Issue no 465 31st July 2009
Whilst there have been announcements about an increasing number of African countries building cross-border fibre links being built, politically-troubled countries like Chad and Central African Republic have missed out on the party. This week Central African Republic announced that it would be implementing the World Bank-backed Central African Backbone. Russell Southwood looks at what’s planned.
Central African Republic was the one of the few countries which seemed to have no plans to create a fibre link to its nearest international landing station (SAT3) in Cameroon. That all changed this week with an announcement by the Secretary-General of the country’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications who said it would be implementing a World Bank-backed fibre project dubbed the Central African Backbone.
Initially it will link Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad but there are long-term plans to extend links to Niger, Nigeria, Sudan (currently engaged in an undeclared war with Chad), Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe and Congo-Brazzaville.
The idea first saw the light of day at a meeting of Heads of State of the regional body CEMAC and a feasibility study was subsequently funded by the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The idea was to lower the costs of communications for countries that have been paying for relatively expensive international satellite connections. The World Bank will provide FCFA11 billion in loans but the project is open to other investors. The new route will link up with the Cameroonian national fibre backbone operated by Camtel: it has just signed a contract for Chinese financing of a 3,200 kms national backbone.
Interest in the Central African Backbone fed off the fact that there is an oil pipeline from Doba in south-west Chad to the coast in Cameroon. Along this pipeline between Doba and Yaounde is fibre and the operating company gave rights over spare capacity to the Cameroonian Government, who in turn gave it to the incumbent Camtel. The latter does not appear to have done very much with it. Indeed, there is still a 273 kms gap between the Cameroonian capital Yaounde and the SAT3 landing station at Douala. Also as Camtel’s SAT3 prices are highest on the route, it has little or no incentive to do much to encourage new traffic.
The Central African Backbone would fill in the gap to the Camtel SAT3 landing station and extend from Doba in Chad to the capital Ndjamena, a distance of 640 kms. In addition, there would be a branch from Maidougou in Cameroon to the Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui and two spurs out along the way to Bozoum and Carnot.
All of this is good news for the three countries concerned. However, the Achilles heel of the project is who exactly will be responsible for building and operating such an ambitious network over some very challenging terrain.
None of the three Government-owned incumbents (Camtel in Cameroon, Socatel in the CAR and Sotelchad) has much of a reputation in this field. The last time Camtel was to be privatised, only one buyer turned up and the process was cancelled. There have been discussions about separating out the wholesale backbone operations of Camtel to create a new company but this does not look promising.
So why not open out the process to other operators and potential investors? There are a number of private companies who already have operations they would like to connect along these routes. For if this opening up to the private sector does not happen, the danger is that projects like the Central African Backbone will remain on the drawing board.
- MTN is set to launch a 3G service in Rwanda.
- Plans for Dangote Telecommunication Company to roll out its 3G network in Nigeria have run into trouble. According to the company, it cannot roll out because it would need to acquire a 2G company to roll-out effectively. It acquired a 3G licence back in 2006 and the NCC has threatened to remove it if it does not roll out soon.
- In Tanzania, Vodacom has launched a new service allowing its customers to pay their electricity bills through its M-Money service, Vodafone M-Pesa. The mobile phone service firm said last week in a statement that the project was a joint venture with Tanesco, the national power utility company.
- The Egyptian market surged through the 50% penetration barrier in Q1 09, finishing the quarter with a rate of 52.7%. In real terms, the total customer base grew to 43.57m. Quarterly net additions stood at 3.01m, making Q1 09 the third successive quarter in which the gain has exceeded 3m. On an annual basis, there was an increase of just under 12.50m - the highest figure ever recorded in the Egyptian market.
- Ethiopia's monopoly mobile network, ETC has launched a GPRS service on its GSM network, reports the local newspaper, Nazret. Access to GPRS is limited to post-paid mobile subscribers for the time being. ETC envisages providing a similar service to pre- paid mobile subscribers in the future.
Millicom International has sold its Sierra Leone subsidiary to Africell Holding for an undisclosed amount, according to a report in Cellular World.
Source at Millicom (Tigo) in Sierra Leone disclosed that the news came to them as a surprise, “we were not informed by management about the deal; we only saw it on the Internet that Africell has bought Tigo when we came in this morning.” An atmosphere of distress could be sensed at Tigo’s Wilkinson Road head office. The usually busy office was virtually empty, the few staff around fiddled with their computers, while others seated in groups waiting for Tigo’s management to decide their fate.
Tigo’s staff which is about 900 both permanent and freelancers is really worried as to whether the new Africell management will absorb them after they have been paid off.
The operator, trading as Tigo was earmarked for sale by Millicom late last year, shortly after the regulator announced that all operators would be required to reach a minimum of 50% population coverage by the end of the year.
Africell Holding has been operating in Sierra Leone since 2005 and is one of the leading mobile operators in Sierra Leone. The company said that the acquisition will contribute to domestic consolidation, and further enhance its market leadership in Sierra Leone.
Completion of the transaction is subject to certain regulatory approvals and procedures. Sierra Leone currently has four mobile networks, with a fifth licensed but yet to be launched. According to figures from the Mobile World, their respective market shares are: Zain (32.6%); Comium (16.2%); Africell (41.3%) and Millicom/Tigo (9.91%).
While the prospect of better interconnection rates is on offer, there has been little response from the rest of industry, says Mukul Sharma, Neotel's head of consumer and channel sales.
“I suppose it is because if one has to offer a service, then an infrastructure investment has to be made and very few of the companies are either able or willing to do this. So in the meantime, what can they offer?” he says.
Neotel, which was originally licensed as the country's second national operator to compete with Telkom, has now found itself in a deregulated market sooner than expected. The problem it and Telkom face is whether they should stay in retail and wholesale, or withdraw to just supplying bandwidth for resale by third parties to customers.
Sharma says the telecommunications industry is still struggling to come to terms with the overall paradigm shift that has allowed for literally hundreds of small Internet service providers (ISPs) to offer fully-fledged telecommunications services, although few have the ability to actually carry this through. “It makes sense for us to stay in the retail sector and we have the products to compete effectively there, because we have made the investment,” he notes.
Neotel's chief sales and services officer, Stefano Mattiello, says the termination of the Seacom line at Neotel's Johannesburg facility is part of an overall trend to reduce bandwidth prices that have already fallen by 25% over the past year.
“Seacom and Neotel have a backhaul agreement in place that allows Neotel's customers to connect in Johannesburg, and allows them the same experience as if they had connected with the Seacom facility at Mtunzini, in KwaZulu-Natal, directly.”
He says this essentially saves ISPs and other telecoms operators the time and cost of building their own lines to Mtunzini. However, this remains an option as Seacom operates on open access principles – meaning anyone with the relevant licence can connect with the facility.
Earlier this week, Neotel launched its NeoGo data card, which it hopes will make its CDMA solution more attractive to consumers and small businesses. This is part of its overall retail strategy of first rolling out its fixed mobile solution and later developing other fixed-line solutions that will include fibre to the building, leading to high-speed broadband services. But, for the time being, the company is looking at capturing more consumers with its new data card offering, which it says will redefine the market for this kind of service.
“NeoGo offers the highest data capacity of 1.5Gbps at a monthly rate of R299, over 24 months,” notes Sharma. “A second means of purchasing it is by paying R1,499 and then a monthly service fee of R239. The off bundle fee, when extra bandwidth is used over the initial allocation, is 8c per megabyte. “The off bundle fee is considerably cheaper than the industry average of about 100c per meg,” Sharma says.
He says the development of the data card had taken place over the past year. Its launch close to the time of the Seacom landing was a coincidence, but served to illustrate how flexible bandwidth offerings could become, he explains. Mattiello says Neotel is still looking at other consumer service offerings and planning is in full swing to start rolling out fibre to gated communities. “We are still looking at how the business model will develop there,” he says.
Mobile companies registered 837,883 subscribers in the first quarter of this year, bringing to 13.885 million the number of cellular phone users compared with the previous quarter.
The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority Status of the Telecom Market for March 2009 shows that Tigo had 384,925 new users. But with about 2.95 million subscribers, it remained number three among the six networks.
"Vodacom is still leading the market, accounting for 40 per cent of total subscriptions though its share dropped by one per cent compared with what it held in the last quarter of 2008," showed the report.
Vodacom registered 261,683 new subscribers during the first quarter of this year, bringing to 5,670,122 the number of subscribers.
Zain, which maintained its second position in the market, recorded 242,508 new subscribers during the same period, making its subscriber base reach 4,104,879 customers.
Zantel Mobile lost 27,162 subscribers during the period, decreasing the number of users to 1,030,490. However, the number of customers in the company's fixed lines rose to 11,879 from 7,544 subscribers.
TTCL Mobile had 15,429 new subscribers, bringing its subscriber base to 121,233 customers. Benson Informatics had 500 new subscribers who made the company's total number of service users 3,500.
Vodacom has cut back its budgets in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo after its international operations suffered an 8.,1% slump in revenue in its past trading quarter. The two countries were hit by weak economic conditions, intense competition and high excise duties, CEO Pieter Uys said.
Capital expenditure would be slashed as a result, with no more cash to be invested in boosting their network coverage. Vodacom had earmarked R8bn for capex this year, with R5bn for SA and R3bn for the rest of Africa. That R3bn would now be channelled into Mozambique, where Vodacom was still growing, although the cutbacks meant it might not all be spent.
Vodacom's first trading update since listing on the JSE showed a healthy 19.5% growth in subscribers in the quarter ending June 31, with 41.3-million customers in five countries. Group revenue rose 12.2% to R14.2bn for the quarter.
But the average amount that South African users spend each month fell a noticeable 4.7% as they struggle under poor economic conditions and as cellphones reach deeper into the lower-income markets. Customers in SA spent an average of R64 a month in the quarter, down from R65 a month previously. Partly compensating for that was Vodacom's ability to sign up 1.1-million new customers in SA to reach 28.7-million users.
Uys said the main reason for its growth was innovative pricing. He hoped the gradual lowering of its call fees -- and some dramatic savings when the network is not busy -- would take pressure off the operators to cut the interconnection fees they charge each other for switching a call from one network to another. Uys said he had met Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda to discuss interconnection fees and they were working on some proposals.
Of equal concern is the new legislation calling for anyone who owns a SIM card to be registered. Uys said the operators had spent "a couple of tens of millions" of rands on installing equipment to capture those details. Now they faced a fee of about R3 a person for capturing data on SA's existing 50-million SIM card owners.
- The Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) has incurred a loss of Sh762 million as a result of vandalism to its equipment. Its officials said equipment vandalised includes telephone cables and wires as well as solar panels.
- Mobitel Nigeria Ltd. has sued Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, at a Federal High Court in Abuja over cancellation of the 2.3GHz licensing process.
- In Kenya, Safaricom has supported recent presidential directive requiring all mobile phone subscribers to be registered as a way of combating crime. Safaricom already has over half of its subscriber base registered through our M-Pesaand PostPay services and the popular Bonga loyalty scheme, for which registration is a standard requirement.
The damage to the mainstay of Nigeria's terrestrial internet service provision, SAT3, has disrupted businesses in the private and public sectors across the country. The unavailability of Internet services disrupted banking and telecoms services yesterday as most banks could not meet their obligations to their customers.
Telecoms operators as well were not left out as their operations were also impacted negatively. The SAT-3 cable facility is a key communication infrastructure that links Nigeria and several other countries on Africa’s western seaboard with the rest of the world.
Phone companies and Internet providers who depend on the facility could not have access to the facility, making it impossible for them to service their customers. Most of the affected businesses offered either skeletal or no services at all, with many of them scrambling to look for alternative internet support for their operations.
In Abuja, activities at ministries, the National Assembly, banks and private media houses practically came to a halt as difficulties were encountered in internet connectivity. Banks worked overtime to get alternative Internet access.
MTN Nigeria said that the company was experiencing challenges with access to international bandwidth, leading to service disruption to some of its international data and internet-based services as a result of the damage.
The statement, signed by the Corporate Services Executive, Wale Goodluck, read: "We are experiencing some challenges with access to bandwidth which carries a very large portion of our international voice and data traffic out of the country.
"While the cause of the problem is still being investigated by our service provider, the immediate consequence is that our international traffic will be affected."
He said specifically, MTN subscribers who make international calls might experience difficulties as the firm anticipates congestion on the international route. He also added that call quality might also be noticeably affected as the company had resorted to the use of satellite, while exploring other options.
Goodluck said the situation also adversely affected the company's international data services, such as 3.5G, GPRS and fixed internet services. He stated that subscribers who use MTN's Fastlink data cards or mobile internet via 3.5G or GPRS, Blackberry users and Enterprise customers, who use the company's fixed broadband internet, would also be affected.
He said while the submarine cables were owned and maintained by a third party, MTN had ensured that all available resources were mobilised to ensure that a solution was found. He estimated that "based on available information from our service provider, the repair work may take up to 10 days".
In the meantime, he said MTN was exploring other alternatives to provide some of the services adversely affected, adding that more alternatives were being sought to ease the difficulties that the situation had caused.
ThisDay had reported last week that 70 per cent of Nigeria's internet capacity was disrupted by the damage which would last 10 days. The Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of Suburban West Africa, Anil Verma, had in a statement disclosed that the damage was a "temporary setback". He said it was unfortunate that the SAT3 submarine cable is currently the only active cable system available to West Africa.
The CTO said: "While we have built redundancy on the terrestrial leg of our fibre optic network that delivers services to customers, there is vulnerability on the landing cable deployed into each country. Our network is currently routed into Nigeria through the Benin Republic, which is the landing station we are connected to. In the eight years the SAT3 service has been available, this is the first time there has been an outage on the Benin landing cable.
"There have been outages on the actual SAT3 submarine cable itself, but not the Benin landing cable. The SAT3 cable is built with redundancy, which is why there has been minimal downtime in other outages, but with this outage being on an isolated landing cable, we will have to wait for the SAT3 consortium to send one of their cable maintenance ships to Benin to fix the problem. This is expected to take approximately 10 days."
Two fibre optic cables, Seacom and TEAMs, landed in the country this month, with Seacom activating its network in five countries in Africa, Kenya included. An article in Business Daily illustrates strikingly different views on how fast prices will come down for consumers. Despite significant falls in the cost of bandwidth, there are a surprisingly large number of people arguing against reducing consumer prices.
For many Kenyans, the news was expected to herald a fall in Internet charges and faster connectivity as operators who had bought capacity into the cable can now offer the services to end users.
However, apart from when Seacom activated their network in Mombasa with some users experiencing high speed connections, many are still waiting, with most operators paying between $5,000 and $6,500 per megabyte per month for satellite connectivity.
Telecommunication operators had warned that prices will not drop drastically as expected. Business Daily sought the views of industry experts on the pricing issue.
Jonathan Somen, Managing director, AccessKenya Group said:” ISPs like AccessKenya and other players have terminated their metro fibre to the Seacom hub in Nairobi. AccessKenya is currently carrying tests of the fibre connectivity with a sample clientele”.
“Once the connection is given a clean bill, AccessKenya clients will be connected and their speeds doubled immediately free of charge. Subsequent upgrades will occur in a carefully controlled upgrade process from August”.
“Two options are available to clients: one can either extend a fibre cable to connect to our company's metro fibre ring from the nearest fibre node if they are not within the buildings or route covered by the fibre cable. This will be at an extra cost to the client in buying the necessary infrastructure”.
“Alternatively, clients need not necessarily be connected to fibre as the last mile, but can use radio to connect to the ISP's fibre network and still enjoy fast speeds. The difference in speeds between option 1 and 2 is 10 milliseconds latency and may not be necessary to invest the huge sums required to pull the fibre cable to the client's office”.
According to Aggrey Madahana, Managing director, Swift Global:” Pricing is a tricky issue, because it is not clear exactly how bandwidth will be shared or priced. But generally, I would say that we should not expect any drastic changes in price any time soon. We can expect prices to fall by between 20 and 25 per cent by next year, and after that pricing will fall based on demand, as fibre operators try to get more users”.
“Certainly, investors in the cables will be keen to get returns on their spending -- and some of the cost savings for operators will be eaten into as they retain some bandwidth on satellite for redundancy purposes. These elements will keep prices up”.
“I expect once TEAMs and other cables come in, cost will start becoming more of an issue and we could even see price wars similar to those seen in the mobile sector. Once that healthy competition takes place, we may begin to see the drastic drops that were expected, where customers can pay up to 80 per cent less”.
Michael Joseph, Chief Executive Officer, Safaricom told Business Daily:” A number of issues will determine pricing. First, a lot of money has been invested in these cables. For instance, Safaricom has put in upwards of $25 million in the TEAMs cable and an equally substantial amount in buying capacity on Seacom. Maintenance will also require further cash outlays”.
“This money will have to be recovered first before material price reductions can be passed on to the consumer. It makes business sense and we owe that to our shareholders and financiers”.
“Other than these , principally, onward connection fees would be a major factor. For instance, we have to procure connection from Fujairah onwards on the Seacom link.
This would be the same scenario for TEAMs. Other factors would be the level of investments they have made in these cables and the payback period for those investments”.
“Perhaps the part of the equation that is often overlooked is how much subscribers will immediately save through faster and more reliable Internet speeds and the many opportunities this will spawn. Safaricom has already connected some of its external and internal IP traffic to the Seacom cable which means that Safaricom 3G, EDGE, WiMAX and fixed data subscribers are already enjoying faster speeds and response times”.
Bitange Ndemo, Permanent secretary, Ministry of Information who was one of the prime movers behind the TEAMS project told Business Daily:” We don't want to regulate prices, but we anticipate that market competition among the providers would be able to bring down the costs as seen in the mobile sector. End users will have to wait for probably another three months before they see drastic reductions on costs as the operators will need to recover the investments made on the cables. However, the faster more people start utilising the cables the faster the prices would come down due to economy of scales”.
Tom Omariba, Managing director, UUNET Kenya said:” End users will not connect to the backbone directly, but through the last line frequencies, using either copper cable-- leased copper cables, dial ups and DSL--or wireless networks like WiMAX, WI-Fi, GPRS and 3G”.
“But we are currently experiencing artificial shortage of last mile spectrum because some players had acquired the frequencies some time back, but are not utilising the frequencies thus denying other players from accessing the same”.
“Unless the government subsidises the high spectrum fees when the spectrum becomes available, we are going to have the initial challenges to rural electrification caused by high end user transformer and power line investment costs. The service will still be expensive and the targeted end users will not afford the service”.
“The price reduction will therefore be in the range of 20-30 per cent unless the players revert to the old ways of overselling capacity which will mean a bad end-user experience”.
Namibia has disappeared off the face of the earth as far as the Chinese government is concerned, at least. People in China keen to read about the fate of fellow countryman Yang Fan following his appearance in a Namibian court in the Nuctech corruption case, were left none the wiser as all Chinese search engines are blocking a list of keywords pertaining to the probe, including Namibia.
Type in 'Namibia', and Chinese search engines spit out no results. The same goes for 'Namibia bribery investigation', 'Yang Fan bribery investigation', 'Nuctech bribery investigation' and 'southern Africa bribery investigation'.
Also for 'Hu Haifeng', Chinese President Hu Jintao's son, who as former Nuctech chief is linked to the case. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in Namibia is interested to question Hu junior, although he is not a suspect in the case.
Searching for any of the above keywords on a Chinese search engine produces an error message, which translated freely, means: "The search results may contain content not in line with relevant laws, regulations and policies," Times Online reported.
According to the newspaper, The China Digital Times - a US-based blog run by Xiao Qiang - of the Berkeley China Internet Project at the University of California, posted a copy of a notice it said had been issued by the Communist Party's propaganda department shortly after Yang, and co-accused Teckla Lameck and Kongo Mokaxwa appeared in court the first time.
The notice, issued to all search engines, read: 'Hu Haifeng, Namibia, Namibia bribery investigation, Nuctech bribery investigation, southern Africa bribery investigation. Please show no search results for all the above keywords.'
The Chinese government censorship is the latest in a series which includes micro-blogging sites like Fanfou, Digu and Jiwai, the Edmonton Journal of the University of Canada states. Also blacklisted is Facebook, while Zuosa, YouTube and Twitter are all intermittent. "Nobody is exactly sure what the crackdown is about or when it will end," the Journal says.
- Nigeria’s mobile operator MTN has a new mobile broadband service dubbed HyConnect Wireless Internet. MTN Hy-Connect Wire-less Internet is a pre-paid high speed internet service that combines the speed and reliability of a fixed broadband internet with the convenience and flexibility of a mobile Internet service. MTN HyConnect Wireless Internet, he said, offers ultra fast download speeds of up to 1Mbps, running on MTN's WiMAX network with coverage spanning select locations in Lagos and Abuja.
- Mozambique is now linked to the Seacom Group's fibre-optic undersea cable, which will link Africa to Europe and India. The representative of Seacom-Mozambique, former Mozambican Education Minister Alcido Nguenha, told that the cost of fibre-optic transmission of data could fall by 90 per cent.
- In Nigeria, computer users are about to enjoy limitless access to the Internet as Technology Distributions Limited, TD, partners front line telecommunications company, Multilinks-Telkom. The partnership, automatically gives buyers of computers from Technology Distribution, access of to Multilink-Telcom's Internet package for up to 50 free hours.
- Internet users in Kigali City will soon be utilising fast speed mobile wireless Internet called WiBro. The Wibro project started last year and the Government has contracted Korean Telecom to install the commercial wireless mobile broadband technology.
- With the coming localisation of Bing in SA, South African Yahoo users can expect to see that localisation become part of their search experience. While Yahoo currently provides customisation, there is little in terms of localisation. Colin Erasmus, Microsoft SA's Windows client business group executive explains that Microsoft is rolling out local services on a global scale and, while he does not have a firm date for South African services, he says that as an English-speaking country, it should not be too long.
- The .ZA Domain Name Authority (DNA) is drafting new regulations that could see the shrinking of administrators for third-level domains. Uniform SA currently provides support for .co.za, Internet Solutions for org.za and Tertiary Education Network looks after the ac.za domains. Several others manage the remaining less prominent domains under .za.
Ghana wants to positions itself as one of the premier BPO destinations in Africa. The 1st GASSCOM International BPO Conference And Exhibition was held at La Palm Royal Beach Hotel in Accra, Ghana on the July 22nd & 23rd. 2009 under the theme "Outsourcing to Ghana, Africa's Golden Gateway", writes Sylvain Beletre.
Most people who do business with the continent complain that the problems of doing business in Africa are compounded by intrinsic issues such as telecoms connectivity, lack of high standard infrastructure and maintenance, health risks and expensive air
fares to get there. And that’s before they start complaining about a lack of skilled workers, insufficient management skills, ethnic and security issues, and more recently the international crisis. But despite all these obstacles, many business investors continue to come to Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly to places like Ghana that are seen as success stories, a perception recently reinforced by the visit of President Obama.
The conference organised by GASSCOM - Ghana Association Software and IT Services Companies - the main IT industry Association in Ghana, with sponsorship from the World Bank, under the Auspices of the Ministry of Communication, and through the ITES Secretariat (an agency created under the Ministry to promote IT enabled services in Ghana). GASSCOM's member companies are in the business of software development, software services, IT-enabled/BPO services and e-commerce. Participants got the opportunity to see the software and service solutions of its members in an exhibition alongside the conference.
Mavis Ampah, Senior ICT Policy Specialist at the World Bank set up the scene: «Mauritius has a Population of 1.27 million has created about 7000 jobs in the last few years in IT/ITES, and the sector is contributing about 4% of GDP. For every job created, a projected revenue of US$15-20,000 per year can be expected in addition to indirect revenues generated in ancilliary services.» Ampah added: «There is a Multiplier Effect - 4 additional jobs for every 1 job created in the sector (ancillary service sectors such as transportation, real estate, training, catering, etc.). Within the Services Sector, Telecom/IT/ITES is considered as the new growth frontier, and improving people's skills is key.»
When it comes to outsourcing, Ghana has a clear strategy. As most of us know, the BPO – Business Process Outsourcing industry (or as one participant called it “Business Problem Outsourcing”) had become a fast-developing industry, driving the economies of many countries in the world with the most successful example being India.
With the ambition of targeting only 1% of the World's BPO sector, it is estimated that outsourcing could provide over 37,000 jobs for the youth by 2011 in Ghana, with an added value to the country’s economy of over $750 million. Ghana's government has been working hard to have a BPO presence over the last few years.
Since May 2007, ITES has been collaborating with the Ministries of Education, Trade and Industries and many others to boost the sector in Ghana. Nana Osei Bonsu, a lawyer, consultant and advisor to ITES (MOC) explained that as part of its HR objective, ITES has provided training content aligned to the BPO/ITES training curriculum map. Nana said that «ITES has trained 50 trainers and 3000 agents/professionals in 2009. It has accredited the trainers, launched a training matching grant program with initial amount of US$3,000,000 to support eligible public and private training institutions in order to deliver the training.
But for all the positives, the conference organisers were courageous enough to take a critical and neutral look at Ghana as a BPO destination. Three major barriers to market were raised: skills, energy and Internet connectivity.
On the skills' side, one employer complained that it is very difficult to find good programmers in Oracle or Java in Ghana, and among the young population, it was hard to identify employees with strong corporate experience. «We have to train them to get them up to speed.» she said. Another participant shared that «finding anyone with experience in dealing with foreign customers is hard». People's attitude and endurance at work is also suffering, and one option suggested was to employ more staff on a part-time basis.
Ryan Nichols of Excend mentioned that security and confidentiality are also paramount to attract foreign investors. The Minister of Communication, Haruna Iddrisu who was present said that the Ministry will soon submit to the Parliament a Data Protection and Privacy legislation for the regulation and protection of information. The Ministry will also facilitate the development of additional legislation in the area of Data Protection and Intellectual Property so that investors can operate within the confines of international guidelines and quality standards.
Ghana is dependent on imported energy and is relying on a single source of hydro electric generation, which produces less power when there are low water levels in Lake Volta. Anyone who knows Accra has experienced power outages that are also about fluctuations in supply and the quality of the transmission network. Nevertheless those responsible say things will get better: thermal and solar energies are on the agenda.
Internet and telecoms' access are still challenging, but the Minister of Communications confirmed that his ministry had taken advantage of the competitive telecommunications market to develop a robust ICT infrastructure backbone that would enable the private sector to provide access to high speed Internet broadband connectivity at affordable rates.
The linking of Internet points of presence to all district capitals under the ICT backbone development programme is being undertaken by the government with support from Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecoms vendor. Right now, Ghana Telecom’s monopoly access to the SAT-3 submarine cable kept international bandwidth prices relatively high and connectivity is not always reliable: for a country connected by fibre, actual download speeds remain slow. All of these things are potentially damaging to the prospects of growing a healthy BPO industry.
But international bandwidth is one area where relief is at hand. There are four new international cables that will have landing stations in Ghana: Glo One, Main One, WACS and ACE. Soon the country will have many times more international bandwidth at something approaching 20% of current prices.
Furthermore, the Government is carrying out the second phase of the National Communication Backbone Network to extend Internet connectivity to all districts in the country. A.J. Whiteman, PR Manager at Rising Data Solution made it clear: “Once full redundancy is achieved, Ghana will be a greater destination for e-services, e-transactions and VoIP call centers.” Edwin Provencal, the Managing Director of National Communication Backbone Company Limited made it clear that there will be enough internal connectivity to enable all IT-enabled initiatives in wherever in Ghana where connectivity is a barrier. He also stated that competition in the undersea cable will be a boost for the industry since the only barrier to entry for interested investors willing to set up shop is “No alternative to SAT 3”.
If all of the above was not challenging enough, there is the current global crisis. Since major BPO customers remain in Europe and the USA, offshoring to African destinations has become sensitive for political reasons. However right now, some attendees have confirmed that it is much less sensitive to outsource to Africa than to Asia, at least in the USA.
The conference organisers recognised that there is still a need to reinforce a credible vision for Ghana: Mavis Ampah from the World Bank concluded her presentation with this message: “we need strategic focus, we need industry and government champions!” Mark Davies of BusyInternet added: “We need to set up meetings between civil servants and private sectors, we need to get them in the same room to review all major issues”.
The ICT BPO industry has grown by 25% over the past 3 years, and there is no reason why Ghana should not be able to take a share of the pie. Over the last decade, the BPO trend started in Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Eastern Europe, and of course in India. It then moved to Latin America, Morocco and Tunisia, the Philippines, more recently to Mauritius and Egypt, and some business going to Vietnam and China. Ghana is now on the map.
A local BPO firm, e.Services Africa Ltd mentioned that «Telecom & Financial Services & their Convergence offers the single most significant Opportunities for Call Centre Business in Emerging Markets». So where do Ghanaian BPO companies need to start? As Mr. Kofi Dadzie, CEO of Rancard Solutions described it, “local experience is important. If you build local solutions for local clients, they will be cheaper than in the Western World. Local problems require local solutions”. International companies looking to outsource will be far more impressed by a company that already does, for example, call centre work locally for a bank.
In a much-publicized move to take information technology to ordinary citizens, Rwanda Development Board (RDB/IT) has finally introduced two models of ICT buses with Telecentres. Two of these buses arrived in the country via the Gatuna border post.
The move that is aimed at bridging the digital divide in the country comes into force as one of the backbones of the ongoing e-Rwanda Project and will see internet taken closer to citizens especially in the rural areas. The buses which are electronically equipped with 22 HP laptops, will be travelling to rural areas to allow ordinary citizens access IT services.
"These buses will be moving to places where the multipurpose community Telecenters and business development service centres are not available," said Wilson Muyenzi, e-Rwanda Project coordinator.
RDB/IT as mobile Telecentres, the buses are meant to provide additional ICT services ranging from printing, scanning and photocopying documents to offering basic ICT training to those who need it.
The pilot phase that is being launched is expected to last a year during which the services will be freely offered to citizens and after which more buses will be imported and a reasonable fee charged to beneficiaries, according to RDB/IT officials.
Acting Director General in charge of IT planning and coordination in RDB/IT, Grace Mutsinzi, revealed that the buses which were assembled in Nairobi are now valued at around Rwf 154m each, the price that include the two generators to power them while serving remote areas. Mutsinzi also said they have embarked on negotiations with various stakeholders and development partners to ensure that the use of these ICT buses contributes to the country's vision of becoming a world class ICT hub.
"We shall also partner with schools to provide access to ICT through these buses to primary and secondary students in rural areas with no access to ICT," he said. The ICT bus innovation comes as an addition to the introduction of 30 Telecentres all over the country in an initiative that is aimed at boosting both public and private development through information technology. Largely funded by the World Bank, the e-Rwanda project has also seen the country introduce the telemedicine initiative and e-treatment.
The New Times
On 20-21 July 2009, a national policy dialogue meeting was held in Dakar, Senegal to discuss ways and means of establishing an NREN, a university networking organisation that will help address bandwidth issues.
About 50 participants from all 5 public universities, private universities, research institutes, the ministries in charge of education, scientific research and ICT, the Government ICT Agency, the Telecommunication Regulatory Agency and developing partners attended the meeting that was opened by the Minister of Scientific Research and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Higher education. Vice-Chancellors too attended the opening and closing ceremony.
The participants decided to work together towards the establishment of a Senegalese research and education network by April 2010. A Steering Committee has been established as well as 3 working groups on governance, technical issues and content.
The Government ICT Agency offered to provide connectivity between the participating institutions from its national fibre backbone with bandwidth in the gbps range; a dedicated fibre pair can be allocated at a later stage. Visioconference equipment that is already available will be made available to them too.
A declaration (attached) was produced, with an appeal to policy and decision makers, namely the President, the Ministers in charge of higher education, research and ICT and to Vice-Chancellors.
- The Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) plans to open a science and information technology (ICT) industrial park at Busitema University in Busia district. The UIA executive director, Maggie Kigozi, said the park would generate income for the university and help transform the economy.
- The UbuntuNet Connect 2009 Conference will be held in Kampala on 12-13 November 2009 to look at higher education bandwidth issues. Please see http://www.ubuntunet.net/connect2009 for details.
While attending the Gasscom conference on July 22-23 2009, Balancing Act’s Sylvain Beletre interviewed entrepreneur Mark Davies of BusyInternet in Accra. He set up TradeNet back in 2005 with the encouragement of the UN and FAO, in partnership with FoodNet in Uganda, other partners and private investors.
TradeNet - http://www.tradenet.biz/ - is a popular agricultural market intelligence and trading platform used in Africa. (See our article in issue 341 - Tradenet launches market intel platform for buying and selling agricultural goods - http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/back/balancing-act_341.html)
"TradeNet is changing its name to Esoko" explained Afua Ankomah, Product Manager for esoko. "Along with the name change there will be a new design and new services unveiled throughout the year. The platform provides current market data via SMS alerts, and the web to stakeholders among agriculture producers and traders in Africa. It is also used as a lead-generation tool. Another key benefit is that it also reduces the time and cost involved in transactions, and creates new, creative opportunities for buyers and traders”.
Esoko can be described as mix between eBay and Facebook or Linkedin dedicated to helping the agricultural sector across seven countries in Africa and in Afghanistan. Price-wise, Esoko can be used for various subscription fees adapted for individuals, businesses and large enterprises. This initiative is a response to the explosive growth of cellular services in Africa, but also a "killer app" for mobile operators to boost mobile adoption and usage, especially in rural areas. Current partners include IFDC, FAO, IFAD, Technoserve, USAID, Chemonics, Mercy Corps, MTN, Zain, UNDP and Ghana Met Office.
Mark Davies, the man behind Tradenet and esoko said that the new service could offer buyers and sellers' ratings. "There have been lots of success stories generated by Tradenet with better informed farmers using mobiles to get prices and improve trading. Using these stories and best practices observed on the field, we have packaged esoko as the next generation trading intelligence platform 2.0. What we now need is to test and roll it out to our user community. Esoko has a lot of potential in and outside of Africa. My only frustration is that we have limited resources. If we could find new investors, partners and donors, we could accelerate implementation and support more farmers." said Mark Davies, adding, "Esoko version 1 is pretty much ready to be launched, and BusyLab is currently undertaking on site market research and user surveys to validate and enhance the new platform's functionalities and benefits".
SMS Media, an SMS content and wireless application service provider has introduced bulk SMS advertising to facilitate businesses in the country. "This service will help improve the way the business community keeps in touch with customers. It can also help them to control and market products and services cheaply," Jeff Gasana, the Company's General Manager told Business Times in an interview on Tuesday.
Currently ITEC, a company dealing in computer hardware and accessories is running a promotion for 60 days that will see lucky winners walk away with a grand prize of a car (Mahindra Scorpio Model 2006), win a trip to Brussels for 2 people, and an HP laptop with a printer among other computer gadgets.
According to Gasana, the service is not only cost effective with each SMS charge at Frw30 but also efficient for the users compared to other forms of advertising like Radio and Television. "We are introducing SMS based promotions to ease doing business. SMS delivers the message directly even when the receiver is busy, they will read the message," he said.
The New Times
A fund of R1bn that telecoms operators have contributed to the government to take voice and data services to rural areas is still sitting idle when it could be used to reward companies willing to roll out those facilities.
Cash donated to the Universal Service and Access Fund should be used as an incentive to encourage companies to extend broadband coverage to bring all South Africans into the knowledge age. Instead it is being hoarded by the Treasury, the Internetix technology conference heard last week.
"There is R1bn in the Universal Service Fund which is not being used," said Telkom SA MD Pinky Moholi. Using the cash as an incentive would be far more successful than building social responsibility obligations into their licences, Moholi said.
Paris Mashile, chairman of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), agreed that "this huge pile of money" could finance companies that were willing to roll out new networks, and the policy makers were at fault for not putting it to work. Tenders to connect rural areas could be awarded to the lowest bidder, which would be funded by that cash, he said.
The fund, run by the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (Usaasa), has mounted as the operators pay 0.2% of their annual revenue into it. The Treasury has paid out only part of the cash and blames Usaasa for not coming up with viable proposals.
Vodacom 's former CEO, Alan Knott-Craig, disagreed with giving incentives to companies to cover rural areas. "It will end up with everybody trying to get an incentive for something they should be doing because it's just sound business," he said. "Get rid of incentives and obligations, and get the government out of this business."
Almost the only role the government should play was to force down the interconnection fees that made cross-network calls so pricey, and hand out radio spectrum more efficiently, he said.
Egypt's Mobinil has reported an 11% rise in its first half revenues of EGP 5.2 billion (US$943 million), with with 2Q revenues of EGP 2.73 billion representing 9% growth over 1Q 2009. Net income reached EGP 960 million (US$174 million) representing an increase of 9% over the same period last year, EGP 424 million in 1Q and EGP 536 million in 2Q.
The subscriber base rose by 30% to 22.853 million. Subscribers' additions reached 2.738 million subscribers, 1.064 million in 1Q and 1.674 million in 2Q. Commenting on first half 2009 results, Alex Shalaby, Chairman said: "I am very pleased to celebrate the 11th anniversary of Mobinil where we now achieved around 23 million subscribers, and continued our growth and success in a tight economy through our creative offers and the breakthrough services we are providing to the Egyptian market. I am also delighted to witness this sustained growth year over year given the tough market conditions"
First half blended ARPU reached EGP 40 with a decline of 15% over the same period last year mainly driven by the change of subscriber mix as we continue to penetrate lower market segments. Capital expenditure for the first half reached EGP 994 million vs EGP 1.3 billion in 1H 2008.
Cell One's state-required hunt for black economic empowerment (BEE) partners, which will transfer some of the shareholding of sole owner Telecel Globe back into Namibian hands, starts today.
One hundred per cent of Namibia's second mobile operator currently belongs to the Egyptian telecoms giant, Orascom Telecom Holdings, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Telecel Globe.
When Orascom bought Cell One for some N$600 million from Telecom Management Partner (TMP), NamPower, Old Mutual Namibia and Nam-mic in January, it was on condition that the company invites BEE partners within six months. Namibia's new Communications Bill requires a 51 per cent Namibian shareholding for all operators. Company deals concluded prior to the implementation of the act, are excluded from this requirement, though.
Except for requirements that prospective partners must have a broad-based BEE background and be able to guarantee adding value to Namibia's second mobile operator, nothing about Cell One's prospective BEE deal is cast in stone. The process will, however, be open and transparent, Cell One Chief Commercial Officer Chris Keeping assured at the launch lasst week.
NedCapital, appointed as financial advisors to Telecel Globe, will handle the entire process locally with Cell One playing an "extremely limited" role.
The company specialises in corporate financial advice and project financing and has been involved in some of the major BEE transactions in Namibia, including Old Mutual Namibia and Nedbank Namibia.
Telecel Zimbabwe is not prepared to sell part of its stake to MTN of South Africa, at least for now, as the country's third mobile phone operator embarks on a massive US$40 million network expansion.
It is understood the company's expansion programme would commence "very soon" targeting additional 950 000 new subscribers by year-end. It will be implemented in two phases, with the first expected to be completed by September.
According to Telecel insiders, the loan was sourced with the help of Orascom, the largest shareholder in Telecel with 51 percent equity. A few months ago, there were reports that MTN, Africa's largest mobile operator was eyeing a substantial stake in Telecel.
"As far as we (shareholders) are concerned, no one is selling anything at least for now," said one shareholder. We are actually focusing on network expansion and we are hoping to raise our subscriber base to 1,2 million by end of this year," the shareholder added.
Telecel's current subscriber base stands at 350,000. Apart from 51 percent owned by Orascom, the 49 percent is owned by a consortium of local investors led by exiled James Makamba.
Some technicians from Orascom of Egypt are already in the country working on upgrading modalities. Deliveries of equipment being imported from Belgium-based Siemens and Hauwei of China have started. "The equipment is coming in. We are getting supplies from two vendors and we have already identified areas where new base stations would be installed," said Telecel senior executive.
France Telecom says that it would consider bidding for some of the assets owned by Kuwait based Zain should the company look at breaking up its African division. Zain is currently understood to be looking for a single trade buyer for its ex-Celtel networks across Africa. France's Vivendi was in talks with Zain, but suspended the discussions last week. Reports are circulating that Etisalat is looking at buying all of the Zain Group.
- Moroccan incumbent Maroc Telecom has reported its consolidated group results for the first half of 2009. Revenues were up 1.9% year-on-year to MAD14.6 billion (USD1.84 billion) in the six months ended 30 June, whilst EBITDA rose 1.0% to MAD8.6 billion and net income attributable to the group climbed 2.6% to MAD 4.6 billion. The total customer base reached 19.6 million at mid-year, up by 5.3% from June 2008, with growth fuelled by subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa which saw their combined customer bases increase by 44.1% year-on-year to 3.2 million customers.
- In Zimbabwe, mobile telecoms firm, Econet Wireless is generating up to US$3 million per month in extra revenue after releasing thousands of new Sim Cards, giving a new impetus to its ambitious network expansion programme. In parallel, his CEO Douglas Mboweni said that it will not be launching its 3G service this year but the good news is early next year subscribers can look forward to the service.
Praveen Sadalage is the new Managing Director of BusyInternet. He was formerly Vice President (Operations) for Wicenet, an IPTV and IP based multimedia delivery technology company. Praveen has over 18 years of direct experience in roll-out and operations in telecoms, ISP and office automation products.
Founded in Ghana in 2001 with a unique mission to provide both commercial services as well as social and economic development, BusyInternet is located in a 14,000 square foot former gas-bottling factory in the heart of Accra. The company manages three internet cafes (two in Accra and one in Tema) and hosts BusyLab, an IT developers' subsidiary along with Explainer DC, Bloomberg, Oracle etc. among others Busy is the collaboration of two local investment companies (Fidelity Capital Partners and Databank) and a Welsh entrepreneur, Mark Davies.
With a range of events, training, debates, as well as a growing community of IT entrepreneurs, the BusyInternet story has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and is a key Ghanaian initiative focused on transforming the local economy to meet the opportunities of the digital age.
The Busy team is made up of 120 young and motivated people from across West Africa. BusyInternet is an end to end ISP serving students, residential/ homes and businesses with dedicated internet access. BusyInternet also provides Managed Services and IT set up to enterprises. The company supports clients with Shared, Assured & Dedicated Packages, Co-Location & Data Hosting, off-site back Ups, VOIP Installations and Network Design, Planning & Support, WiFi set up as well as Security systems.
Mark Davies, the founder, mentioned: "We are the exclusive providers for wifi at Accra Mall and the Airport, and have opened a branch in Tema and that we are planning new branches in the metropolitan region." Praveen Sadalage added "To date, BusyInternet has provided internet access to more than 2 million customers who walk in and currently manages around dedicated 500 connections and managed services, including 85% to enterprises. The company won the "Best ISP of the year" Ghana's ICT Award and the ISP of the year award in 2007 and 2008 by the Ministry of Communication, Ghana. BusyInternet is exploring proposals to take this very successful model to other locations and countries in Africa.
- In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame split the Ministry of Science, Technology and ICT. The development follows the approval of the sabbatical leave requested by Minister Prof Romain Murenzi who has been at the helm of the ministry. The attributions for science, technology and research have been transferred to the Ministry of Education while the attributions for Information, Science and Technology (ICT) shall remain with the Ministry in the Office of the President in Charge of ICT. The portfolio of the ICT Ministry remains vacant.
- In a bid to reposition its management and operations to meet the challenges of a vibrant and constantly evolving telecom industry, Visafone, at the week end announced the appointment of a new CEO, Ramachandran Balachandran and a new CFO Ross Clewley.
- Embattled Faritec Holdings has received a boost with the appointment of Fanie van Rensburg as CEO from next month. Van Rensburg joins the JSE-listed IT solutions and services company from Shoden Data Systems, which has taken a majority stake in Faritec for R29 million.
- SAP has made two major appointments for its operations in Africa, with Pfungwa Serima becoming the Managing Director for Africa. It also announced the appointment of Maphum Nxumalo to the position of Executive Director, Business Development and Ashley Boang as Chief Operating Officer.
* 11th EAST AFRICAN POWER INDUSTRY CONVENTION
11-13 August 2009, Kilimanjaro Hotel Kempinski, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Tanzania is proud host of the 11th EAPIC, which is the strategic regional event for all stakeholders in the East African power industry. EAPIC highlights new opportunities, provides attendees with the opportunity to renew and build relationships and bring knowledge and solution to the challenges facing sustainable development in the East African power sector.
* INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERSHIPS FOR AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT – EAST AFRICA
11-13 August 2009, Kilimanjaro Hotel Kempinski, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
The 11th East African Power Industry Convention, as part of iPAD East Africa, aims to address crucial issues within the regional power sector and find solutions to enhance growth, productivity and profitability for business as the need for a stable power supply for industry, business and mining is pivotal to the overall development of the economy of Tanzania and the EAC.
* INTERCONNECTION COURSE
24-27 August 2009, Sandton, South Africa
Good interconnection regime will help businesses boost their competitiveness in an increasingly competitive and globalised telecommunications market. This 5-day course will provide an insight into various interconnection issues including implementation, pricing models, and challenges faced by operators and regulators.
For further information about this course download the brochure here
* 4th ANNUAL CONNECTING RURAL COMMUNITIES AFRICA FORUM
25-27 August 2009, Livingstone, Zambia
The only event in Sub-Saharan Africa to look beyond ICTs and how we can bypass the infrastructure difficulties to achieve connectivity? The only event in Sub-Saharan Africa which can boast 3 full days with 30 Government Ministers and ICT Regulators from over 20 countries for you to learn from and engage with.
* Telecoms World Africa
31 August - 4 September 2009, Cape Town international Convention Centre - Cape Town
Telecoms World Africa is an established forum for the communications sector in Africa. The only one of its kind, this event provides a platform for key stakeholders to discover the opportunities for growth in Africa, and establish themselves as market leaders…
* INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERSHIPS FOR AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT – CONGO DRC
6-8 October 2009, Grand Hotel, Kinshasa, Congo DRC
The Infrastructure Partnerships for African Development (iPAD) DRC 2009 conference and exhibition is a platform for sound investment and collaboration in the reconstruction of the DRC - under one roof between governments, the public sector and business.
iPAD DRC 2009 is a one-stop-shop for investigating investment opportunities in the DRC and the region, opening up a previously inaccessible but lucrative market.
* 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.
Certified Localisation Professional (CLP) Course - South Africa
Translate.org.za, Wits Language School and The Institute of Localisation
Professionals (TILP) are proud to host the Certified Localisation Professional (CLP) Course in South Africa.
This course will provide participants with an introduction to the most important concepts in Software Localisation, as well as providing a skills foundation that will be applicable in the industry. All you need is translation experience in an African language and we’ll teach you the rest. The localisation industry is growing and this is your opportunity to learn from the best and become part of this growth.
Please read the following PDF for more information about the course content, dates and costs:
A limited number of bursaries are available to students in related disciplines. Apply before the 4 August.
African Network for Localisation (ANLoc)
This training course is part of a wider effort by the African Network for Localisation (ANLoc) to increase the localisation skills in Africa.
The ability to run the course and offer scholarships is made possible by the International Development Resource Centre (IDRC).
Zain and Nokia Siemens – Nigeria
Zain has extended its contract with Nokia Siemens Networks to handle implementation of the additional 600 km on its existing fiber network. "Our aim is to create wide capacity for Nigeria's growing number of customers demanding high quality broadband services by deploying self owned fiber," said Zain Nigeria's Chief Operating Officer, Khaled Khorshid. "Following the initial project with Nokia Siemens Networks that was completed four months ahead of schedule, we knew they had the high standards and commitment to meet our delivery expectations. The benefit of a quick deployment is the significant revenue stream the new capacity generates for us, in addition to high savings as a result of reduced fiber leasing costs." Khorshid said.
Econet Wireless and Ericsson - Zimbabwe
Ericsson has signed a three-year deal with Econet Wireless Zimbabwe enabling the mobile operator to expand its network with the initial aim of reaching five million subscribers by the end of next year. Econet said that it was currently selling around 30,000 new mobile lines per week, and added that by 2011 its network would cover the country in its entirety.
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