Issue no 497 26th March 2010
Kencall sees the growth of new local outsourcing opportunities as telecoms companies realise call centres are not core business
With the arrival of the new international fibre cables, Kenya’s pitch to become one of continental Africa’s leading BPO centres may at last be gaining some traction. Kencall has been in the business for five years already and is noticing that it’s getting an increasing number of East African as well as international clients. Russell Southwood spoke to its CEO Nick Nesbitt about how the business is developing.
Kencall has been in business for five years offering outsourced call centres to a wide variety of companies in the UK, USA and Kenya. Its largest client is Orange and one of its fastest growing customer segments is telecoms. Other customer segments include financial services, retail and healthcare.
“Our focus started with US and UK markets but to our surprise, East African markets are growing quite rapidly. Foreign companies have global mandates to present their brands the same way globally and they can use us to do that in this region. Local companies now also want to do the same thing.”
Kencell’s services go from selling to customers in the first place to retaining them after the sale has been made. So on the sales side, it helps clean up databases, set appointments for sales representatives and carry out phone sales. On the service side, it helps answer customer’s questions and offer technical support where needed.
The company currently has a 250-seat call centre in Nairobi but is looking to open two more “driven by demand”. It has a client (in Kenya) that wants it to take over its existing call centres. The argument that companies are finding compelling is that running line managers and call agents is not their core business, so why not outsource it? Companies invest a lot in call centre infrastructure without necessarily understanding how to manage the “soft” people part of the process.
So does Kencall have plans to expand outside of Kenya? “We’ve no concrete plans currently but we’ve had invitations from people in Nigeria, Ghana and Mozambique. So these are preliminary discussions which we make take up next year.”
According to Nesbitt, bandwidth limitations have not really constrained the business:”We’ve had no problems at all. We used to have expensive but reliable satellite bandwidth. There was also expensive equipment to overcome latency”.
“Now the two new international cables mean that we have unlimited bandwidth and prices have gone from around US$6,000 to US$600 per month. We have multiple providers and we use Orange and KDN, who also provide the last mile. For satellite, we use Vizada. It’s VoIP calling and pretty much everyone has moved to VoIP.”
The Kenyan outsourcing market has been good at pitching its wares but to slow to grow. Nevertheless Nesbitt is optimistic:”It’s a very attractive market as far as client work goes. But it’s a difficult and complicated business to run.” So his advice to local entrepreneurs?:”If you have money, put it into something you understand. Don’t go into call centres unless you know what you’re doing.”
But how does Kenya rate competitively against much more well established international outsourcing destinations?:”India as an outsourcing destination is extremely compelling. But outsourcing your business there is not for the faint of heart. In Kenya, the people are good, there’s easy access by plane, affordable bandwidth and good office spaces. It’s also a good place to live when you come to train staff.”
So how do the clients see coming to Kenya?:”The proof is in the pudding. They’ve picked it because it’s a good place to go. Clients see it as being on the cutting edge. It’s a new market and you don’t get fired for going to India. But for those who choose it, they want to be first in and they want to be somewhere that has a low attrition rate and where they’ll still treated as somebody special. They get to meet the President.”
But what about the competitive claims of the other African destinations?:”South African labour costs are about twice as much as ours and our bandwidth is much cheaper. But it has a large and fairly mature local market. Mauritius is also quite attractive but also expensive. Nevertheless they’re doing quite well with multi-language”.
“There’s a lot of stuff in the press about Ghana. They’ve done a good marketing job but they have one or two large customers but they’ve not got more. You need knowledgeable entrepreneurs to get business. Most of them stay as expats in the USA. I ran a large part of a telco for 20 years.”
But isn’t 250 seats quite a modest business compared with other outsourcing locations?:”It depends on your appetite and your dreams. If I kept ticking over at 250 seats, I’d make good money. The more you go up (in size), the more cash you need. It’s like hotels, if you have 150 rooms, you stop. With call centres, you keep adding ‘rooms’.”
“If you want to go after the big accounts, you need to keep adding seats. We’re having a conversation with BT about moving 600-1,000 people. But that’s only possible for a limited number of companies. The average now is 50-100 seats globally.”Balancing Act
With a deal between two emerging markets giants thought to be in the closing stages, the acquisition of Zain’s sub Saharan African assets represents a landmark deal for both Bharti Airtel and Zain, and for the African region itself.
Indian operator Bharti, which closed financing for the deal to the tune of $8.3bn earlier this week, will be transformed into a major global operating group becoming the world’s fifth largest operator by customer footprint.
For Zain, the deal represents a retrenchment of the company’s strategy as well as good value. The company may have succeeded in transforming its brand and building up an impressive customer base across sub-Saharan Africa, but it has struggled to operate profitability. “Perhaps it turned to the managed services model too late in the day and failed to leverage its supplier relationships so as to build in sufficient economies of scale – this is where Airtel will focus its efforts,” said Nick Jotischky, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, adding that Zain may still look to enter new markets, but within North Africa and Middle East, which it sees as more lucrative in the longer term.
The move also has repercussions for the African region, with the likes of MTN, Orange, Vodafone and Millicom joined by a new and rather different pan-regional operator. Bharti has a heritage of making network sharing and outsourcing deals work and will not be afraid of being aggressive on per minute pricing. The company is also well versed in addressing the difficulties of serving a largely rural, high-churn, low-revenue market.
The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) has licensed five more mobile phone companies. They are MyCell, Egotel, Rural Netco, Smile and ExcellentCom. "They are expected to enter the country's communication industry when the process to give them network facility licensees is completed," TCRA director-general John Nkoma told a recent ICT Summit in Dar es Salaam.
The latest registration brings to 12 the number of cellular companies. Others are Zain Tanzania, Tigo, Zantel, Benson Informatics, Sasatel, Vodacom Tanzania and TTCL Mobile, which had a subscriber base of about 17.4 million customers in December 2009. Vodacom was leading by having a market share of 39 per cent.
Experts see the entry of new players into the market as healthy because it will increase competition, improve services and probably reduce charges. Many people complain about inordinately high service charges. However, TCRA statistics show that service charges declined from about Sh350 in 2000 to slightly above Sh200 at the end of last year.
Tanzania's mobile phone market was sluggish in the first half of 2009, but it strengthened in the fourth quarter. A report has shown that the growth trend was largely aided by subscriber growth from Vodacom, Zain and Tigo.
Vodacom's subscriber base widened from 6,263,424 in September to 6,883,661 in December while that of Zain rose from 4,763,505 to 4,910,359.
That of Tigo increased from 3,755,459 users to 4,178,089 during the same period.
"Intense competition has helped to expand the market...Much of the strength in operators' subscriber figures is due to a reduction in tariffs, not only in response to stiff competition, but also as a result of deteriorating disposable income on account of weak economic conditions," the report reads.
"Zain reduced its tariffs by up to 50 per cent on calls made to a favourite phone number on another network in the country and by 17 per cent for all other calls to other networks." It forecast the local mobile penetration rate to reach 77.6 per cent as of 2014.
Telecom subscribers, who gathered at the 55th Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP) in Lagos at the weekend, spoke with one voice, condemning telecommunication promotions across networks.
The rotational monthly Telecom Consumer Parliament is organised by the Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC), and this month's parliament appears to be the last that the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Ernest Ndukwe, would supervise, having served for two tenures of five years each, and he is on his way to retirement from active public service.
Condemning all telecom promos, subscribers said the exercise was a rip-off on them and that the promos only serve as a means to enrich telecom operators and expand their subscriber number across networks. They called for sanity in the telecom industry and for proper information dissemination on the rules and conduct guiding all promotions, before rolling them out to the public.
An elderly man, who gave his name as 'Baba Adegoke', spoke on his ordeal with the ongoing Globacom Bid2Win promo. He said he was deceived into playing and in the process, he lost over N420,000 to the promo. According to him, he got frequent text messages from Globacom, encouraging him to continue playing, that he was near to winning one million Naira and that he must not lose the chance. "Encouraged by their text messages, I continued playing and when it was done on me that it was all trick, I had already spent over N420,000," 'Baba Adegoke' said. He came to the parliament with a bundle of Globacom recharge card vouchers which he used in playing the promo game.
Others, who spoke, also condemned Etisalat recent past promo, where a 300 level Medical student from the University of Jos won the star prize of $1 million (N150 million). According to him, Etisalat used the money of subscribers, who entered for the promo to enrich a single individual at the expense of other subscribers. "If Etisalat was fair to Nigerians, it could have invited the 150 million Nigerians to its office and offer one million to each person.
In that way, it would have touched the lives of every Nigerian in a positive way, than enriching a single individual who almost ran mad immediately his name was announced as the star prize winner of the promo," Adeyemi Funsho said.
MTN past promos and the ongoing Zain promo, were not spared in the sharp criticism from telecom subscribers at the Telecom Consumer Parliament. Most telecom operators present tried to make defense for themselves. They explained that every promo was a reward scheme designed to make millionaires out of subscribers, insisting that the promos were real.
Responding, NCC's EVC, Ernest Ndukwe said consumers ought to have been educated on all forms of promos and that operators must learn to differentiate between reward scheme, telecom promo and lottery game. He said the Commission would invite the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and the Lottery Commission to discuss best practices in telecom promos, and to spell out the true state of loyalty scheme, telecom promo and lottery game, which Ndukwe said, had been abused.
The EASSy cable has landed in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa , two weeks ahead of schedule, James Wekesa, the chief commercial officer of the West Indian Ocean Cable Co., said. “We will be testing for two months then go live,” Wekesa said in a telephone interview from the city. The cable has landed in eight countries. The final landing will be in Dar-es- Salaam, Tanzania, on April 7, he said.
Nairobi-based West Indian Ocean Cable Co. owns 29 percent of the fiber-optic link, known as Eassy, and is the largest shareholder in the venture. West Indian Ocean Cable Co., also known as WIOCC, is owned by a group of 12 African telecommunication companies and four development finance institutions, including the International Finance Corporation, the African Development Bank, KfW of Germany and the French Development Agency, AFD.
Eassy will cost a total of $263 million. The four development finance institutions have already provided $75 million in funding, Chris Wood, Chief Executive Officer of the West Indian Ocean Cable Company, said Dec. 1.
- The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe has given the country's three mobile operators an ultimatum to ensure that all activated mobile lines are registered with the firms by August 10, 2010.
- A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja voided the cancellation by the former Minister of Information and Communication, Dora Akunyili, of the licensing process of national frequencies in the 2.3GHZ band granted to Mobitel Communications Ltd.
The minister had nullified the licensing process on May 25, 2009 through a directive on the grounds that the process was not transparent. Justice Umar Garba in reversing the cancellation of the licence described the ex-minister's action as reckless. In the twist, the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications has appealed against the judgment of of the Federal High Court.
- The governments of Angola and Cuba signed in Luanda, two technical and scientific agreements in telecommunication sector that formalize cooperation between both countries.
- In South Africa, the second and final stage of the introduction of fixed line number portability, which will allow individual Telkom customers to switch networks without losing their numbers, has been delayed by about five weeks. The first phase of fixed line number portability, also known as geographic number portability (GNP), kicked off in May 2009; the second, more important phase, which allows individual numbers to be ported, was meant to begin this week.
- The Nigerian telecommunication regulatory authority, the NCC, has issued issued license to Mobitel Ltd, for the utilization of frequencies in the 2.3 GHz Spectrum Band, having emerged successful at the licensing bid concluded by the Commission on May 8, 2009 by paying the specified fees of N1.368 Billion Naira.
- In South Africa, Telehouse and Teraco Data Environments have announced that their strategic alliance has been extended to include dedicated data centre space in Teraco’s new carrier neutral facility in Johannesburg. As with Cape Town, which was opened in December last year, the space will be opened under the Telehouse brand and operated, supported and maintained by Teraco to Telehouse¹s stringent global operating standards.
Kenya Data Networks last Thursday joined the list of firms leasing the Kenya Power and Lighting Company fibre optic cable capacity. The five year lease is worth Sh135 million. It joins Safaricom, Jamii Telecom and Wananchi Group that have already signed deals for the network on the Nairobi-Mombasa power transmission line.
The partnership will enable Kenya Data Networks have an alternative route for data traffic from the existing underground fibre cables. The move is aimed at ensuring that communication goes one even when vandals strike.
"This will provide better uptime on the internet and corporate wide area networks for not just Kenya, but also for the neighbouring countries," said Kai Wulff, the firm's chief executive officer.
Early this year Safaricom took a pair of the fibres in a 20 year lease for Sh288 million while Wananchi Group and Jamii Telecommunications Ltd, in a five year renewable lease of one pair of fibres each, will pay Sh27 million annually. The fibre optic cable installation is part of a component of a larger Sh1.9 billion System Control and Data Acquisition system modernisation.
Installation of the connection on the 500 kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa route was completed last year, while that of the cable on the western route and on other transmission lines is expected to be done and available for use by July this year.
The cable network covers routes from Kipevu in Mombasa to Nairobi; Nairobi to parts of the Mount Kenya region; Nairobi to Eldoret and Eldoret through to Muhoroni, Kisii and ultimately to Tororo in Uganda.
"We see numerous potential to diversify our revenue base and enhance our bottom-line, as well as increase shareholder value by maximising utilisation of this major and secure national resource," said Joseph Njoroge, KPLC's managing director.
The power distributor was granted a Network Facility Provider - Tier 2 Licence by the regulator CCK last year. It gives it the authority to construct, install and operate electronic systems, which may be leased to licensed telecommunications operators.
Out of the 24 pairs of fibres in the cable, the power firm will only utilise six.
Over the past several months, KPLC has raked in more than half-a-billion shillings through leasing of its extra dark fibres, as telecom firms rush to beat a growing threat from cable vandals.
African satellite images are useful but only if scientists have the means to access and study them A landmark decision to allow free access to key earth observation data has failed to impact Africa sufficiently because of poor Internet connections, say researchers.
The US Geological Survey took the decision to allow free access to Landsat Earth observation satellite data in January 2008 – a deal that opened up nearly 40 years of images, or 'scenes'. The data can be used to monitor changes to the land, such as the effects of climate change on crops, or urbanisation.
But a review of Africa's uptake of the data, published online as a letter to Remote Sensing Letters last month (23 February), has found the lack of Internet connectivity between the United States and Africa to be a "fundamental and serious" obstacle.
It also found a lack of education in remote sensing; poor awareness of how the data could be used and who could use it; and insufficient infrastructure and capacity within countries to allow good use of the data.
The issue of poor Internet access "presents a fundamental and serious current constraint in Africa where the majority of countries have limited internet capability," say the authors of the letter, led by David Roy, a remote sensing specialist at South Dakota State University in the United States.
"You have this consistent, long-term data record ... that allows you to compare how land use has changed in that time," he said. "But in Africa, Internet connectivity is really limiting researchers' ability to get this free data."
Cheikh Mbow, a remote sensing specialist from the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop University, said: "In Senegal, if I download one scene I do it overnight. In the US I could do at least 50 scenes". Connections within countries are no better, averaging little more than 256 kilobytes per second, which makes downloading a 250 megabyte Landsat scene difficult.
Data from other satellites is easier to access as it can be downloaded directly to satellite receiving stations in Africa as the satellites pass overhead. But there are no Landsat receiving stations in Sub-Saharan Africa as they are prohibitively expensive to build says Mbow, a co-author of the paper.
Undersea cables and terrestrial links will solve the issue say the authors. But "problems of establishing networks within countries and African government regulation may continue to restrict Internet access across the continent.
A country domain is an Internet 'top level' code assigned to a country, for example .za (South Africa), .uk (United Kingdom), .de (Germany), .fr (France) and .zw (Zimbabwe). ZADNA is the Department of Communications-funded agency in charge of managing SA's internet .za space.
The .ZADNA report also found that most South African businesses and people (83%) prefer to use .za ahead of .com (15%). However, more than half of Africa's one million country domain websites registrations are in South Africa, according to the survey, which means 535,711.za domains are registered, 16,000 (3%of all South African sites) of which are .org.za websites.
"These 535,711 are what we call active websites because we do delete a couple of websites each month due to non-renewal," Mpisane said. There are roughly 90,000 (17%) websites registered in South Africa under the .com domain.
Mpisane said: "The research results are very important as they provide answers to most of the questions we and our stakeholders had about improving the .za space. These answers clarify what interventions .ZADNA or its stakeholders need to make to improve our Internet space."
Registering one .za website costs about R50, and a .com website costs roughly US$7.
"When someone registers a country domain (.za) website, the money stays in SA, while a .com website registration fee leaves the country," Mpisane said, pleading with South Africans to register country domain websites to support the .za space.
Furthermore, most businesses interviewed (58%) prefer registering their products and brand names across multiple domain names to counter the ever-increasing instances of trademark abuse, Mpisane revealed.
Internet name-tampering ('squatting') has become a new trend and a lucrative business in the current Internet space, where the number of registered websites worldwide now stands at 192 million, 85 million of which are .com websites. Mpisane advised businesses to check time and time again with their ISPs if their domain name has been tampered with.
- The National Meteorological Institute of Angola (Inamet) launched its portal, under the celebrations of the World Meteorology Day, March 23. It is a kind of service that will provide weather forecast information to users accessing the website www.inamet.ao.
- Several government and pro-government Ethiopian websites are being attacked by viruses, making them unsafe to access. It remains unclear whether this is anti-government sabotage or a result of poor virus protection in Ethiopia.
Experts have called on the government to establish an agency that will coordinate and manage ICT activities so as to enhance the sector's growth. The call was made during at an ICT summit, which was held in Dar es Salaam to take stock of digital development in Tanzania and explore ways to catapult the sector to a new level.
The experts and other stakeholders said the proposed body will also assume regulatory functions in order to create a level playing field in the fast growing industry.
According to them, ICT has huge potentials in providing quality services in areas such as education, health, commerce and public administration. They argued that the agency was vital in protecting the interest of stakeholders such as consumers, providers and the government who are increasingly embracing services like e-learning, tele-medicine and e-commerce.
"The lack of a national ICT coordinating body constitutes one of the biggest challenges in developing the sector in the country," Dr Mmasi Raphael, director for Information and Documentation at the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech), told the gathering.
The expert, who is credited with developing Rwanda's ICT sector, said that despite the presence of some institutions that deal with some aspects of ICT, the mere absence of a single body with the mandate in all ICT issues creates a responsibility gap and stalls the sector's growth and development.
He said another major challenge to the growth and application of digital technologies in the country was absence of a comprehensive strategy to implement the 2003 National ICT Policy.
The director-general of the Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Prof John Nkoma, said the inadequate ICT infrastructure and the lack of the national ICT backbone were among impediments constraining digital penetration in the economy. Other constraints he pointed out were backward terrestrial connectivity and the high cost of bandwidth, which is vital to lessen the cost of ICT services.
Richard Kasesera, the managing director of ID Cards Solutions Ltd, said the lack of the national ICT body also posed a huge security risk. "The government is preparing to start providing national identity cards that will make it easy for one's information to be accessed online...but it will be risky if there will be no robust organ to guide the process," he said.
Charles Sekondo, the executive director of the Tanzania Global Development Learning Centre, said that because the ICT sector was growing so fast, there was a need to establish a database through which the proposed body would perform its monitoring role.
The formation an ICT body was necessary to guide the government in the transitional stage from analogue to digital broadcasting, a senior TCRA official, Innocent Mungy, noted. "As we are prepared to move our broadcasting from analogue to digital, we really need that organ," he said.
African science ministers are hoping to extend a high-speed fibre optic network - currently linking Egypt to the northern hemisphere - to other countries in Africa.
The Global Ring Network for Advanced Applications Development (GLORIAD) connects national laboratories and institutes across Canada, China, Korea, the Netherlands, Russia and the United States, enabling scientific collaboration in areas ranging from weather forecasting to high-energy physics.
Recently, Egypt, India, Singapore and Vietnam were added to the network via the 'Taj' expansion, officially launched at the fourth meeting of the African Ministerial Council of Science and Technology (AMCOST IV) in Egypt last week (7-10 March).
"All the ministers [at AMCOST IV] agreed that we will use the hub established in Egypt to extend the network into the African continent," said Maged Al-Sherbiny, assistant minister for scientific research in Egypt.
GLORIAD provides high volume data transfer, videoconferencing and remote control of scientific instruments, and is largely funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which raised US$2.3 million for the extension to Egypt.
"This is, however, seed funding - over time, new funding mechanisms need to be established for what we hope will be 10 gigabits a second capacity through this region," Greg Cole, principal investigator of the NSF's GLORIAD programme, told SciDev.Net.
"We want to see people use the network all over the world. We are seeking to establish an exchange point for science across the Middle East and Africa regions."
Several institutes in Egypt, including Cairo University, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, and Mubarak City for Science and Technology, are already coordinating projects with US agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Agency for International Development.
"This new network will give us not only access to videoconferencing but also 3D telepresence, a more advanced technique that requires a high speed network," Amr Hussein, an independent information security specialist based in Egypt, told SciDev.Net. "Training to use new instruments by virtual reality is much needed in technology fields." GLORIAD began in 1998 as MIRnet, a US-Russian network.
For the last decade, cultural issues as well as a lack of information, capital and opportunity have been advanced as reasons why there are few women in technology-related businesses in Africa, but trends are slowly changing.
The emergence of mobile money services led by the growth of GSM networks has allowed many women to work from their homes or trading centers, helping them avoid travelling long distances for business.
The growth of mobile phone service companies has led to more demand for engineers, growth of engineering services companies such as telecom mast construction and the expansion of fiber optic cable networks. All this has provided more opportunity.
While there has been some activism on women's issues, it's mainly the increasing availability of jobs that pay relatively well and career talks in schools that have helped many women to explore opportunities in technology.
"The girls need to have more information on careers and they can choose science subjects that will allow them to take technology related courses at the university; previously girls would concentrate on arts subjects, which limits their choices at the university," said Gladys Muhunyo, a member of Linux Chix Kenya.
Microsoft has been involved in a program training teachers and female students to appreciate technology, provide a pool of role models, and demonstrate opportunities available within technology companies.
"There has been a deliberate effort by the women who work at Microsoft through various efforts to work with girls; to not only sensitize them, but to offer mentorship opportunities and help guide them in into technology careers," said Mark Matunga, corporate social responsibility manager for Microsoft, East and Southern Africa.
While many companies may have taken responsibility for ensuring that more women enter the field of technology, the challenges of running tech companies are gender-neutral and performance is the key, forcing women to work as hard as men do.
Technological assignments defy gender -- both men and women are rated according to their proficiency and where gender discrimination is discouraged, women appear to do even better, said Lucy Mumbi Kairu, a member of the Business Support IT and Networking team at Telkom Kenya.
In many African countries, banks have developed financing schemes targeting women but availability of opportunities that allow women to exploit their potential seems to be an even bigger issue, given some of the cultural obstacles that have hindered women's advancement in tech.
In traditional African societies, women often were not expected to engage in businesses that involve travel or long hours. It was expected that women stayed home to take care of families. Those who defied the norm were labelled as elitist and in many never got married.
This restricted the number of women who joined technical courses and even for those who did, a limited number got jobs involving systems management or any job involving overnight work.
The challenge of balancing career and family exists for many women but the emergence of opportunities in tech have allowed the society to be more understanding.
"Balancing family with one's career is quite difficult; the telecommunication environment means that one needs to be on standby for any eventualities such as servers crashing and going through a systems migration. Sometimes this means working 24 hours," added Telkom's Kairu. "That is why most women will take time off to have children, go back to school for less demanding courses then come back but by then their careers have lagged behind or are sometimes overlooked when it comes to promotions."
The idea that women have to take time to get families and the unavailability to work long hours has entrenched discrimination in some companies although it is not as pronounced as before.
"One major obstacle that women face in the ICT sector is the general lack of recognition and confidence in their skills, which means that they lose out on numerous opportunities for growth," said Mwende Njiraini, a telecommunications engineer with the Communications Commission of Kenya.
"Mobile has proved to be a key element in today's society as it is the most ubiquitous, connected and personalized communications tool that we have, and holds significant potential in bringing the benefits of connectivity to most of the developing world and reaching families at the bottom of the economic pyramid," said Rob Conway, CEO and member of the board at the GSMA trade association, during the launch.
- The GLOBAL project, through Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) in Madrid, released a new version of Isabel, Isabel v5, at the end of February 2010. Accompanying the new release is good news for bandwidth-constrained institutions in that UPM is now finalising testing for an Isabel Web gateway that will support access to the video conference facility using a web browser. A successful testing session for the gateway was conducted on 17th March where a number of remote sites participated.
Listed mobile phone firm, Safaricom Ltd is anchoring itself to provide shared services to the government as the latter moves to embrace information communications and technology. Though the government expects to discharge its duties efficiently to the people of Kenya through e-government, this has created barriers to service delivery due to limited Internet access among intended users.
The mobile phone is seen as key in overcoming this obstacle. A combination of
M-Pesa in payment of services rendered to the public and the use of text message for enquiries will open up e-government services.
To achieve this, the Kenya ICT Board and Safaricom will be hosting permanent secretaries and MPs in Mombasa next week to build capacity on implementation of ICT projects. "As a major player in the fixed and mobile data market, we recognise the government's position as a key buyer and catalyst of demand for ICT and data products which is why we are sponsoring this meeting," Safaricom Chief Executive Michael Joseph told journalists on Wednesday.
The objective of the forum is to increase the understanding of government officials the need for shared and managed services. The operator is banking on its wide customer base and expansive network infrastructure to partner with the government.
"The government is willing to partner with local companies that have the capacity to offer these services that are crucial to service delivery. We will be partnering with operators, for example, in building a data centre," said Information and Communication PS Bitange Ndemo.
Currently, Safaricom is the only operator linking up with the government in the roll out of digital villages. This follows a delay in the release of committed funds by the World Bank to set up the centres.
"The Board created the connected government summit to establish the priority areas where the private sector and the government can partner to deliver efficient services," said Mr Paul Kukubo, chief executive of the ICT Board.
Zimbabwe has reached a turning point in its destiny and ICT markets in the country are taking off, according to a new study published by Technology Strategies International in partnership with BroadGroup TMT Ventures. The report says that the Global Political Agreement, as tentative as it is, coupled with the dollarisation of the economy after years of hyperinflation, have resulted in a surge in investment into the ICT sector in the country.
"The acid test for the Zimbabwean ICT sector is to see what companies already active in the sector are doing", says Christie Christelis, President of Technology Strategies International. "Over the past year we have seen massive investment into the mobile market in Zimbabwe, with the number of subscribers more than doubling in a single year."
Although the country is experiencing a chronic shortage of capital, and the political situation is far from stable, it is evident that there is a huge latent demand for ICT services. The recent surge in demand is demonstrative of that, says Christelis. With a mobile teledensity of 31.5 (per 100 population) Zimbabwe is still well behind the rest of Africa, indicating that there is still strong potential for growth over the next five years.
He acknowledges that the risks are high in the Zimbabwean market, but points out that the window of opportunity for foreign investors to make large returns is likely to remain open only for the next two years. By that time the situation in Zimbabwe will have stabilized to a much greater extent and the high return/high risk opportunities will have been taken.
"There is a unique opportunity for private equity investments in Zimbabwe," Christelis says. "The country's banks are unable to provide any capital for business ventures, and Zimbabwe is on the blacklist of a number of donor organizations. Savvy private equity investors - those with an appetite for risk - are likely to make very good returns if they enter the market now."
Three of largest opportunity areas, according to Christelis, are the mobile market, both at the retail and infrastructure levels, providing last mile access through advanced technologies such as Wi-Fi, and laying down broadband infrastructure to connect to the undersea cables circling Africa. The country has dismal international internet bandwidth. Increasing the available bandwidth will do much to stimulate the economy, he says.
The report predicts that over the next five years the number of mobile subscribers in Zimbabwe will grow at an annual rate of about 25% (CAGR), while internet usage will double.
Software firm SecureData Holdings said last week that its SecureData Africa division was now stable and well positioned to seek additional revenue growth. Earnings in SecureData Africa fell last year because of slow uptake of its products and an increase in operating costs. The division markets and distributes the group's software security products in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
In the six months to January, SecureData Africa posted 63% growth in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, to R16,3m. The margin on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation improved to 12.4% from 7,6%. Revenue was flat at R131.9m.
SecureData attributed the turnaround to the review of its product portfolio, cost management and management restructuring. "This is a robust performance and management is confident that SecureData Africa is now stable and well positioned to seek additional revenue growth, while maintaining this strong margin performance," CE Dean Brazier said. SecureData Africa contributes about 60% to SecureData's total revenue.
The group's revenue declined 5% to R220.2m because of the stronger rand against the pound , which hit SecureData's UK subsidiary, MIS Corporate Defence Solutions (MIS-CDS). MIS-CDS's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation grew 5% to R5,5m while revenue was 12% lower at R78.6m. SecureData is confident that MIS-CDS will continue to show improvement despite continued economic uncertainty in the UK. SecureData's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation jumped 26% to R24.2m.
Headline earnings per share increased marginally to 0.8c from 0.7c. Adjusted earnings per share rose 55% to 4.8c. Brazier described the first half of the year as "a positive period for SecureData", as it continued with its vision of being a significant player in the software market that it operated in. He said the software market, which the group referred to as information risk management, had historically proven to be resilient during an economic downturn.
Brazier said it was difficult to predict the extent to which current financial market turmoil would affect buyer activity. However, he believed SecureData was well positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the information risk management sector.
Solid growth in West Africa's telecommunication markets will buoy shares in Senegal operator Sonatel throughout 2010, but the illiquidity of its stock on the regional bourse could hold back gains, analysts said.
An 18 percent increase in 2009 net profit to 185 billion CFA francs announced last month, plus a dividend yield near 10 percent has helped push its shares to a year-high of 140,000 CFA francs by Tuesday's close.
Analysts point to healthy operating margins and the still largely untapped potential for mobile telephony and Internet in Sonatel's markets including Senegal, Mali and Guinea as likely to support its earnings and share price through 2010.
"Generous and stable dividend policy coupled with good profitability and growth prospects in the countries where the group operates augurs well for Sonatel's investors," said Africa analyst Binta Cisse Drave at frontier investment firm Exotix, which this month initiated coverage of the stock as a "buy".
Sonatel is 42 percent-owned by France Telecom, with 27 percent in state hands and around 5 percent staff-owned.
Drave saw scope for Sonatel shares to appreciate by around a third to 186,400 CFA, underpinned by earnings growth averaging an annual 5 percent over the next five years. She noted its price-earnings ratio of just over 8.0 was "not demanding" compared to an average for African peers of around 14.5.
Barely 40 percent of Senegalese are mobile subscribers and 27 percent of Malians have mobile phones, according to 2008 figures, compared to 90 percent take-up in South Africa.
Sonatel clung on to 67 percent of Senegal's mobile market in 2009, ahead of Millicom International Cellular Inc's Tigo unit and Sudatel. Its Orange brand occupies 80 percent of the Malian and 37 percent of the Guinean markets.
In Senegal, Tigo has a third of the market and Sudatel just 2 percent after its first year in operation -- allaying some investor concerns last year that competition would heat up.
Yet the major drag on Sonatel shares remains the lack of liquidity of the stock on West Africa's regional BRVM (Bourse Regionale des Valeurs Mobilieres) based in Ivory Coast, still prone to political unrest seven years after its civil war.
With a market capitalisation around $2.9 billion, Sonatel by itself accounts for just under half the BRVM composite index.
But the fact that bids and offers are matched only once a day is limiting the ability of investors to do multiple trades. On Tuesday trading on the BRVM reached barely 74.8 million CFA, with a mere 88 Sonatel shares changing hands.
And while 26 percent of Sonatel shares are free-floating, potential investors say many of those have long been sucked up by local investors happy to sit on its healthy yields.
"Only the foreigners are interested in trading," said MediCapital Bank's Luca Del Conte, who forecast the stock could hit 150,000 CFA if economies in Senegal and Mali strengthen.
Ivan Kim, analyst at Moscow-based Renaissance Capital, said the illiquidity effect meant that Sonatel shares are trading at around a 30-35 percent discount to African peers such as Kenya's Safaricom or South Africa's MTN Group.
For those who get their hands on Sonatel stock, that could mean value waiting to be unlocked once the liquidity problems are resolved. Few expect that outcome soon given a political stalemate in Ivory Coast that is holding back economic reforms.
For now, the lack of liquidity is giving pause for thought to even the most enthusiastic investors.
"We don't want to be getting into a name that we can't get out of in a certain number of working days," said Daniel Broby, chief investment officer at Silk Invest, an asset management firm specialising in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
- A report in the Guardian newspaper says the government of Tanzania is preparing to acquire the remaining 35% it does not already own of national incumbent Tanzania Telecommunications Company (TTCL), after the Zain group pulled out of the partnership.
- Angola Reserve Bank (BNA) is considering the introduction of payment system by cell phone, announced in Luanda the deputy-director of Payment System and Banking Operations Department, João Cose.
- The United States has announced a US$498,000 technical assistance grant to the Bank of Tanzania for modernizing its information and communications technology infrastructure, necessary to increase efficiency in its critical role of maintaining price stability.
How up-to-date is your company's website? Is it as good as it should be? These are the question that begged for answers after Saturday Nation decided to do a random check of various websites.
Unknown to the management, people who visit websites are largely impatient and often ready to move on to the next available alternative for similar services. A survey done by the Saturday Nation reveals that most websites lack specific details, such as an address for communication and feedback.
A website consultant, Mark Kamau, says the Internet has become very integrated with people's lives. "It is almost a sin not to have a company website, but having an outdated website is the greatest sin," he says.
There is no reason, he says, for an institution not to have a website. "Some may say cost is an issue, but there are plenty of free website solutions," Kamau says, adding that to set up a website costs anything between Sh5,000 and Sh30,000.
To show how websites mislead at times, I visited the Office of Public Communications' website. Navigating through it you will be misinformed that Lieutenant General Augustino Stephen Karanu Njoroge is the army commander.
The true position is that Lt-Gen Jackson Tuwei is the Army commander. On the Government of Kenya website, the telephone contacts given lack the current extra digit added to numbers within the central business district in Nairobi.
Several other websites, including that of the Vice-President, ministries of Finance, East African Community and interestingly, that of Information and Communication, have errors.
University of Nairobi law lecturer Kindiki Kithure is listed as the National Cohesion Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs although he resigned a long time ago.
The ODM-K nominated MP Mohamed Abdi Affey is still listed as Kenya's ambassador Somalia at the Government spokesman's office website. However, the Ambassador of Kenya to Somali currently is Major Gen (rtd) Jackson Mulinge.
In last month's NUANCE newsletter (February NUANCE), they brought to you an article about the online game, EVOKE which the World Bank was launching. “The online game was launched on Wednesday, 10 March 2010 and there has been a tremendous response from the public” says Bob Hawkins.
Since its launch, a lot of ideas have been generated in relation to the game. Among other things, the EVOKE players have started forming their own networks where people of similar interests or goals are communicating, collaborating and working together. An EVOKE Wiki has been started by players, food security kits have been proposed, some professionals such as Librarians are devoting some of their time to do research for other players and reading groups are being formed. Daily, new challenges are being initiated which players try to solve and collaborative projects have begun among players.
EVOKE is a game that is designed to empower young people all over the world and especially in Africa, to start solving urgent social problems that their communities are facing like hunger, poverty, diseases and so on. The whole article about EVOKE can be found in the February NUANCE newsletter.
Visit the game website for more details and to play the game http://www.urgentevoke.com/
- Businesswoman Jane Mutasa has been suspended from Telecel Zimbabwe's board following allegations that she swindled the mobile phone network provider out of US$750,000 in an airtime scam.
- O3b Networks Limited has announced the appointment of Jonas Mattsson as Chief Financial Officer. Mattsson, 44, joins O3b from SES New Skies, where he served as CFO and Senior Vice President of Finance. He joined SES in 2005 as CFO of SES Sirius where he helped to develop the Nordic and Eastern European markets.
SATCOM 2010 AFRICA
12-15 April 2010, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa
SatCom Africa 2010 is Africa's only satellite exhibition conference. SatCom Africa 2010 gives you an executive business experience where you meet real decision makers, a content driven and networking focused agenda and new business, new markets, new opportunities.
For further information visit Satcom ‘s website - http://www.terrapinn.com/2010/satcomza/
TMT FINANCE AND INVESTMENT MIDDLE EAST 2010
26-27 April 2010, Sharq Village Hotel, Doha, Qatar
The TMT Finance and Investment Middle East 2010 Conference and Awards Ceremony is the premier networking hub for executives of telecom operators, technology providers, investors, financiers and advisers active in mature and emerging markets of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Now in its fourth year, the conference takes place again this year in Doha with support from Qtel, Booz&Co and Clifford Chance. The event features an outstanding academy of expert speakers from across the region and internationally debating opportunities in M&A, strategy, wireless broadband, financing, mobile payments and cloud computing.
For further information visit www.tmtfinance.com/me
WSIS FORUM 2010
10-14 May 2010, Geneva, Switzerland
Half way to the final review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and ahead of the two-thirds MDG review at this year's UN General Assembly in September, and ITU's own four-yearly World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-10) in May, the WSIS Forum will look at how far nations have come in meeting connectivity goals and progress in implementation of the 11 WSIS Action Lines set at the Summit in Tunis in 2005.
For further information visit
AITEC BANKING & MOBILE MONEY WEST AFRICA
11-12 May 2010, Lagos, Nigeria
Technology presents great opportunities for the financial sector to extend reach, improve service and reduce costs. However, in the drive to implement the very best that technology vendors have to offer, the focal point of the banking process is often forgotten – the customer.
AITEC Banking & Mobile Money West Africa 2010 will therefore focus on the customer experience in relation to all technology implementation and services, challenging suppliers and bankers alike to evaluate their systems in the light of customer needs and preferences.
For further information on the conference visit AITEC’s website
NOG-11 AND AfriNIC-12 MEETINGS
23 May-4 June, 2010, Kigali, Rwanda
The African Network Operators' Group (AfNOG) and the African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC) are pleased to announce that the 11th AfNOG Meeting and the AfriNIC-12 Meeting which will be held in Kigali, Rwanda during May & June 2010. The jointly organised two-week events include the AfNOG Workshop on Network Technology (offering advanced training in a week-long hands-on workshop), several full-day Advanced Tutorials, a one-day AfNOG Meeting, and a two-day AfriNIC Meeting. In addition, several side meetings and workshops will be hosted in collaboration with other organizations. Further details are available at the AfNOG and AfriNIC websites
Next Generation Leaders: ISOC Fellowship Opportunity
On 15th March 2010, the Internet Society Next Generation Leaders (ISOC NGL) called upon talented individuals who have the passion for sustainable Internet connection. The society is offering three components in the fields of eLearning, internet governance and internet engineering The components are the ISOC Fellowship to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for which its application closes on 16th April 2010, the ISOC Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Ambassadors programme for which application closes on 12th April 2010 and the new ISOC NGL eLearning programme for which its application is open until 5th April 2010.
The Internet Society Next Generation Leaders programme is aimed at equipping young professionals from around the globe with coursework and practical experience to become the next generation of Internet technology, policy, and business leaders. So, in order to be successful, the next generation of Internet leaders require a wide range of skills in a variety of disciplines as well as the ability and experience to work with people at all levels of society.
Etisalat and Comviva - MEA
Etisalat and Comviva have announced that they will partner to bring state-of-the art Value Added Services to Etisalat’s more than 100 Million subscribers worldwide. The vision of this partnership is to introduce new mobile VAS products that enhance Etisalat’s customers’ lifestyles and enrich their lives – and which will be helpful and fun to use. Comviva will support Etisalat with innovative offerings in the areas of content and community to further strengthen Etisalat’s position as one of the world’s leading telecom operator groups and reinforce its reputation as a pioneer and innovator in the VAS space.