Issue no 479 6th November 2009

top story

  • After the successful Altech legal challenge, there are now 400 companies that can self-provision their own networks, interconnect with others and buy their own voice numbering blocks. With the arrival of Seacom, there has been what one old industry hand described to us as a “price implosion”. More has happened in the market in the last six months than has happened over the last six years. Russell Southwood looks at two companies that will make a competitive market in fibre happen and wonders whether for the first time in a long time South Africa has something to show the rest of Africa.

    Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) does “what it says on the tin”: it provides dark fibre, something that to our knowledge has only happened with the power utility in Uganda elsewhere on the continent. It was set up by two fibre-laying veterans, Malcolm Kirby and Eugene Slabbert. They teamed up with Richard Came, the CEO of Community Investment Holdings to create the company.

    As Kirby tells it, the idea for the company came out of conversation with one of South Africa’s big mobile operators:”Eugene and myself were talking to MTN about mechanical trunking. The person we were talking to said:’You’ll never sell me trunking but if you come back with fibre, I’ll buy it’.”

    So out of that seed of an idea DFA was set up to provide competition neutral ducting infrastructure to all players with a licence. The company itself has a network licence but that was only needed for getting way leaves for trenching:”It’s about having one infrastructure for everyone to use on an equal basis.”

    DFA set itself the target of 1,100 kilometres of trench in two years and passed that point within 18 months. It will double that amount in the next two years and it currently reaches most of Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. Once all the connections to the big cities have been completed, it will add smaller places like Pietersburg and Nelspruit. Other than trenching, it has put in POPs to help customers interconnect with each other.

    The network has an extended life cycle of 20-25 years:”We hope to ramp up capacity very rapidly. South Africa is on a gig Ethernet while the rest of the world is getting 40-100 gig. Fibre is the foundation for providing new, additional services.” Four ducts go into the ground with 72 or 96 fibre pairs in each micro duct. The build cost is between R650-800 per metre, depending on the quality of the roads and for long haul it completes 4-7 metres of trench a day.

    It does everything except for lighting the fibre and has made a firm commitment never to compete with its clients as a service provider. It offers all customers a clear and enforceable Service Level Agreement. Security of its manhole covers is guaranteed by a GPS driven transmitted number key.

    Most customers have taken a fibre tube with six pairs but Vodacom has taken 72 pairs:”The small guys usually take a pair on point to point routes. We need around three customers to extend the network and it’s simple to know where these customers will come from. Depending on how you calculate it, there’s something like 12-16 TBs of international fibre landing in South Africa and there’s no infrastructure to distribute it.” Almost all of the major players are its customers.

    Pricing is based on distance:”The radial distance between two sites multiplied by a routing factor of 1.4 to give the actual billable distance. DFA charges R5.00 per metre per month, on a 5 year contract. Longer contract terms are cheaper. The price includes a 4 hour repair SLA”. For mobile operators, it will quote a flat rate cost based on connecting individual BTSs.

    “When we started, there was a universe of the five customers, then (with the Altech decision) it exploded. But not all of them will make it but maybe ten will emerge as challengers. But it’s changed the psychology of the market.”

    Africa.Inx was founded by Mike Brierley and Edward du Plessis. Brierley ran MTN Network Solutions for eight years so is the ultimate gamekeeper turned poacher. Du Plessis is the founder and majority shareholder in Ensync. He was a customer of the “big guys” but found that he was restricted in what he was able to do and wanted more control over the services he offered and his bandwidth costs. The rallying cry is to break the hold the larger operators (at Tier One Level) have over the smaller ISPs.

    It also will only sell on a wholesale basis to other ISPs and licensed telco operators (those with network and service licences in the South African context). As Brierley told us:”There are no special deals and discounts and everyone is treated equally, including Ensync.” It offers scalable bandwidth so that you don’t need to buy a whole STM1 but can purchase whatever amount you need and it will have only year long contracts to allow customers flexibility to vary their bandwidth requirements.

    When it launches in March 2010, it will offer a range of market-facilitating services that will help lower barriers to market entry for the smaller operators. These include: international internet/IP transit (at the same price anywhere on the Metro Ethernet fibre network in the country); local Internet/IP transit; Internet peering (which has long been a closed shop amongst the big players) with an MPLS backbone; voice switching; and a wholesale IP Connect for players wanting to offer ADSL through incumbent Telkom’s network but not wanting to use their service (the cost of entry for small operators is high).

    The ability to provide cheaper services is based on the company’s skill in negotiating cheaper prices across all of these services by aggregating small-scale customer demand. So for example with international fibre bandwidth, the official price from Seacom for an STM1 is US$3.8 million but because there are a number of people who bought speculatively, it can now be got for US$2.5 million. Furthermore what were once outrageously expensive SAT3 prices from incumbent Telkom are now extremely competitive with the new fibre.

    What is happening here is the creation of a new market ecology where there will be greater flexibility for all market players, both big and small. The “big five gorillas” will continue to seek to impose controls over who can do what but the alternatives are generally much more attractive: insurgent challengers and corporate customers will not want the terms of their business completely dictated by others.

    This new ecology includes dark fibre and lower fibre costs (internationally, nationally and locally), easier and more flexible interconnection, the ability to extend the range of hosting services, and vendor neutral data centres (like Teraco covered in issue 464). Each of these market facilitating services provides higher levels of competition in the infrastructure layer that should help focus providers - big and small - on the momentous task of creating a new services and applications market.

telecoms

  • Competition in the telecoms industry is getting vicious as a number of players make accusations of sabotage. Last Monday, millions of Safaricom mobile phone subscribers were unable to use the firm's services owing to a disruption of its network which it attributed to "acts of sabotage" on one of the cables it relies on to carry voice and data traffic.

    As a result, there was an unusually high rate of dropped calls with most not terminating as required. The outage also affected the firm's data services including Internet access.

    The disruption was caused by five cuts on the Kenya Data Networks (KDN) cable in Nairobi on which Safaricom depends to carry voice and data traffic. The five consecutive cuts started at 11 am, with the last one at 3.20 pm on the same day.

    A statement from KDN's chief marketing officer Vincent Wang'ombe said three cuts were caused by other telecommunication operators who are laying their own fibre cables while two were caused by two separate vandals. The fibre cuts occurred along Thika Road, Mombasa Road, Outer ring Road and on Waiyaki Way.

    Wang'ombe said the Safaricom network runs in a redundant ring and thus is not easy to cut. However, he added that the five cuts which targeted different redundancies were not all deliberate following initial investigation by his firm's engineers.

    On Tuesday, Telkom Kenya, another mobile phone service provider said that after staging an operation in the city's Wanyee area in collaboration with security firm Pinkertons, it managed to nail three suspects struggling to unearth a copper transmission line. Telkom Kenya head of corporate communications Angela Mumo said her company had also petitioned the government to institute stiffer penalties on convicted vandals.

    As a deterrent measure against transmission system theft, the firm says it has moved to beef up its undercover surveillance in a bid to rein in vandals who have been occasioning the firm an average Sh30 million loss monthly.

    Daily Nation

  • MTN last week reported a modest 5% increase in subscriber numbers to 108,467-million boosted by growth in most of its key markets. But its customer base in South Africa, where the national mobile penetration rate now exceeds 100%, took a dip mainly due to a new regulation requiring pre paid users to register personal details.

    It is believed the regulation, which came into effect in August, has proved too onerous for users, hence the reluctance by even existing users to comply. MTN admitted as much, and said in its update that customers in SA fell to 16,419- million down from 17,231-million as of June primarily as a result of the implementation of the new regulation.

    MTN trails Vodacom in South Africa but dwarfs by far its rival on the African continent where it is the largest operator. Frost & Sullivan analyst Spiwe Chireka last week said the fall in numbers for South Africa was "a minor glitch not to be concerned about". She predicted other operators -- Vodacom, Cell-C and to an extent Virgin Mobile -- could also potentially report reduced numbers as a result of the new law. MTN is the first to report since the user-registration regulations were introduced.

    "When prepaid subscriber registration was introduced in Senegal in 2007, Sonatel -- the market leader there -- lost 6% in subscriber growth numbers and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the practice has been suspended following the negative effect it had on operators' net additions capabilities, among other things," she said.

    In its update, MTN said that the total contribution by regions in Africa and the Middle East remained relatively unchanged. The south and e ast Africa region (which includes SA) provided 23% of the growth, down from 25% in June, while the w est and c entral Africa region and the Middle East and n orth Africa regions contributed 46% (46% as of June) and 31% (30% as of June), respectively. Total subscribers grew to 108,466,000 compared with 103,187,000 as of June, an increase of 5% or an annualised rise of 19,6%.

    Business Day

  • Somalia’s mobile phone business is booming despite the almost daily artillery fire that flies over expensive satellite dishes and the violence that has brought misery to the population of the Horn of Africa nation.

    The three largest firms, Hormuud Telecom, Nation Link and Telecom Somalia, have a combined 1.8 million mobile users who enjoy some of the world’s cheapest calling rates, allowing them to stay in touch with their loved ones amidst the conflict.

    “This business is very important during this time of conflict when everybody wants to know what is happening at every moment. It is a way of survival in every conflict zone,” Ali Ahmed Nur, managing director of Nation Link, told Reuters. “Running a business in Somalia is very risky. Sometimes our employees cannot get to work because of insecurity,” he said.

    Besides being crucial for keeping in touch with family, insurgents say they receive orders for attacks by text message and African Union peacekeeping soldiers are bombarded with threatening calls from rebels and government depends on mobiles.

    One telecoms firm is also expanding its network to coastal ports used by pirates, who make thousands of dollars from ransom payments from ship-owners but have to rely on expensive satellite phones at the moment.

    Despite the tough environment, the sector has attracted investment from wealthy individuals and Somalis living abroad. With mobile phone use at about 18 per cent of the population, Somalia lags its neighbour and east Africa’s largest economy Kenya, where it is above 40 percent, but it is ahead of several other poor African nations.

    The money invested is small by international standards — less than $10,000 can be enough to buy a share certificate in one of the firms. But it is a relatively large sum in a country where nearly half of the population is dependent on food aid. “We make profits but we keep investing to survive. Shareholders reinvest, they want continuous dividends,” Nur said, declining to give financial details.

    Ahmed Mohamed Yusuf, chairman and CEO of Hormuud Telecom, the biggest network with more than a million subscribers, told Reuters it would move to 3G networks in the near future and that the firms were planning to unify international dialling codes.

    Some smaller operators, such as Telenet International and Somafone were kept out of an interconnectivity deal between the three big firms signed in 2005. Abdullahi Hussein, executive manager of Telecom Somalia, said the deal presented benefits for companies and subscribers, but he admitted they had marginalised the smaller players.

    “In a way it seems we had agreed to have control of the market but our intention was to ease the burden on our poor customers,” he said, adding they could now afford cross-network calls. The deal forced firms such as Somafone to change tack to survive.

    It now offers the lowest international calling rates of 0.30 US cents per minute compared to 0.50 US cents for the three big firms — making it a popular choice for many Somalis who depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

    Somali telecom operators use the US dollar and other regional currencies in their operations to avoid problems associated with an extremely weak Somali shilling. “We prefer dollar and other regional currencies since the country has no central bank that circulates the shilling,” Ahmed Galool, public relations director of Salaam Somali bank, which partners with Hormuud Telecom, told Reuters.

    The telecoms sector employs more than 6,000 Somalis and a few foreign engineers, mainly from Asian countries.

    Reuters

  • The CEO of Meditel has revealed that the Moroccan mobile and fixed line operator plans to invest a total of MAD4.2 billion (USD315 million) in its networks in the 2008-2011 period, with 75% of the investment coming directly from the firm’s domestic backers.

    Mohamed Elmandjara said in an interview that in the years prior to the USD1.14 billion sale of Portugal Telecom’s and Telefonica’s stakes to private group FinanceCom and state fund CDG in August 2009, there was a ‘transfer of technology’ into Meditel. ‘As a result, the company's development is being carried out by its own employees and managers who accumulated expertise and skills,’ the CEO said. He did not rule out the possibility of a partnership with a foreign operator (a stock exchange listing has also been mooted), but insisted Meditel can grow on its own.

    Morocco’s second largest mobile operator, which also has a small but lucrative fixed telecoms business, has identified the expansion of its corporate internet and telephony services as a high priority. ‘We have high growth in the corporate business segment and we are intent in putting more effort in it,’ stated Elmandjara.

    Telegeography

  • - The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has contacted Vodafone over its controversial deal to buy the majority stake in the former Ghana Telecom, Ghana’s national telecom company. The Financial Times reports that Richard Alderman, director of the SFO has spoken by telephone to Stephen Scott, head of Vodafone’s legal affairs last week. According to the report the SFO has not launched an investigation into the deal, but is monitoring allegations of irregularities that have been made in Ghana.

    - Indian state-run telecoms operator Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) has launched a USD20 million global tender as it seeks to improve the network infrastructure of its Mauritian mobile unit MTML (Mahanagar Telephone Mauritius Ltd). The tender includes the installation and commissioning of 200,000 mobile lines, broken down into two phases: the first one for 100,000 2G lines and the second comprising 50,000 2G lines and 50,000 3G lines.

    - Working with the Millennium Villages Project, collaboration between The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Millennium Promise and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ericsson and Zain have deployed mobile communications services in the Amansie-West district of the Ashanti region of Ghana. The Bonsaaso cluster of Millennium Villages consists of 6 distinct villages namely; Bonsaaso, Watreso, Datano, Keniago, Takorase and Asamang, with an estimated population of 5,000 residents per village. These villages are in a largely rural area of the country and are some of the poorest regions of Ghana.

    - Libya signed nine contracts with international equipment manufacturers in communication for the completion of the second phase of the cables of the next generation system and the procurement of the electronic equipment for optic fibre cables network of 13,000 km.

    - Togo might permanently suspend the contract with mobile phone operator giant Moov unless a deal is concluded in negotiations. The director-general of Togo's posts and telecommunication regulation authority ARPT, Massina Palouki, told national television that there might be permanent suspension in the coming days of the Moov contract from the country.

internet

  • Uganda Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Information Communication Technology (ICT) have directed the Auditor General to carry out a forensic audit on the national backbone and electronic government infrastructures (NBI/EGI).

    Members of the Committee have since 2008 complained of irregularities in the procurement of the contractor and inflated costs in the construction of the cable indicating they were not satisfied with the way the $30 million was spent, according to the Ministry of Information Communication Technology information scientist, Kiirya Godfrey. "That is why they have asked the Auditor General to carry out a forensic audit of the NBI and EGI," he told The East African Business Week in Kampala last week.

    He said the first phase of laying the country's optic fibre cable was completed and it covers the major towns of Jinja in eastern Uganda, Entebbe south of Kampala and Bombo which is to the north of Kampala. "This exercise is ongoing and the Auditor General will give his report appropriately," he said.

    An industry source revealed to the East African Business Week that both the NBI and EGI were also damaged mainly by the road contractors and building companies who cut and dug up the cables on certain road sections. "Repair of the damages on phase 1 of the two projects are ongoing and are nearing completion, we scheduled to carry out tests by October 30, 2009," said a statement issued by the Ministry of ICT.

    The statement said that the implementation of the $60 million second phase which was scheduled for implementation this financial year has been halted till phase one becomes operational. The second phase was expected to involve laying 1,543 kilometers of optic fibre cable that will link the major towns of Jinja, Bugiri, Busia, Tororo and Mbale in eastern Uganda.

    "We have not authorized commencement of phase two, we are only undertaking repairs on Kampala-Jinja route and any fresh digging is not by the ministry," said the statement signed by Uganda's Minister of Information Communication Technology Aggrey Awori. However he said that it was misleading to compare the costs of laying the cable between Uganda and Rwanda. "The terrain and specifications are not similar because of the different terrain and distances spanned by cable," he said.

    East African Business Week

  • Internet speeds in Rwanda are set to improve dramatically, with the laying of a 1,500 km cable by Green Future, a last-mile connectivity company. The Kenyan-based firm will spend about Sh900 million in the cross-border project that will connect Rwanda's capital Kigali to Uganda's capital Kampala, with a high capacity fibre optic link.

    Currently, Rwanda is linked to Kampala through a net of microwave stations that have a limited capacity in the era of fast internet connectivity. The terrestrial fibre optic link will up the stakes in the East African telecoms scene, as the region gears up for landing of several international undersea cables.

    "Our ambition for the region is to be able to connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the rest of the undersea cable network via a terrestrial cable from Mombasa through to Nairobi, Kampala, Bujumbura, Kigali and back to Dar-es-Salaam", said Green Future's managing director, Fred Sewe.

    The project launched in Kampala, he added, was due for completion in January 2010, saying: "We are happy that we are having an impact on the Uganda and Rwanda economies, through formal and informal employment. Currently, over 5,000 Ugandans are working on the project in various capacities and we are proud to have contributed to this."

    Last July, Green Future announced the completion of the 1,500 kilometre-long fibre optic backbone connecting Mombasa and Kampala.

    Daily Nation

  • Tanzania Network Information Centre (Tznic) has launched its first umbrella domain registration facility in a bid to promote domestic Internet identification.

    This stems on the fact that many institutions and individuals in the country depend on generic domain names. For example as of September this year, 5,200.tz domains were registered as compared to Kenya which has a total 12,000 local registered domains.

    By using domain with names ending with .tz, a unique identity on the internet associated with Tanzania, was similar to using a country postal or telephone code which in the long run reduces cost of international internet connectivity charges.

    This was said by Abibu Ntahigiye, the Tznic manager during breakfast meeting held in Dar es Salaam last week. "Most are under the impression that international fibre cables will reduce cost of internet connectivity. While this is true in the long run, cost of Internet also hinges on increase in the number of local domains.

    Use of local domains will play a part in reducing connectivity prices on the virtue of reduced traffic to overseas countries from Tanzania," he said. Elaborating, Mr Ntahigiye said registering domain names locally would reduce traffic from internet users every time they access information from Tanzanian-based domain that was registered internationally.

    Since its introduction in 2006, the company has been streamlining .tz domain registration and targets full control of country code top level domain by end of this year, thus becoming overall registrar of all domains.

    And in an effort to meet this goal, the centre will be providing registry services to the country at a fee ranging from Sh5,000 to Sh25,000, said Simon Balthazar, a technical officer with Tznic. In the past, domain registration was been left to independent registrars and a university registrar.

    The Citizen

  • - The Grid, the mobile social network from South Africa is making an attempt to enter the Nigerian web market. The Grid in Nigeria has a few features missing from it, like the location based information, however The Grid made up for this lapse by rolling out a few more features for fans of the service. The changes include stuff like twitter integration, change to their mibli interface.

    - WIOCC, the single largest shareholder in the EASSy submarine system and Africa’s new telecommunications carriers’ carrier continues to make progress towards delivering low-cost, high-capacity IP bandwidth and International. WIOCC has confirmed that much of the construction work on the 1.4Tbps EASSy system is now complete and laying of the submarine system will commence within the coming months. The system, which will connect nine countries on Africa’s eastern seaboard into the global network, remains on track for launch on 30th June 2010.

    - The South African Police are investigating the second act of cyber violence against the Cape Party this year. The Cape Party, who are calling for the independence of the Cape, also came under attack earlier this year during National elections when a similar incident was perpetrated against them.

    - South Africa’s ISP iBurst has introduced a triple-play proof of concept (POC) at the gated community of Monaghan Farm which is situated just north of Lanseria Airport. The triple play concept delivers video, voice, and data services to houses on the estate via an iBurst data centre, situated at the Monaghan Farm admin block. Should the POC be successful, the service will be rolled out to all 279 houses on the estate.

computing

  • HP announced its decision to establish new sales and support subsidiaries in Angola and Libya by 2010. This latest expansion will increase HP’s footprint across the continent to nine full subsidiaries (Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia) and partner representation in over 50 countries.

    These two new subsidiaries will allow HP to better serve its existing customers and achieve the customer proximity necessary to extend its reach to all economic segments as well as Local and Central Government organisations.

    “The African continent plays a major role in HP’s growth strategy. This announcement, and our plans for future geographic expansion, illustrates our commitment to current and future customers across Africa. With these investments, I fully expect to see rapid growth in our customer base, revenue and employee numbers across the continent.” said Rainer Koch, Managing Director of HP’s Africa region. “HP is excited about the prospects for IT market in African countries and the role IT can play in wider economic development.”

    Koch continued “HP is already Africa’s leading IT company. We are the number one vendor in Industry Standard Servers, management software, PCs and printers, and are a leading vendor in the networking, storage and the services market. I believe these new subsidiaries will help us serve our customers better and extend our leadership.”

    IT News Africa

  • About 474 schools, spread across the six geopolitical zones of the country have so far benefitted from complete set of Internet tools and other communications facilities provided by the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF, the Nigerian Communications Commission has said.

    The Minister of State for Information and Communications, Alhaji Aliyu Ikra Bilbis, who commissioned some of the projects in the North Western States of Kaduna and Katsina at the weekend, said Federal Government is committed to providing information communication technology facilities through the installation of network services in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.

    A statement from the NCC said the facilities commissioned by the Minister in Kaduna and Katsina States include CCC site at No. 9 Queen Elizabeth Road, Zaria, Gov. Commercial College, Sabongari, Government Junior Secondary School, Katsina, CCC Site at Sarki Muktar Road (opposite State Library) Katsina, and Government Girls Senior College (WTC).

    Alhaji Bilbis, who was joined at the commissioning events by the Senate Committee chairman on Communications, Senator Sylvester Anyanwu, spoke at the Government Commercial College, Sabongari, Zaria in Kaduna State where he said the Federal Government has approved the establishment of Community Communications Centers, CCC, School Access Programme, and subsidized Base Station Transceivers, as part of the efforts to achieve national and grassroots connectivity.

    Senator, Sylvester Anyanwu while addressing participants at the event said that the 21st century belongs to technology and that any country which fails to invest in technology education is heading for doom. "The 21st Century is technology driven and any student whether in nursery secondary or tertiary institution without access to computers and Internet, or do not have the skills to use these facilities would consider him or herself illiterate in the next five years", he said.

    He told the students that time is fast coming when all these exams including WAEC, NECO, JAMB will all be conducted online and that they need to master all these technologies to pass these exams", he said.

    Earlier in his remark, Secretary of USPF, Mr. Funsho Fayomi, said the Fund has has ten of such facilities for schools in each of the states of the federation comprising of one beneficiary school in each of the senatorial zones and one from the State capital.

    Daily Trust

  • One of the world's poorest countries is following offer African nations in looking to IT offshore services and crowd-sourcing. The effects of a twelve year civil war may still be very much in evidence in the African Republic of Burundi but aid-workers and educators believe the Internet could offer a brighter future for the country.

    Neighbouring Rwanda has invested heavily in broadband and IT infrastructure in the years since the country was rocked by genocide in the mid-90s and Burundi appears to be following a similar strategy. UK charity World Emergency Relief issued a statement this week explaining its decision to fund a computer lab in a school in Burundi's capital city Bujumbara.

    The charity said over 500 pupils from some of the poorest areas of city attend the Himbaza School - and the new IT suite goes some way to offering them a future. The charity believes that by giving more African children access to computers and the internet, the continent could potentially challenge India and Asia in the market for outsourced IT services and virtual admin tasks also known as crowd sourcing.

    "At the moment this is principally benefiting areas which already have a reputation for competitive software development such as India and South East Asia but there is absolutely no reason why Africa should not become an extremely competitive option," the charity states.

    Other African nations such as Kenya have also hit on the potential of IT outsourcing. In August the NHS and UK Department For International Development together with Kenya's ICT board and tech vendor Cisco, launched a scheme in Kenya designed to create thousands of internet-based learning centres across the country.

    WER Chief Executive Alex Haxton said that it was obviously unrealistic to expect nations such as Burundi to develop an IT industry overnight but any project that offered a way for the country to generate revenue now or in the future was worth considering.

    “In a country like Burundi we are not talking at this stage about an unrealistic objective of developing a large or even medium-sized tech industry,” he said. “Instead projects like this IT suite are about giving individual children the edge to allow them to set up micro-businesses in the future that will bring much needed income to the country. In a country where the average wage is less than $2 a day, the incomes available online through open bids and competitions has the potential to transform lives."

    As well as benefiting the children in the school, the suite will be opened to the general public and for a small fee locals will be able to access the internet and take part in adult education classes, WER said.

    eWeek Europe

  • - The total personal computer shipments for the Europe, Middle East and Africa in the third quarter this year dropped by 9.3 per cent, hit by the global financial crisis, said a top executive of Acer Computer, the world's second largest PC maker. Krishna Murthy, Managing Director, Acer Computer for Middle East and Africa, said the PC shipments for Emea in third quarter totalled 25.2 million compared to 27.8 million units sold in the same quarter last year. The industry recorded 8.5 million sales in desktop computer and 16.7 million notebooks - which include 3.9 million netbooks. He said the decline in sales had resulted in nearly 20 to 30 per cent drop in revenues for PC makers in the Middle East and Africa region.

    - During a press conference, Microsoft announced the launch of its new operating systems for laptops and PCs in Tunisia:"Windows 7", "Windows Server 2008 R2" and "Exchange Server 2010".

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Safaricom's half year pre-tax profit for the period ending September 30, 2009 rose 1.7 per cent against a competitive environment and dwindling average revenue per user (ARPU). The company's pre-tax profit grew from Sh8.9 billion recorded over a similar period in 2008 to reach Sh9.1 billion.

    The company's board chairman Nicholas Ng'ang'a termed the earnings satisfactory of a the firm that controls 83 per cent of the market in terms of revenues. Safaricom grew its income by 17.8 per cent from Sh34.5 billion the same period last year to Sh40.6 billion in which voice calls contributed 77.6 per cent, the firm's chief executive Michael Joseph told an investor briefing in Nairobi on Wednesday.

    Revenue from voice increased by 6.2 per cent from Sh29.7 billion to Sh31.5 billion. During the same period last year, revenue from voice contributed 86.1 per cent. The average revenue per user was down 7.3 per cent from Sh503 to Sh466.5, which means that Kenyans are making less voice calls.

    Data and SMS income increased by 93.6 per cent from Sh3.7 billion in the previous period to Sh7.2 billion. Data is one of the fastest growing Safaricom products. In the current period, revenue from this segment rose by 159.8 per cent from Sh0.5 billion last year to Sh1.3 billion.

    Joseph said that in next financial year, the firm will form a subsidiary to grow data products, which it banks on to contribute to its bottom line by about 25 per cent in the next three to five years. M-Pesa which as at September had netted about eight million subscribers, saw its revenues grow by 247.5 per cent from Sh0.9 billion in the previous year to Sh3.2 billion. The firm's operating expenses rose from Sh15.3 billion last year to Sh18.8 billion.

    Safaricom, which has been on an aggressive expansion drive, said the higher expenses were from commissions related to its money transfer service, interconnection costs and the increased cost of attracting new customers. Joseph said the 3G network has been extended to cover more towns in Nairobi, Central Kenya, Rift Valley, Western Province and Nyanza in a move aimed at growing its data market.

    "One Communications Ltd - our existing WiMax firm, continues to provide fixed data services to corporate and medium sized institutions and individuals thereby complementing our 3G mobile internet," said Joseph.

    The firm has also entered into a purchase agreement for a 100 per cent stake in Packet Stream Data Network Ltd, a WiMax provider during this financial year in which the contract precedents are being finalised. Once done, Joseph says, it will allow them to roll-out a national fixed data service.

    Daily Nation

  • Several rural communication projects that have so far used up more than Ush20 billion ($10 million) could fail with some districts complaining of huge maintenance costs. At a recent district leaders ICT meeting in Kampala called to assess the first phase of the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF), it emerged that only 923 projects out of 3,863 that have been completed are still in operation countrywide.

    Overall, however, the ambitious project that was meant to bring communication services to rural communities where telecommunication operators did not find it viable to invest, was supposed to roll out 4,786 projects during the first phase, which is ending soon.

    Some achievements of the project include 71 Internet points of presence, 98 Internet cafes, 68 ICT training centres, 78 district web portals, 3,349 public pay phones, four research programmes and 43 ICT health projects. The district web portals are meant to provide a communication link between local and central government.

    However, districts are grappling with maintenance challenges and a number of portals are turning into white elephants, district leaders said. "The costs of hiring and redesigning the web portals are very high," said Kaberamaido district officer Stella Aringo.

    For instance, it costs Ush600,000 ($300) per annum to hire a company to host the web portal, while designing fees range from a minimum of Ush1 million ($501) to Ush3 million ($1,503) annually. The domain name, on the other hand, comes at an annual cost of Ush70,000 ($35). However, the 78 districts receive fixed budgeted amounts, and portals -- which often require redesigning -- are never included in the allocations.

    But RCDF director Bob Lyazi insists that the job of the Uganda Communications Commission is to set up the web portals and the districts to meet maintenance costs, a situation that district leaders say is not sustainable.

    In the six years to 2008, the RCDF had accumulated close to $10 million, of which $6 million came from the one per cent levy on revenues of telecoms operators. The leaders cite other costs too, like electricity.

    "Power is a big challenge," Arua district chairman Richard Ferua Andama said. RCDF was started in 2003 to provide access to basic communications services within a reasonable distance to Ugandans as well as to leverage investment in rural communications development, thereby promote ICT use.

    Since 2003, the World Bank and UCC have spent over $10 million in RCDF projects to bring communication facilities to rural areas that telecommunication companies deem unviable for investment.

    UCC generates money through its one per cent levy on annual revenues of telecoms companies operating in Uganda as per licensing obligations.

    Over the years, MTN, Uganda Telecom and Zain have contributed to nearly half of this investment in rural communications development, but district leaders are pushing for more.

    With three other operators -- Warid, Orange and I-Telecom -- in the market now, it is expected that RCDF money will increase significantly.

    The East African

  • Egypt’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, Egyptian Company for Mobile Services (MobiNil), has revealed an 8% year-on-year decline in net profit for the three months ended 30 September 2009. The cellco posted a net profit of EGP497 million (USD90.8 million) for the three-month period, although it revealed that revenue had grown 5% y-o-y to EGP2.79 billion. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) remained almost unchanged at EGP1.27 billion.

    Commenting on the results, Alex Shalaby, MobiNil’s chairman, said: ‘The Egyptian market witnessed very aggressive competitive price moves during the third quarter, but MobiNil still maintained its leadership position through providing a unique and diversified portfolio of products to serve its customers in the Egyptian market. I am also delighted to see MobiNil achieving healthy growth despite the global economic turmoil and the aggressive competitive environment that has been obvious throughout the whole summer.’

    The cellco also reported that at the end of its third fiscal quarter its wireless subscriber base had risen to 24.6 million, up 30% against the same date a year earlier. Despite the increase in customer numbers, MobiNil did report that blended average revenue per user (ARPU) had fallen 19% y-o-y to EGP38, a decline that the company said was predominantly driven by the change in subscriber mix as it looked to increase penetration in the lower income sector.

    Telegeography

  • Star Satellite Communications Company PrJsc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) has signed its first service partner agreement for “YahClick,” Yahsat’s revolutionary satellite broadband service.

    The agreement was signed with Intersat Africa Limited, an established provider of satellite-based internet services. As part of the service agreement, Intersat will roll out YahClick in Africa.

    Intersat’s initiatives in Africa include a number of programs in the area of education, including its involvement in an e-school project that aims to provide communications, technology skills and knowledge to primary and secondary school students in Africa.

    YahClick will offer broadband via satellite, to deliver reliable high-speed internet connectivity for home users and businesses in areas with limited or no internet access, at costs comparable to terrestrial services. This will be provided by Y1B, Yahsat’s second satellite which will be launched in the second half of 2011. Prior to the launch, Yahsat will partner with additional service providers in 2010, to ensure timely planning and preparation.

    “YahClick will fast track the deployment of affordable broadband services and play a key role in connecting communities and creating informed societies. Our partnership with Intersat will ensure that the service is instantly available to consumers when we launch Y1B,” said Jassem Al Zaabi, CEO of Yahsat. “Intersat have the vision, capabilities and experience to successfully rollout the YahClick service.”

    "Our partnership with Yahsat presents us with a perfect opportunity to enhance our range of satellite broadband services over Africa. The YahClick Ka-Band consumer & enterprise broadband service compliments Intersat's vision of empowering rural Africa with affordable and sustainable access to information and communication technology,” said Abdul Bakhrani, CEO, Intersat Africa Limited.

    Y1B will be the first satellite in the region to offer internet connectivity through the latest technology, the Ka-band multi-spot beams, with reusable frequencies to maximize spectrum efficiency. The multi spot-beam technology means greater efficiency on the ground, which enables use of a smaller antenna size with a low power amplifier.

    Due to the highly flexible system design, Yahsat’s partners who provide the YahClick service will bundle hardware and software services; offering packages tailor-made for specific markets and user segments, from basic internet access for a home user to high speed service plans for the corporate user.

  • - Safaricom, has closed its Sh5 billion bond offer to the Kenyan market with a 50 per cent over-subscription. The company received applications for over Sh7.5 billion against the Sh5 billion that had been put on offer. This amount represents the first tranche of a Sh12 billion bond programme the firm has put together.

    - Fitch Ratings has assigned Telecom Namibia an International Long-term local currency Issuer Default Rating of 'BBB-' and a National Long-term rating of 'A(zaf)', both with stable outlooks.

    - MyBroadband recently received information that South Africa’s SNO Neotel is in ‘serious financial trouble’, caused partly by unsustainable pricing models. Neotel is however denying any financial problems, saying that the company is in good financial health. Neotel said that their current pricing models are sustainable, but declined to answer any questions as to whether their NeoConnect and NeoFlex product ranges are profitable.

Digital Content

  • Over a million people have registered with Vodacom's M-Pesa mobile phone-based money transfer service in the past 18 months, senior Vodacom officials said last week. Addressing journalists in Dar es Salaam, the officials said registered customers make an average of 30,000 transactions worth Sh700 million each day.

    "This translates into transactions worth Sh17 billion in a month .we have managed to reach out to Tanzanians who do not own bank accounts," marketing managing executive Ephraim Mafuru said.

    Only about 11 per cent of Tanzania's population have bank accounts, of which 16 per cent are in urban areas and four per cent in rural areas, according to a 2006 survey conducted jointly by FinMark Trust, Steadman Group and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Vodacom's head of M-Pesa sales, Franklin Bagalla, said the service had made a significant impact on people's lives since it was launched in April, last year.

    "It is estimated that 11 million Tanzanians solely rely on receiving money from family and friends and that most of these people live in the rural areas these are the people who significantly benefit from M-Pesa," he said. The company plans to make the service international. Kenya's Safaricom, which pioneered in the service and had over five million customers by early this year, has already done so.

    "By June next year, we will be in position to say what has been done in the regard to have the service go international," Bagalla said, noting that this would be done after thorough consultations with the relevant regulatory agencies.

    The Citizen

  • Facebook users are trying to unravel if former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the one that set up his profile or he has fallen victim of identity theft on the popular social networking site.

    Technology Times checks reveals at the weekend that two Facebook profiles of the former President created on Facebook have continued to attract more than passing interest with their increasing popularity among mainly Nigerian users wanting to befriend the former Nigerian leader on the Internet.

    Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg announced in April, this year said that the popular networking site crossed the 200 million user underscoring its growing among Internet users to connect their friends and know what is happening around them.

    Alexa statistics also reveal that Facebook is today the number two most visted Web site by Nigerians on the Internet, after search engine, Yahoo! Of the two profiles of Obasanjo on Facebook, the more popular has accepted 3,244 friends as at last week when Technology Times conducted its check which also revealed a bevy of activities on the wall of the profile.

    The less popular of the two had only five friends for the profile which seeks to come across as the ex-President’s profile as it listed March 5, 1937 as his birth details and Ota, where his popular Obasanjo’s Farm is located as the ‘High School.’

    On the other hand, the busier profile feature various photographs of the former President and also listed his birthday as March 5, 1937, a similarity it shares with the second profile.

    Among the growing circle of ‘Obasanjo’s friends, his profile wall attracts a mixed grill of positive and negative posts making reference to his tenure in office while it also attracts good-natured greeting among people stopping by to drop a few words on his wall.

    But a friend, Kola Cole Afolabi, dropped more than the ex-President would have expected when he referred to former Chairman of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Bode George, who was recently convicted on corruption charges, as Obasanjo’s “friend.”

    Afolabi, in his strongly-worded post condemning Obasanjo over the manner he managed the affairs of Nigeria while in office is one of many Facebook users who are taking advantage of the open Internet to voice their views on the country’s affairs on the public Internet.

    However, in a wall post on October 25, another Facebook user, Rashidat Titilola Kadiri Omogbai, was to reiterate the concern of others that have been watching the non-responsive on the profile when she raised the poser: “baba why u no dey reply our comment sir. (sic)” Rashidat is not alone in her curiosity as another Facebook user, Rufus Brughs, also posed the question on the wall: Are you really, Obasanjo?

    They have voiced the concern of others who have doubts about the profile and its connection with ex-President Obasanjo sparking speculations that the he may have fallen victim of identity theft, a growing trend now seen to target prominent people on most social networking sites.

    Technology security experts have been warning lately of the growing trend whereby other people create imposter profiles on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, assuming the identity of someone prominent, and friending as many people as possible.

    Technology Times

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - Nigeria’s mobile operator, Globacom has launched a prepaid 3G mobile Internet service. Mobile Internet was extended to prepaid subscribers on the Glo network to enable them to enjoy benefits which before now were available to only postpaid subscribers.

    - Nokia unveiled five new low-end phone models aiming to improve its offering in the emerging markets. Nokia's new models are priced from 20 euros to 54 euros, excluding operator subsidies and local taxes. "The long battery life, with up to 22 days of standby time, is vital for people in areas where access to electricity is limited," Nokia said in a statement.

    - MTN Nigeria has said recharge problem being experienced by some of its customers in the country is due to a fault in its recharge equipment. Some of MTN’s subscribers receive failure notices upon making recharge requests, while some had credit pending in their system.

    - The fifth GSM operator in Nigeria, Etisalat Nigeria in collaboration with the Research In Motion (RIM), have launched the BlackBerry solution into the nation's market.

More

  • - Doctor Ignace Gahangara Gatare, has been appointed Minister in charge of ICT in Rwanda. Doctor Gatare, a PhD graduate and Doctor in Engineering Sciences, was working in the Faculty of Engineering, Department of Photonics at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Belgium.

    ­The mystery over whether the current CEO of MTN Swaziland, Tebogo Mogapi will be able to continue his role deepened when it was reported that he has left the country to return to South Africa. The government has failed to renew his work permit, necessary as he is a foreign national.

  • BarCampAfrica UK 2009

    7 November 2009, Vodafone HQ, London, UK

    This event will bring together a group of talented entrepreneurs, technologist, charities, engineers, designers, bloggers, artists, with a passion for African development.

    This is a Free Event and Tickets will be given on a first come first served basis.

    http://barcampafrica.com/uk

    OUTSOURCING & CONTACT CENTRES EAST AFRICA

    11-12 November 2009, Laico Regency Hotel, Nairobi

    Now in its fourth year, this is East Africa’s leading BPO conference, gathering international outsourcing companies and buyers of outsourced services with local service providers to explore partnerships and business opportunities.

    www.aitecafrica.com

    AFRICACOM 2009

    11-12 November 2009, International Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa

    The 12th annual AfricaCom Congress & Exhibition is the continent's one and only MUST attend telecoms event. This year offers you a programme packed with inspirational conference sessions delivered by 50% MORE CxO level speakers, networking with 3,500+ telecoms players and a 220+ stand exhibition for you to discover new telecoms products and build profitable partnerships - not to mention the 2nd annual AfricaCom Awards. www.comworldseries.com/africa

    www.comworldseries.com/africa

    CUSTOMER SERVICE & CONTACT CENTRE WEST AFRICA

    24-25 November 2009, Oriental Hotel, Lagos

    www.aitecafrica.com

    ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2009

    2-4 December 2009, Berlin, Germany

    Innovate, Share, Succeed – is the theme of OEB 2009. This year’s agenda will be about your learning innovations, your expertise and the great ideas that will lead your organisation, company or school to success.

    For the full programme visit the organiser’s website

    www.online-educa.com

    TANCon AFRICA 2009

    4-6 December 2009, Taia Resort, Freetown, Sierra Leone

    This years conference will explore the theme "Virgin Territories: A New Market for Innovative Investment" through the use of case studies on Sierra Leone and other liberalizing African markets.

    TANCon Africa is hosted by TAN a global non-profit organization that fosters entrepreneurship and technology among people of African descent. TAN was founded in Silicon Valley, California in 2004 to provide a support structure and network for entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, and community leaders worldwide. This year, the TAN Africa conference is held in collaboration with the Internet Society of Sierra Leone and supported by the Ministry of Trade & Industry and Sierra Leone Import Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA).

    TANCon Africa 2009 will attract over 250 local and international attendees from the United States of America, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Ghana and the rest of the world. Conference participants will range from industry leaders and key decision makers of global financial institutions, fortune 500 companies in ICT, Finance, Agriculture, Tourism, Infrastructure, Social Entrepreneurship and Renewable Energy.

    For more information on the conference, see the conference Web page at:

    http://www.tanconf.org/

  • 3G PLANNING & OPTIMISATION MANAGER – WEST AFRICA

    The company is looking for a Planning & Optimization Performance Manager. The right candidate will coordinate with the Planning & Optimization Team in order to identify the areas of improvement in the network. He/ she would have expertise not only with 2G Radio, 3G Radio & Core but also with IN/VAS & Transmission. He/she should then “translate” the data through a formal Performance Report to be circulated through the customer’s sales & marketing organization for strategy definition.

    For further information on this job vacancy or to apply click on the following link

    http://www.cellular-news.com/recruitment/list_job.php?uid=10311

  • LPTIC and Alcatel-Lucent - Libya

    Alcatel-Lucent announced that it has further strengthened its working relationship with LPTIC (Libyan Post Telecommunications & Information Technology Company) by signing a multimillion euro contract to deploy the second phase of Eastern Libya's optical fiber network. Alcatel-Lucent is currently finalizing the first phase of deployment, which includes 4,400 km of optical fiber across the eastern part of the country. Once the second stage is complete -- which will add a further 2,800 km -- Libya will be equipped with one of Africa's most widespread fiber-optic backbones able to interface with neighboring countries and support Libyan economic growth and social development.

    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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