue to lag," Njihia said.

    Sembuse allows users to invite their friends from all over the world into their network and share content such as customized news alerts, real time stock market alerts and news, rave crave (which gives users a snapshot of the nightlife in their location), and the gossip channel, which allows users to submit and share gossip with their friends.

    Symbiotic has been active in delivering innovative technology solutions to Africa's institutions; the company built the first exam result service for the Kenya National Examinations Council, an ATM finder service in Nigeria, a lost document and identity card search service in Kenya, and custom applications on SMS and mobile applications for a varied corporate client base.

    "The guys behind Sembuse are ambitious; they're doing something that I've thought for a long time needed to be done, I am glad to see that they've taken a two-pronged revenue approach- relying on advertising alone in this economic environment wouldn't be that promising, but by tapping into the end-users has added potential," said Erik Hersman, a technology blogger and one of the founders of www.Ushahidi.com.

    Sembuse can be downloaded directly to a user's handset by pointing the mobile phone browser to m.sembuse.com. Upon registration, users can immediately invite friends to their network and start sending SMSes anywhere in the world.

    "I wonder if we will see more people moving from their older SMS-only phones with no data capability, to GPRS enabled phones," added Hersman. "This happened in South Africa when the MXit mobile SMS platform was launched; the same can happen in East Africa."

    MXit launched Africa's first mobile social network and recently launched the continent's Instant Message book in a bid to encourage literacy and a love of reading in South Africa. MXit users can download an entire book on the MXit network for 13.50 South African Rand, which is significantly lower than the cost of purchasing literature in traditional bookstores.

    While Symbiotic Media projects higher revenue given the opportunities provided by cheaper bandwidth and increased Internet penetration, it has suffered from lack of financial support.

    "There exists a disconnect within the financing circles because of lack of local venture capital firms or angel investors; it was indeed difficult to find a venture capital firm or individual investor willing to cater for the costs of development and marketing Sembuse," Njihia said.

    With the language interface, Njihia predicts that Sembuse will be used all over Africa and globally as long as users have access to the Internet and can log on to the Sembuse network.

    Computerworld Kenya

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Telecom Egypt announced its consolidated financial results for the first three months of 2009, ended 31 March 2009. Financial statements have been prepared in accordance with Egyptian Accounting Standards.

    Highlights for first quarter include:

    - Total Consolidated Revenues of EGP 2,526 million, up 6% on Q1 2008.

    - EBITDA Before Provisions was EGP 1,351 million, delivering a margin of 53%.

    - Net Profit After Tax was EGP 961 million representing an increase of 72% on the same period in 2008 and translating to a net profit margin of 38%.

    - Earnings Per Share (EPS) increased to EGP 0.56, from EGP 0.33 in the same period in 2008.

    - Capex related cash-flows were EGP 178 million.

    - Total fixed line subscribers were 11.6 million, as at 31 March 2009.

    - TE Data ADSL subscribers increased by 83% on the same period in 2008 to reach 477 thousand.

    - Positive contribution of share of profits from Vodafone Egypt of EGP 350 million.

    Commenting on the first quarter results, Akil Beshir, Chairman and CEO of Telecom Egypt, said:

    "Amid challenging economic conditions and significant market volatility, I am pleased to report a very solid first quarter performance for Telecom Egypt. Not only are these achievements testament to TE's resilience and determination, against a backdrop of a dynamic and aggressive telecommunications market, they are also an endorsement of our stable business model.

    "Once again, we have recorded year-on-year revenue growth across both our retail and wholesale businesses. Our retail revenues have increased modestly year-on-year to EGP 1,468 million, largely driven by an increase in access revenues and internet and data revenues. While voice revenues continue to experience some pressure from mobile substitution, our extensive and modern network enables us to reap the benefits of the resulting increase in mobile traffic through our wholesale revenues which increased 11% year on year.

    "Our EBITDA before provisions margin remains comfortably within management expectations at 53 percent, reflecting prudent financial management. This has fed directly through to a 72 percent year-on-year increase in net profit, which reached EGP 961 million for the first three months.

    "TE continues to benefit from its investment in Vodafone Egypt, which has increased its customer base by 35 percent and total voice minutes by 36 percent year-on-year, translating to a EGP 350 million contribution to our first quarter profits.

    "TE's management team is working hard to help ensure we continue to generate solid returns throughout 2009. We are not alone in facing an uncertain economic environment, which in itself presents challenges for TE and its customers. However, I am confident that our solid financial footing allows us to maintain significant flexibility in the business."

    Trading Markets

  • IT services and solutions provider Paracon announced a 6% increase in six-month turnover to the end of March and said it has the capacity to withstand the worst of the economic downturn that has already gripped some listed companies.

    The group, which also earns the greater part of its income from placement of IT contract and permanent staff, said that with demand for IT services and skills expected to continue to be high, it was expecting business volumes to remain high. And despite the general slowdown in economic activity, it would even consider possible acquisitions.

    While admitting the next few months would be challenging, CEO Mark Jurgens said Paracon's business was solid, it was generating cash and was well-positioned to emerge from the downturn even stronger to face new opportunities.

    "As one of SA's leading specialist-generalist ICT (information and communication technology) resource providers for the private sector and government, Paracon remains well placed to take advantage of an upturn in demand," he said. "Overall the market is definitely tighter than previously," he said. "However, demand for ICT skills remains strong despite the economic downturn. In addition specific specialist ICT skills are still desperately needed but are not readily available in SA."

    In his review for the interim period, Jurgens said group turnover increased to R464,5m, up from R438,7m in the comparative period, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) fell 7% to R40,4m from R43,4m, mainly as a result of the lower contributions from its business solutions division.

    The group achieved headline earnings of R26,4m, which translated into headline earnings and basic earnings per share of 8c, down from 10,1c previously, mainly because of the poor performance of its Indian associate, Nihilent Technologies.

    Paracon Resources, which places both contract and permanent staff, contributed 87% of the group's turnover for the period.

    He said Paracon's core competence -- the contracting business -- had remained stable with strong client demand.

    "However, permanent placements have seen a decline in demand, in addition to a longer sales lead time as clients curtail their expenditure. In particular The Personnel Concept , which focuses on the placement of high-end financial services candidates, performed below expectations," Jurgens said. Overall this division's turnover increased 8% to R403,8m from R373,8m, and the decrease in permanent placement income affected Ebitda margins, with the division achieving Ebitda of R45,2m which was similar to the R45,1m recorded in the comparative period last year.

    He also said Paracon's clients had become conservative in recruiting staff and were reluctant to increase their staff complement in light of the tight economic conditions, he said. Jurgen admitted being disappointed with the performance of its two associate companies, Nihilent Technologies and Mondial IT Solutions.

    In particular, he said Nihilent suffered from weak trading conditions and although it managed to make an operating profit, it suffered from foreign exchange losses mainly as a result of volatile foreign exchange movements. While in the previous interim period the Indian company contributed R3m to group earnings, this time round it recorded a loss of R2,1m, hence the lower headline earnings and earnings per share.

    Business Day

  • Consolidated revenues for Maroc Telecom Group in the first quarter were MAD 7,129 million, up 2.4% year-on-year (up 2.3% at constant exchange rates. Consolidated earnings from operations rose to MAD 3,188 million, up 2.7% year-on-year (up 2.5% at constant exchange rates, and were buoyed by a strong performance both in the home market and in the subsidiaries’ operations in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The customer base grew by 9.7% year-on-year to 19.7 million at March 31, 2009. This growth was essentially attributable to mobile services in Morocco, which achieved a 6.8% year-on-year increase in the customer base to 14.6 million, and to the African subsidiaries, which expanded the mobile customer base by 42.8% to 2.8 million.

    Net revenues from all telecom services in Morocco rose to MAD 6,136 million in first quarter 2009, up 1.0% year-on-year.

    Gross revenues generated by Mobile services in first quarter 2009 in Morocco were MAD 4,378 million, up 1.9% year-on-year. The Mobile customer base stood at 14,630 million at March 31, 2009, up 6.8% year-on-year, representing an increase of 174 000 customers during the period. As a result of the significant growth in the customer base in first quarter 2008, the annualized churn rate came to 37.5%, representing a 2.6 point increase versus the previous quarter. Blended ARPU amounted to MAD 91, down 6.4% year-on-year, essentially due to the impact of growth in the customer base and lower interconnection revenues.

    Gross revenues generated in the Fixed-line and Internet segments in Morocco came to MAD 2,376 million at 31 March 2009, up 1.2% year-on-year. At end-March, the Fixed-line network had 1.286 million lines in service, representing a 3.7% decrease year-on-year, while the average monthly bill increased marginally (up 0.6%). The ADSL customer base totaled 488,000 lines at March 31, 2009, up 0.2% year-on-year. In addition, the 3G Mobile Internet customer base rose from 28,000 customers to 65,000 customers during the first quarter. Other significant highlights included a 25% increase in Data services revenues in first quarter 2009, which was chiefly fuelled by the growth in leased lines used by the Mobile activity for the 3G network deployment.

    Net revenues from all telecom services in Mauritania climbed to MAD 273 million in first quarter 2009, up 7.2% year-on-year (up 0.5% at constant exchange rates, thanks to a resilient performance in both the Mobile and Fixed-line segments and despite an intensely competitive market context. Mauritel reported a solid operational performance during the period, with a 27% increase in the Mobile customer base to 1.218 million customers, a 35% increase in the Fixed-line customer base to almost 54,000 customers and a 67% increase in the Internet customer base to almost 10,000 customers.

    Net revenues from all telecom services in Burkina Faso rose to MAD 407 million in the first quarter, up 14.7% year-on-year (up 16.7% at constant exchange rates thanks to a strong operational performance across all segments. Onatel’s customer base expanded rapidly during the period: up 80% for Mobile services to 1.162 million customers, up 18% for Fixed-line services to 149,000 and up 46% in the Internet segment to 19,000.

    Net revenues from all telecom services in Gabon increased to MAD 296 million in the first quarter, up 13.9% (up 15.9% at constant exchange rates. Gabon Telecom turned in a solid operational performance during the period, with a 20% increase in the Mobile customer base to 471,000 customers, a 40% increase in the Fixed-line segment to 35,000 and a 73% increase in the Internet segment to 19,000.

    Consolidated earnings from operations(1) generated by Maroc Telecom Group in first quarter 2009 increased to MAD 3,188 million, up 2.7% year-on-year (up 2.5% at constant exchange rates and the EBITDA increased to MAD 4,218 million, up 4.9% (up 4.8 at constant exchange rates.

    This growth was essentially due to the combination of revenue growth, tight control on operating expenses and a noteworthy increase in the aggregate margin of the international subsidiaries. As a result the EFO margin was maintained at 44.7% in spite of the impact of required commercial efforts, mainly in Morocco, and the incremental increase in amortization.

  • The Britain-based Vodafone Group PLC is to invest US$700 million in the development of telecommunication infrastructure in Ghana to improve on its network services, Sir John Bond, Chairman of the Company has announced.

    The proposed investment formed part of discussions at a meeting with a Ghana government delegation, led by President John Evans Atta Mills during his three-day official visit to London, at the invitation of the British Government, which ended on Friday.

    Sir John Bond told journalists that the meeting with the President was very constructive. He said Vodafone had expected the Mills’ Administration to go to court over the sale and purchase agreement of Ghana Telecom, signed last year with the previous administration.

    He indicated however, that President Mills had said Government was willing to resort to non-legal means, sit and discuss the agreement and find a way that would be pleasing to both sides. Sir John Bond said the meeting also discussed the transfer of the Ghana Telecom University. He however, said one of the main challenges of the company was finding sites to develop as base stations to extend its services.

    According to the Chairman the company welcomed the stance of Government for transparency in the deal and operations of the company.

    GNA

  • - Portugal Telecom has selected Morgan Stanley to sell its 32% stake in Moroccan mobile operator Medi Telecom (Meditel) according to a Reuters reports citing sources familiar with the matter, who estimated the stake is worth between USD400 million and USD530 million.

More

  • Siphiwe Nyanda, the former South Africa National Defence Force chief has been appointed as the new Minister of Communications.

  • * INET Africa Meeting 2009

    18 May 2009, Cairo, Egypt

    INET Africa meeting will be held together with AfNOG and AfriNIC meetings that will be held during the same week. Please note that the meeting date has been moved from the one announced on AfNOG and AfriNIC sites.

    This year’s INET’s title is “IGF Sharm El Sheikh: An Opportunity to Foster Regional Internet Governance”. It is organized by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology of Egypt. The meeting aims at holding discussions to prepare the African Internet community for the Internet Governance Forum that will take place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, next November. It will discuss the issues of focus of this year’s IGF with an African perspective.

    http://www.afrinic.net/meeting/afrinic-10/registration.htm

    *Salvo Global: Telecoms Pricing Masterclass*

    8th - 9th June, Johannesburg, South Africa

    The course is designed to give participants a clear understanding of Pricing evolution and objectives, Influences on pricing strategy options, Pricing options & Bundling options. Participants will work themselves on a case study on price management that incorporates all steps in the pricing process. By the end of the two day course packed with real life case studies, participants will be able to learn

    techniques to deliver distinctive and profitable price models and develop strategies for their customers and businesses.

    www.salvoglobal.com/telecomspricing.asp

    For priority booking, please quote priority code *VHB401*

    * Elearning AFRICA 2009

    4th International Conference on ICT for Development

    27-29 May 2009, Dakar, Senegal

    eLearning Africa 2009 will welcome nearly 300 speakers from 50 countries to Dakar, Senegal. The programme, which is now available on the eLA website, will feature state-of-the-art presentations and interactive workshops, together with practical demonstrations and cutting-edge debates on key issues in the field of eLearning for the African continent. A range of new initiatives will also be presented.

    http://www.elearning-africa.com/

    * Mobile Banking & Financial Services Africa

    20-22 July 2009, Southern Sun Grayston Hotel, Johannesburg

    Building on the highly successful inaugural event last year, the conference will again deliver timely insights into the key business, technical and security considerations that all players in the mobile banking and payments industry in Africa must address.

    For more information and to book your place now, call +44 (0)20 7017

    registrations@iir-telecoms.com

    http://www.iir-events.com/IIR-Conf/page.aspx?id=19296

    * MMT 09 - Mobile Money Transfer

    26-27 October2009, Dubai.

    MMT 09 is a 'must attend' event for anyone who is serious about remittances. Over 350 mobile network operators, microfinance institutions, money transfer networks, banks and technology providers will converge at MMT 09 to discuss the best ways to make money from mobile money transfer. Nowhere else in the world will you find so many MMT project leaders all gathered in one place.

    www.mobile-money-transfer.com

  • * Telecom Project Manager - West Africa

    The ideal candidate will have experience in project management, in managing the many variables that occur, during the life of the project. He/ she should also possess and contribute the knowledge of how the project is in line with the overall organisation goals, and to establish the needed interaction channels with other projects, interested parties and organisations/functions.

    For further information on the job or to post your application, click on the following link

    http://www.cellular-news.com/recruitment/list_job.php?uid=7156

    * Call For Papers - Africa's largest Rural Connectivity Forum

    The ONE-STOP Connecting Rural Communities Forum organised by the CTO is here again. In its fourth successful year, this year’s conference will be in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communication, Zambia, and is designed to prepare African ICT decision-makers for the next steps in driving rural connectivity.

    i.falconer@cto.int

  • Rwandatel, Cisco and Seven Seas Technologies - Rwanda

    Rwandatel, the country's second largest telecom operator, has signed a partnership deal with CISCO system and Seven Seas Technologies. The agreement will also allow Rwandatel share experience from the rest of the world and East Africa in delivering managed services to corporate clients. This will be through the provision of special consultancy services to expand Rwandatel's network architecture and performance.

    * University of Ibadan and Electronic Testing Company Ltd - Nigeria

    The university of Ibadan (UI) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Electronic Testing Company Limited (eTC) for the conduct of computer-based tests and examinations at the institution. Since its take off in August last year, eTC has made in-roads to over 30 higher institutions in the country with eleven of them already signing an MOU with his company.

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

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



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

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