Issue no 557 3rd June 2011

top story

  • E-tourism has always seemed like a no-brainer for the continent as money could be paid direct to hotels and suppliers. But obstacles like the high cost of bandwidth, the lack of integrated, real-time reservation systems and local online payment gateways stymied progress. But now with the arrival of cheaper bandwidth these barriers are coming down and the world’s Online Travel Agencies like Expedia are showing a real interest in the continent. Russell Southwood spoke to Damian Cook, CEO, e-Tourism Frontiers, a company that does training and events for the tourism trade.

    Ten years ago no-one was talking about online tourism. The tourism trade tended to focus on going to the big trade event, World Tourism Markets, with brochures for B2B selling and do support advertising in key markets. The travel agents tended to suggest where people went and to some extent picked the destinations. As a result, a great deal of the revenues went to large, international hotel chains and not much of the money was retained locally.

    Now 56% of travel globally is booked online and the rise of the Online Travel Agents has been unstoppable. The Online Travel Agents (OTAs as they are known in the trade) include Expedia, Travelocity, Lastminute.com and Bookings.com (who have significant market share in Africa). Expedia have actually opened an office to focus on Africa.

    In 2005, less than 2% of tourism revenues in Africa came from online booking. In 2010, buoyed by the World Cup that percentage rose to 5% and looks set to go to somewhere between 15-20% by 2015. The World Cup may have been a one-off boost but it accelerated the growth of online tourism in South Africa. 50% of Americans read an online review before booking internationally and that’s usually either Trip Advisor or Facebook. (Trip Advisor is now owned by Expedia).

    International travellers have credit cards and increasingly expect to be able to book online anything from the smallest travel lodge to the largest hotel chain. So what are the barriers? According to Damian Cook, CEO, e-Tourism Frontiers:” The missing piece was e-commerce. There used to be no route for doing online transactions. Online distribution by the OTAs requires a reservation system that offers real-time availability. OTAs won’t do business with you unless you have that”.

    The second missing piece was the ability and tools to do online marketing:”The companies needed marketing skill, especially with social media. Today’s tourist wants to hear from other travellers (through Facebook and Trip Advisor) and are not that interested in what the hotel has to say”.

    So how did Cook tackle these tackle these difficulties?:”We went to KCB in Kenya who have a presence across the region. We lobbied them about the importance of foreign exchange that you get through tourism and as a result, late last year they launched the first payment gateway across the region”.

    “We bought up Nightsbridge from South Africa who have a real-time software reservations system, which has a strong presence within the small-scale hotels trade. It’s simple but effective. There’s a flat fee based on how many rooms are allocated a month and it costs around $50 a month. It partnered with KCB who provide a specific account for tourism clients that includes a Point-Of-Sale terminal and the Nightsbridge software. It was launched 2 months ago and all the big hotel chains have signed up and some of the smaller guys like camps and lodges”.

    On social media marketing, Cook gives the example of the Il Ngwesi Lodge in Northern Kenya. Their only Internet connection was from a log in their grounds between two hills via a mobile dongle:”Nevertheless, they’ve set up their own blog and are doing online reservations”.

    “The example I always come back to is Born in the Kruger (a fight between three species over a baby calf) that’s 8 minutes long and has had 61 million views. That’s the best User Generated Content  example in tourism. Another example is Uganda where they have set up Facebook pages for the gorillas. You can then friend the ones you’ve seen and each of the pages has a booking link. So what past visitors say drives future visitors.”

    In overall terms, the strongest online tourism destinations in Africa are probably South Africa and Morocco. Outside South Africa, it’s very much a contrast between often well developed private sectors and considerably less well developed public sectors:”Kenya is strong in the private sector but weak in the public sector. Tanzania strong in the private sector and Uganda is beginning to invest”. Botswana and Namibia are learning from the South African example. The third missing piece was the inability of hotels, lodges and guest houses to offer online, real-time reservations.

    Cook was in Accra to investigate rolling out his services in West Africa:”Ghana is 70% corporate. It’s heading increasingly online. Expedia have a really good business travel service. Business travellers often like to add on a day. There’s also big potential in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. The former is becoming a surfing destination”.

    e-Tourism Frontiers has  a two-pronged approach: direct training of the public and private sector to get awareness across and training and business facilitation: “Through our events we bring the local tourism industry together with the Online Travel Agencies.”

    “We have a strong partnership with the South African Tourism Board. They are further on than anyone else on the continent because of the World Cup. It has a strong digital team. The private sector there is getting very good at doing online”.

    “In East Africa we alternate every year with a tourism road show in 8 tourism centres with a conference and facilitation event. We’re just starting to see what we can do in West Africa.

    e-Tourism Frontiers is based in Kenya but has done work globally:”We’ve done work in Qatar and Jordan and are going to be doing work in Greece this year as well as Black Sea region, Malta and Brazil”.

    Now that the cheap bandwidth is slowly becoming available, telcos and ISPs now need to adopt an industry sector approach to those that are most likely to make the online transition fastest. It’s easy to become obsessed with banks as corporate customers but to miss the business generating sector that is tourism.

    For more information on e-Tourism Frontiers, contact Danian Cook on: damian@e-tourismfrontiers.com

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telecoms

  • MTN's Uganda subsidiary has reportedly suspended its interconnection with Uganda Telecom (UTL) over claims of unpaid termination fees by the state-controlled company.

    Earlier this year, Mtn Uganda threatened to stop accepting phone calls from its network to Utl over claims that it is owed US$8.4 million from its commercial rival. At the time the government stepped in to try and settle the dispute, but late last week reports started suggesting that UTL subscribers were unable to call MTN numbers.

    The local Monitor newspaper cited an unnamed UTL official as saying that there was a technical issue at MTN, but that he didn't know the cause of the disruption.

    MTN officials have also been tight-lipped about the move although one senior staff, who also preferred not to be named, told the  newspaper that the move was long overdue, saying the disconnection should have been done much early in the year.

    UTL claims that it has paid the outstanding bills, with stem from a dispute over whether calls to Southern Sudan should be classed as international calls, or as UTL was providing services in the region - as national calls. UTL has also been in dispute with Warid Telecom and Airtel Uganda over unpaid termination fees.

    The Monitor
  • Vodacom has reached their self imposed target of 2,000 active 43Mbps HSPA+ towers by the end of May 2011. In April 2011 Vodacom surprised many people when they announced that they have exceeded 1,000 active 43.2Mbps HSPA+ sites on their network, boosting the capacity and increasing the overall performance of their network.

    At the media event held to make this announcement, Vodacom CTO Andries Delport said that the company further planned to have at least 2,000 43.2Mbps HSPA+ towers by May 2011.

    Despite the aggressive rollout target Vodacom has exceeded their self imposed goal, and exceeded the 2,000 43Mbps HSPA+ tower mark by the end of May 2011.

    In April 2011, Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys reiterated that their 43Mbps network is not merely aimed at increasing peak speeds, but also at boosting the overall capacity on their radio network to ensure higher average speeds to all subscribers.

    It is therefore not surprising that all the new 43Mbps sites are located in metropolitan areas where additional capacity is most needed to serve a fast growing subscriber base.
    Vodacom currently has over 4,300 3G (HSPA) sites in South Africa, of which 2,650 are 21Mbps enabled, with the rest all supporting downlink speeds of 14.4Mbps.

    Uys said that that they would like to roll out at least another 1,000 3G towers in the coming year, and connect as many sites as possible via fibre.

  • A new draft regulation that will regulate the operations of telecoms service providers in the country and ensure that operators provide quality service and are held accountable if they fail, will be ratified in two weeks by the Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

    The Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission NCC, Dr Eugene Juwah , who disclosed this in a telephone chat with THISDAY stressed that the commission was not folding its arms but had been hampered by a lack of regulation that has made direct action to enforce service quality unlawful.

    He said the new regulation will give teeth to the efforts of the commission to make service quality in the industry unquestionable. He said the NCC recently appointed a task force to look into the immediate and remote causes of poor service quality, adding that the task force has come out with a draft regulation that will be presented to the Board of the commission in June.

    Juwah said that with the new regulation, operators who offer service below the accepted quality thresholds will be penalised and pay a fine of N5 million in the first instance and N500, 000 thousand for every day that poor service quality subsists until it is rectified. He reiterated that no operator has been penalised because there is no regulation in place to address the issue.

    He said that in the meantime, the commission has been meeting with operators to intimate them of the quality of service indicators observed by the commission and to call operators to order. He added that with the new regulation set to be ratified, operators will sit up.

    Recall that NCC had two weeks ago directed all network operators in the country to take immediate steps to improve the quality of services including stoppage of promotions where the capacity is limited. Juwah, was said to have given the directive after a meeting held in Abuja with representatives of all the network operators in the country including MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat.

    He was said to have expressed worries over the inability of the operators to meet with some of the key performance indicators for ameliorating the challenge of quality of service.

    The Director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity, Dr. Balarabe Sani, said at the meeting that the monthly data capture and analysis has shown that the network congestion has continued to increase.

    "On most of the networks, there are too much drop calls, poor network availability, poor service accessibility and poor voice quality while one way or two way lack of audio in several connections abound", he said.

    He said the analysis showed that several Base Station Controllers, BSC's are congested in terms of Radio Traffic Channels, RTCH, and Stand Alone Dedicated Control Channels, SDCCH. Another official said where operators are expected to keep this indices below 0.1 percent, the figure stood at about 2.5 per cent in March this year, suggesting a very worrisome trend.

    The Commission said it has also discovered the presence of "many weak and dead signal zones in major cities through our QoS Drive Test monitoring exercise which is attributable to lack of network optimization and improper radio network planning".

    The representatives of the operators who spoke in turns blamed part of the problems on some governments at the local and state levels, as well as individuals who use jammers to dislocate services. They said in some cases, state governments made it impossible for roll out and expansion of services due to excessive taxation and impossible conditions.

    The operators singled out the Abuja Capital Territory where its administration has made it extremely difficult for the operators to expand services through deployment of the required base stations, and Cross River State where the State Government has brought several difficult conditions for the operators, including excessive taxes.

    This Day
  • The country's communications regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), will leave the tricky issue of handset subsidies to the National Consumer Commission (NCC), and will no longer try to regulate the issue.

    Subsidised or “free” handsets have been a bone of contention for subscribers for years, as they are required to pay hefty penalties when wanting to get out of a contract before it expires. ICASA has been trying for about five years to regulate the issue so that consumers have clarity about what handsets cost.

    However, this morning, the regulator said it had bowed to industry pressure to leave the issue up to the NCC, a regulatory body established in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Handset subsidies will now be governed in terms of the CPA.

    ICASA is consulting the industry to determine whether some parts of its mandate, which overlap with the overarching provisions in the CPA, should be exempted from the Act and continue to fall under its jurisdiction.

    Councillor Fungai Sibanda says the regulator won't seek to have handset subsidies exempted from the CPA. He says ICASA had attempted to regulate the issue, but the industry told the authority to “back off” and let the CPA take precedence. “We listened to you.”

    So-called “free” cellphones lock subscribers into two-year contracts. However, regulations promulgated just before the CPA came into effect in April only allow suppliers to charge a “reasonable” fee if consumers cancel a contract early.

    This fee can take into account the value of goods that the subscriber will keep. Consumers can cancel a fixed-term contract by giving 20 days' notice.

    Sibanda says there are several areas where the CPA overlaps with ICASA's mandate. These include: quality of service, contract terms and conditions, prepaid vouchers and handset subsidies.

    ICASA wants to handle the jurisdiction of quality of service and have prepaid SIM cards exempted from the law. Sibanda says if the CPA applies to prepaid SIM cards, they would only expire after three years, which could see operators running out of cellphone numbers.

    In terms of contract terms and conditions, ICASA is happy to leave most of the issues up to the NCC, barring charging and billing, as the body regulates price.

    ICASA will submit a report on the exemption issue to trade and industry minister Rob Davies towards the end of August. The body may apply for conditional exemption if it needs to realign its legal framework to comply with the CPA.

    ICASA has been trying to sort out the issue of handset subsidies since 2006, when it embarked on a consultation process to see if it should regulate this issue. In 2008, it published handset subsidy regulations, requiring operators to define how much consumers paid for phones.

    However, Vodacom threatened the regulator with legal action if the regulations went into force, and ICASA bowed to pressure. At the end of 2009, a new code of conduct was released, but was much softer and more of a recommendation than a prescription.

    ICASA put the entire issue on hold indefinitely in March this year. A Government Gazette indicated the “regulation-making process under review is hereby put on hold till further notice from the authority”.

    Michelle Hajari, chairman of the South African Communications Forum ad hoc working group, which represents mobile operators, says the industry is happy to have handset subsidies fall under the CPA.

    ITWeb
  • - Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) is set to hand out more than EGP100 million (USD16.8 million) to the country’s domestic mobile operators and internet services providers (ISPs) as compensation for the disruption of telecommunication services during the country’s revolution that began in January 2011.

internet

  • Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) today officially announced the completion of an open access dark fibre infrastructure linking the undersea cables landing at Mtunzini to Gauteng and Durban. DFA CEO Gustav Smit said that the completion of this project will transform the economics of bringing high capacity bandwidth to South Africa’s major economic hubs.

    He said the sharing of the most expensive elements of a telecommunications network, such as trenches, ducts and manholes amongst multiple customers, enables DFA to deliver lightning fast fibre connections at a fraction of the price that these operators could build their own networks.

    Commenting further, he said that “because of the level of hype’’, DFA opted to maintain a low profile until it had completed its route in fourteen months.“We already have two customers, Seacom and Vodacom, who have signed up on this route and are at an advanced stage of negotiations with several others.

    The Durban to Mtunzini link has been operational for over a year now and has five customers, including Telkom, TENET, Broadband Infraco, MTN and Vodacom. Despite various national and international fibre projects, the perception of increasingly cynical business and individual consumers is that they have not witnessed any material change in the typical speed and cost of the internet connectivity offered by their service providers.

    According to DFA, a major reason for this is the bottleneck that has existed in the availability of high speed terrestrial capacity between undersea landing stations and major metropolitan areas.

    Smit said Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) has removed the last fundamental barrier preventing its customers, SA’s major telecommunications operators and Internet Service Providers, from delivering affordable high speed bandwidth to their customers.

    Duncan Martin of Tenet, which operates the South African National Research Network (SANReN), said that inbound international traffic into the SANReN network has increased from 214 megabytes/second to 2.25 gigabytes/second “since DFA installed our link in record time.”

    “The international satellite tracking station at Hartebeeshoek is now able to upload data that previously had to be sent via courier to Amsterdam, in real time at a speed of 1 gigabyte/second.  New open access telecommunications connections from the likes of DFA and Seacom have resulted in SANReN’s prices tumbling from a cost of R53,000 to R1,100 per megabyte, per month, today,” said Martin.

    “Apart from connecting South Africa to the global internet, the route will also provide connectivity to smaller towns en route including Stanger, Empangeni, Richards Bay, Ermelo, Piet Retief, Middelburg and eMalahleni (Witbank). The route will also provide improved connectivity for mobile operators whose infrastructure is increasingly burdened by exponential growth in data traffic,” said Martin.

    DFA has also commenced construction of a 160km route to link Cape Town to Yzerfontein where the WACS cable landed in April 2011. This route will be complete by the time the WACS cable is ready for commissioning early next year.

    The completion of the Yzerfontein link will mean that the four biggest metros in SA will all have high speed international connectivity and high speed, open access fibre optic distribution networks.

  • Zetu, an online platform which focuses on the group buying concept is gaining acceptance in Kenya and grown to employ 13 workers six months since it launched in November 2010.

    The deal-of-the-day online startup is set to follow in the success path of Groupon, the largest group buying online platform based in the US which has attracted big investors like Yahoo.

    For Zetu, the number of employees on its payroll which is within the range for a majority of Kenyan medium-sized companies – mostly in their third to fifth year of operation—who have between 11 and 50 workers, show its potential.

    Zetu (a Kiswahili word which means “ours”) is just in its start-up phase and its growth path highlights the effect of Internet innovation on job creation in Kenya’s economy.

    “Group buying has done well in the USA, Asia and South Africa,” said Martin Muli, 29, Zetu’s marketing director and one of its four founders. “It is a concept operating on the Internet space and as you know, Internet and mobile are the next frontiers of millionaires,” he said.

    Zetu, a deal-of-the-day website negotiates discounts on goods, services and cultural events. Then it offer the deals to thousands of subscribers in a free daily e-mail. The deals are activated only when a minimum number of people agree to buy. Through the online platform subscribers get a great deal and the business gets a tonne of new customers.

    From agriculture to financial services, intermediation entrepreneurs are driving Kenya’s growth by adopting new ideas or coming up with innovative concepts which are creating jobs. Take, for instance, entrepreneurs leasing land in Nairobi’s outskirts to establish green houses to grow horticultural products.

    Zetu’s business is modeled around Groupon’s. The online group buying concept is simple. Group discounts have always been there for many retailers as they offer discounts, but recover on volumes sold. What online group buying companies have done is to offer retailers a platform – riding social media and internet wave- where they can reach many customers with their offers. Most offers expire after a certain period and require a minimum number of customers to sign up.

    A majority of Zetu’s work force – nine of the 13 employees—is in the sales department, according to Mr. Muli one of its four founding partners in line with their business model.

    Business Daily
  • Telkom South Africa has confirmed that it has unified its pan-African data assets Africa Online and AFSAT under the name iWay Africa. WiMAX operator Africa Online currently has operations in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, whereas AFSAT – which is part of the MWEB Africa group of companies – has operations in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Nigeria; additional distributors of its VSAT platform are located elsewhere in the remainder of sub-Saharan Africa. MWEB Africa was acquired by Telkom in April 2009; both Africa Online and MWEB Africa are headquartered in Mauritius.

    A press statement from iWay Africa read: ‘Telkom South Africa, parent company to Africa Online and MWEB Africa, aims to concentrate on growing market share and building a stronger footprint in Africa. Earlier this year strategic acquisitions were made beyond the borders of South Africa. This includes Africa Online and MWEB Africa which was acquired earlier this year. Synergies exist between the two companies, and Telkom is currently integrating Africa Online and MWEB Africa in an effort to create economies of scale and streamline operations and optimise quality of service to clientele’.

    However, although this move signals Telkom’s long-anticipated entrance into the emergent Kenyan broadband market, the firm has reiterated that it has no plans to pursue a stake in the country’s ultra-competitive wireless sector. iWayAfrica Chief Executive Harry Aucamp commented: ‘That will never happen; a lot has changed. Our bet in the region is in data, as GSM is already saturated. You will realise that even the four operators in Kenya are finding it hard to operate. With our pan-African footprint, I believe we have the muscle to compete’.

    Telegeography
  • - The Internet was cut in Mogadishu due to telecommunication equipment hit by stray shells in the latest round of fighting. The three major telecommunications companies, Nationlink, Hormood and Olympic, have their most important equipment at Bakara market, which has been a flashpoint in the fighting between insurgents and government troops backed by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers in the past two weeks.

    - Uncensored cyberspace emerged after the Tunisian revolution. For young people, a wide-open web is exciting. For parents who see the dangers in limitless browsing, it is a nightmare.  Pornographic websites are now the most visited in Tunisia, internet information company, Alexa revealed last month.

computing

  • The arrival of more stable bandwidth is proving critical to the uptake of cloud-based managed services across Africa, according to Kaseya. South African-based Kaseya Africa says it has witnessed a strong uptake of its automated IT systems management tools across the continent.

    The company’s cloud-based solution in particular is seeing exceptional growth now that more stable, affordable bandwidth is being rolled out across the continent, it says. Garth Hayward, Kaseya’s regional manager for Africa, says there are various reasons for this strong adoption of the company’s solutions in Africa.

    “It is tailored to suit the needs of the mid-market; it now integrates mobile, which is Africa’s main Internet access tool; and it helps companies manage more end-points with fewer staff – an important consideration in the light of skills shortages,” he says.

    The company has been based in South Africa for three years, but Kaseya solutions are already managing over 150 000 computers in 85 companies. Seventy-two of these companies are managed service providers (MSPs) delivering services to over 3 000 companies.

    This MSP model helps counter the skills shortage problem, says Hayward. Now, SMEs don’t maintain their systems on a break-fix model; they ensure that their systems never go down in the first place, eliminating costly delays in business.

    Kaseya also believes another factor promising to accelerate its business is its latest solution, which integrates mobile management into the enterprise management systems. Mobile devices are increasingly in use by staff to access corporate networks, yet this is often done in an unregulated manner, adds Hayward.

    He says: “The information that sits on these devices is gold. And employees use these devices to access all the critical corporate data. What happens if the user downloads a dangerous app? Leaves the company or has their device stolen? Mobile devices must be managed carefully –through the same systems management platform being used for all your other enterprise IT.”

    ITWeb
  • Leading the fight against electronic waste which pollutes the environment in Africa is Uganda. The country has implemented a complete ban on the import of second hand electronics. But since the restrictive policy has slowly taken full effect, growing criticism from businesses as well as NGOs and consumers raises the question: who really benefits from the ban?

    When the ban was implemented in May 2010, importers of second hand appliances were the first to cry out. And not without reason: the 'E-waste Special Interest Group' has estimated that 80 percent of Uganda's 200 ICT enterprises have gone out of business or have been relocated since the ban.

    This cost Uganda over a thousand skilled jobs and left former customers without a source of affordable IT hardware. Second hand appliances started running out and consumers, on their turn, started to raise their voices.

    "When someone with little money asks me for advice on what computer to buy, I advise them to buy second hand," says IT teacher at Kampala's Makerere University, Richard Ssekibuule. "They're cheaper and better than new, unbranded ones. In many cases unbranded computers fail, because they have faulty components such as processors that didn't pass manufacturer's tests."

    A second hand computer, costing about 200 dollars, is within reach for the average Ugandan. There is a vast difference with unreliable unbranded computers, which sell for 600 to 800 dollars.

    Harboured in electronics are heavy metals like lead and mercury. These pose a danger to the environment and public health if they are not recycled carefully. In Uganda, efforts to build the necessary infrastructure have so far been delayed.

    Regardless, Ssekibuule was surprised to find out how much Ugandan politicians fear e-waste. "We have lots of poorly managed waste but electronics form only a very small component of this mismanagement. This e-waste is negligible because a very tiny fraction of Ugandans can afford computers."

    Rather than to a love of nature, Ssekibuule attributes the ban to competition-killing lobbyists from firms that import new, unbranded computers. "For a person importing unbranded computers, it would make great business sense for them to have a ban slapped on second hand computers and other electronics."

    Charities donating used computers to educational facilities are not exempted from the ban. Photographer Arthur Kisitu teaches ICT to children in the poor Katanga area of the capital Kampala, as part of the Sweet Home UGAnda project. Because of the ban, his project could not receive used computers that were offered by a friend.

    "Sometimes policies are enacted by politicians whose children study abroad," Kisitu says. "They are not in touch with reality."

    Importer of second hand computers Robert-Jan Nieuwpoort remembers when he first heard about the ban: "I thought: 'Why?'" At the time, Nieuwpoort had been collaborating with Uganda's government to set up recycling facilities in Uganda. "By the time the computers I imported were no longer useful to anyone, I wanted them to come back to me, so I could recycle them responsibly."

    "There is money in the recycling and refurbishing business, for example, you can extract gold and silver from motherboards. You need a large supply of used computers though, roughly 5000 per month. Since about 300,000 computers entered Uganda between 2004 and 2007, there's is enough material to start an industry and avoid a build-up of e-waste."

    The government's environmental agency promised to the construction of an electronic waste management centre in 2010. But Nieuwpoort has not heard of them since, and is struggling to stay in business. "I've paid countless visits and sent even more letters, but they do not answer, and they're not there. Lifting the ban would be the best thing for my business. And even more so, for Uganda."

    RNW
  • Only 7,000 schools in South Africa are connected to the Internet, with 21,000 more falling behind in this regard. During his budget vote speech yesterday, Deputy Communications Minister Obed Bapela said the Department of Communications (DOC) has a responsibility to connect the 21,000 remaining schools.

    The majority of these schools are in rural areas. “Today, we have only 7,000 schools connected.” He said this is due to challenges of capacity with reference to computer-learner ratio, human capital to deliver the service and other social problems such as theft.

    Despite the large number of schools that are not connected, Bapela said plans are under way to also bring the e-health connectivity project up to speed, which is similar to the e-school connectivity plan.

    “Mobile technologies can be instrumental in improving the quality of health services, while reducing the cost of patient care, particularly in under-serviced areas.”  The deputy minister said “enormous work” is under way to ensure government provides and delivers quality services to citizens through e-education, e-health, and e-rural connectivity.

    “Broadband technology holds incredible potential to accelerate the country's development path and bring government's priorities in reach. As we create a people-centred, inclusive information society, we turn the digital divide into digital opportunity.”

    In an interview with ITWeb last week, Communications Minister Roy Padayachie said the department wants to intensify its call for people to take advantage of connectivity.
    The DOC has given the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) a target of establishing 400 ICT access centres in under-serviced areas by 2015. “This ideally means that the agency will have to establish at least 100 centres per annum.” Padayachie said there will be a review of USAASA since there's an opportunity to transform the institution.

    “USAASA has a mandate to provide universal service and access, especially in areas where the market failure has been persistent. This also means that the entity will be charged to support efforts to deliver broadband access in rural areas in line with the broadband policy,” said Bapela.

    The DOC is, together with the department and institutions of higher education, revising the ICT curriculum to ensure graduates have the relevant qualifications to meet the needs of the country and the economy.

    The partnership is also working to establish a dedicated higher education institution, purely for provisioning ICT, or with greater curriculum delivery on ICT.“At the turn of this financial year, we will provide progress reports on this matter to the minister, who is already in discussions with his counterparts in higher education and training.” 

    The e-skills programme will focus on implementing e-skills training programmes, developing and implementing an e-skills awareness campaign, expanding the ICT career expo, expanding the network of universities and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, and implementing e-skills training for 1 100 youth and unemployed graduates, says the DOC.

    It has memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with five universities in Gauteng, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KZN. MOUs are also being initiated with Limpopo and North West.

    “Work has been commenced with 20 FET colleges across all provinces to conduct proprietary IT training, and teachers were also being trained in embedded software and multimedia.”

    At a parliamentary portfolio committee meeting last month, in which the DOC presented its 2011/12 budget and plans, former acting director-general Harold Wesso said the training of lecturers at FET colleges was a major challenge for the department.

    To exemplify this problem, the department says it developed a multimedia qualification for FET colleges, but the DOC finds it very difficult to get lecturers to be trained in multimedia.

    Committee members questioned why the e-skills project was being implemented in colleges and not in schools, so learners could be educated about e-skills at an early age.

    Bapela said ICT is a transversal tool for interacting at every major societal activity, and government has the responsibility to enact laws and regulations to protect its citizens from any possible threat.

    “The advent of the Internet and new information and communication technologies didn't alert us to the possible threat of cyber crime.” He said work has begun on a comprehensive cyber security policy framework for the country, which will be finalised in the course of the financial year.

    The deputy minister said the ICT sector is not performing well in meeting the 2% target of employing persons with disabilities.“Building an inclusive information society also calls upon the ICT sector to ensure usage of sign language, subtitles and close caption in service provision, and [we] wish to urge all broadcasters to maintain the service.”

    He said the Independent Communications Authority of SA must urge licensees to apply universal design principles to achieve access to communications by persons with disabilities. “We need to develop assistive technological devices and ensure they are accessible to persons with disabilities, especially in rural and urban poor settlements.”

    ITWeb
  • - In Uganda, twenty senior six best performing female students completed an intensive three-week CISCO training at Tumba College of Technology (TCT) in Rulindo District.The students emerged the best performers during last year’s national secondary school examinations.The training was organised by Imbuto Foundation.

    - Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST) has partnered with Nigeria's electronic and switching payment company, e-Tranzact International Plc. According to the Director of Business Development, e-Tranzact International Plc, "we are leveraging on the partnership with NIPOST to reach more customers, especially in the rural areas. NIPOST has all necessary facilities to drive e-payment services to this segment and generate revenue for NIPOST".

    - In Kenya, the Parliament has passed a motion asking the electoral commission to introduce electronic voting to streamline the polling system and eliminate irregularities.

    - In Uganda, the Ministry of education introduces software to track school absenteeism. The software, developed by Agile Learning Company, with the help of the Microsoft Corporation the new system will link critical school data directly from schools into the National Education Management Information System.

    - IBM has announced the opening of a new branch office in Dar es Salaam, as part of the company’s continued geographic expansion initiative to increase its presence in key growth markets.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • TelecomNamibia has not seen any returns from two multimillion-dollar investments that it made in South Africa and Angola. The company made the investments totalling N$544 million close to six years ago. Telecom Namibia has now decided to withdraw its interest in these companies, Angolan outfit Mundo Startel and Neotel in South Africa.

    Telecom Namibia Managing Director (MD) Frans Ndoroma last week said they hope to recover the millions invested. "We will endeavour to recover what we invested in these companies." In an apparent attempt to diminish the impact of the failed investments, Ndoroma said: "The [non-monetary] spin-offs have been more than the investments."

    Cumulatively, the company had pumped in N$429 million into Neotel by the end of April this year for a 12.5 per cent stake. Ndoroma blamed the global economic downturn as having "resulted in [projected] long-term returns - hence [our] decision to exit".

    Mundo Startel financial results approved over the past weekend revealed losses amounting to US$290 000 (approximately N$2 million) for December 2010 before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Ndoroma said the Angolan market had caught Telecom Namibia with its pants around its ankles.

    "While entering Angola was a good business case with good [expected] short-term returns, that market has proven difficult politically, culturally, regulatory and logistically. Our business plan has not run according to plan - hence [our] decision to exit responsibly." Both investments were made towards the end of 2004. Ndoroma refused to admit that the investments were unfavourable.

    He said: "A bad deal is relative - it's not a straight yes or no. At the time that we entered those markets, the predictions were pretty positive. It's not because it was bad deals, because the market conditions changed from short-term to long-term [returns]."

    Responding to a question by The Namibian on how Telecom's mobile arm, Switch, was doing, Ndoroma admitted that "it's not doing as well as we have hoped, especially on the voice side. The data side is doing better." He did not want to say how many Switch customers other than employees they have. "That's a bit close to the bone."

    The Namibian
  • Telkom's mobile arm, 8ta, has made an operating loss of R1.1 billion, which weighed on the telco's earnings for the year to March.

    Telkom launched its mobile arm last October, attracting about 200,000 new subscribers in its first two months of operation. However, getting South Africa's fourth mobile operator off the ground has cost Telkom.

    In a trading update published yesterday, the telco said normalised profit from continuing operations will be lower in the year to March, because of a R1.1 billion loss “relating to the start-up of the mobile business”.

    Telkom previously said it expects to spend about R6 billion rolling out infrastructure over a five-year period. It has a five-year national roaming agreement with MTN SA, which gives it access to MTN's 2G and 3G network throughout SA.

    Its voluntary retrenchment programme also weighed on earnings as it spent R739 million on severance packages. Telkom offered more than 1 650 permanent employees voluntary retrenchment packages, according to trade union Solidarity.

    However, Telkom's expenses and 8ta's operating loss were partially offset by lower taxation, mostly because of lower profit levels and tax “concessions”.

    The company says normalised earnings per share, which strips out once-off items, will be between 20% and 40% lower than last year's 639.5c. Normalised headline earnings per share will drop by between 25% and 45%, compared with 686.7c a year ago.

    Telkom also provided an update on the sale of the Multi-Links CDMA network, which has hit a stumbling block. Telkom sold the CDMA arm of the troubled operation to Visafone Communications for $52 million, or about R350 million, in April.

    However, a Nigerian firm, backed by private equity group Helios Investment Partners and South Africa's Shanduka Group, is suing Telkom for around $251 million, according to Reuters.

    The wire service reports that Helios Towers Nigeria, a firm that builds and rents towers to mobile operators, claims the telco cancelled a 10-year rental agreement after only three years. Telkom says Multi-Links, in December last year, started a civil claim against Helios around the validity of the deal. It expects a decision on 7 June.

    Helios counterclaimed, asking the court for an order to have the contract upheld for an interim period, which Telkom says has since expired.

    Helios' damages claim has yet to be heard. Both parties are still performing in terms of the agreement and Telkom says Multi-Links has not breached the contact. It is, however, committed to getting out of the CDMA business.

    Telkom has also been threatened with legal action from SA-based Blue Label for early termination of a contract. Telkom argues Blue Label breached its contract.

    ITWeb
  • African insurance operators have resolved to partner with distribution enablers like mobile phone operators as part of efforts to increase the level of insurance penetration in the continent.

    This formed part of the resolution adopted at the 38th annual conference of African Insurance Organisation (AIO) recently concluded in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The theme of the conference was "In pursuit of the uninsured African."

    "We realise that distribution, premium collection and administration of micro-insurance products will require cost effectiveness and administration efficiencies. To this end, we shall partner with distribution enablers like mobile phone operators to secure high market penetration," the resolution reads in part.

    The participants at the conference also agreed to collaborate with various distribution channels which include church organisations, schools, associations and the rural governance system.

    The conference noted that the sustained growth and development of the African insurance industry and meaningful contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be greatly enhanced by grasping the tremendous opportunities presented by micro-insurance solutions.

    It was stressed that "a well managed micro-insurance regime would be not only a long term revenue and profit stream for the industry, but also a mechanism for wealth creation for the currently uninsured and under-banked African market.

    Members of the association were therefore encouraged to develop Information Technology capability to enable them to link into those of service providers who partner them in the delivery of the micro-insurance products.

    In recognition of the fact that perils like drought, crop failure, health, funeral, livestock mortality and pests are some of the nemesis of the target non urban mass market, the insurance operators plan to diligently develop suitably simplified and affordable products and service solutions that meaningfully secure the basic risk transfer needs in respect of such risks.

    Embedding and resuscitating the trust and confidence of the target market in insurance were also considered paramount. As such, the operators intends to rebuild trust and consumer confidence by distributing simplified, easy to understand products while settling all genuine claims arising there from rather than avoiding them on technicality.

    To provide viable micro-insurance solutions, the participants at the conference also resolve to encourage private-public sector partnership with key stakeholders like government and regulators in an effort to secure subsidies and an enabling regulatory framework for the initiative.

  • The Trustco Group Holdings Ltd, which was the first company to list on the Africa Board of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in February 2009, has again delivered a strong performance in the 12 months to 31 March 2011. This is despite southern Africa’s slow emergence from the global recession, historical low interest rates and severe flooding in northern Namibia. Profit after tax rose by 38% to N$190 million while headline earnings grew by 55% to N$132 m compared to the previous review period ending 31 March 2010.

    This financial period also marked Trustco Mobile’s first contribution to Group profits with the company adding N$23 million to net profit after tax. Desnei Leaf Camp, Head of Corporate Strategy, explained that the 2011 financial period has been a momentous one for this new enterprise.

    “On October 7, 2010, EcoLife, a partnership between Trustco Mobile, First Mutual Life Assurance Company and Econet Wireless, was launched all across Zimbabwe. This marked the second step in Trustco’s African expansion beyond Namibia.
     
    “With 1.6 million customers registered across Zimbabwe by 31 March 2011, Trustco Mobile anticipates a rapid increase in subscribers as discussions with telecommunication operators and financial service providers develop into new business opportunities across Africa,” said Leaf-Camp.

    Referring to the Group’s future outlook MD Van Rooyen said the availability of term debt will support growth of the microfinance book along with the anticipated sales of Lafrenz industrial property. “With Trustco Mobile now well proven and accepted in the mobile and insurance markets, growth of this segment is expected to significantly increase and pave the way for the expansion of Trustco’s other products and service offerings into the rest of Africa.”

    An interim dividend of 1.5 cents per share was paid on 27 of January 2011. A final dividend payment will be considered during the June 2011 Trustco Board meeting.
    Trustco with its core activities in micro insurance and micro finance is primarily a diversified financial services company serving the lower end of the consumer market. Through the use of technology, affordable and appropriate products and services, Trustco is able to better service the mass market, where access to finance and insurance remains limited, the Group stated.

    Informante
  • - Internet Solutions (IS) has acquired a majority stake in Synaq, the Johannesburg-based managed Linux service provider and messaging company, for an undisclosed sum.

    - Teraco Data Environments has received a R158 million financing boost from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), as well as other investors. The financing includes a combination of both equity and debt, with the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, becoming an equity shareholder in Teraco and the DBSA providing R80 million of senior debt.

Digital Content

  • Sunday Times Generation Next 2011 Brand Survey reveals the coolest cellular and tech brands in South Africa. The Sunday Times Generation Next 2011 Brand Survey results were released recently, revealing which brands the youth views as the ‘coolest’.

    The survey spanned 72 categories focusing on the Coolest Brands and Lifestyle Habits as voted for by South Africa’s urban and peri-urban youth between the ages of 8 and 22.

    BlackBerry emerged as the ‘Coolest Brand Overall’ in the survey, and was also named winner of the ‘Coolest Cellphone’ and ‘Coolest High-Tech Gadget’ categories while BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) won the award for the ‘Best Cellphone Application’.

    Craige Fleischer, Regional Director Southern Africa at Research In Motion (RIM) says that Generation Y’s choice of BlackBerry for the coolest brand overall reflects the importance the smartphone has assumed in the increasingly connected lives of a tech-savvy generation.

    The 7,242 kids, teens and young adults who were surveyed rated BlackBerry as the coolest cellphone, followed by Nokia and Apple’s iPhone.

    BlackBerry also tops the list for the coolest high-tech gadget to own, outranking laptops, iPhones, gaming consoles and even iPads.

  • An innovative Kenyan social network project, which combines crowd sourced stories and citizen reporting, is set to be rolled out in a few weeks. The Kuyu Project is aimed to enrich local content and empower the youth through story sharing.

    It's a digital literacy initiative, which aims to use the Web to revolutionise East African social media through the networking site – StorySpaces. StorySpaces was demonstrated at the Media 140 conference in Barcelona. It is a mobile-based social networking site where youth can share stories and search for important news logged on other young people's accounts.

    The concept is based on the idea that Internet users want to participate in their community rather than just consume information, and that Facebook and Twitter offer limitations to documenting full-length stories.

    Rassina Hassan, director of strategic development of the Kuyu Project, claims the recent revolutions across Africa highlighted the disaffected youth momentum gathered by social networking sites.

    Digital conversations are transformed into practical offline actions and the ability of the Internet in empowering the youth to become citizen journalists cannot be underestimated, she notes.

    She says: “We witnessed a symbiosis of social media and action; and it is important we captivate the capabilities of social technology being able to produce social good.

    “There are six million more youths that will have electoral vote by next year's election in Kenya, a very powerful figure, which could sway the leadership contest.

    “There is an awareness of technology and social change that has never been seen before on the grassroots level. A lot of Kenya's youth are very politically savvy, so it comes as no surprise that social media has automatically led to political discussion and engagement on various platforms. We want the youth as citizen journalists to become information disseminators.”

    StorySpaces, holding a collection of multimedia story snippets composed of relevant topical themes, would better enable the youth to make their government and society more accountable by detailing experiences, photographs and video at the click of a button.

    Young people, aspiring journalists, and other users can add a post/story without having to set up a blog and without constraints, promoting transparency, security and ease-of-access.

    As more people across Kenya are utilising their mobile phones to connect with people across the globe, they will now be able to take this a step further by mobile blogging as citizen journalists.

    Once StorySpaces is fully functioning in the next few weeks, the youth will be better able to connect with others seeking to effect positive social change. While Facebook has its own meaning to culture and youth, it does not set out to encourage promoting stories of social good.

    Simeon Oriko, executive director of the Kuyu Project, says: “I believe Africa's future greatly relies on technological advances and brain-gain currently driven by social media and mobile technology with increasingly-connected African youth and diaspora recreating and re-imagining its immense potential by deviating from existing story lines to establish a new powerful vision of change across the continent.

    “Social technologies such as the one we're building at StorySpaces are radically changing the narrative and fuelling the dreams and aspirations of young minds which might lead to the innovations and technologically driven solutions that will change and benefit Africa and the world.”

    The StorySpaces site is accessible for both Web users and mobile handset users, with a StoryDroid Android app, iOS and SMS/MMS capabilities. The mobile app will allow people to subscribe to news feeds and to search for news stories by keyword and download the stories.

    The project commenced in June 2010 after Oriko conducted numerous digital literacy camps in various high schools in Eastern Africa. The camps were designed to teach the youth how to use Web-based tools such as Google, Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha as part of their education.

    Oriko was inspired by one girl from the camps who used Google and social networking sites on her mobile phone to seek out information to achieve her dream of becoming a pilot. He says the children he was teaching quickly learnt of the technology's advantage in seeking new opportunities for effecting change and in achieving their personal objectives.

    As the camps grew bigger and more popular, he integrated personal objectives and social change into the training and materials.

    Taking place over a full day for 14- to 22-year-olds, the camps now consist of digital skills tutoring in the areas of citizen media, hacktivism, youth empowerment, government transparency and accountability.

    Even as Facebook and Twitter users in Kenya grow by the numbers, StorySpaces seeks to claim a piece of the pie, while at the same time transforming lives by informing decisions of young Kenyans.

    ITWeb

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - The total number of mobile users (GSM only) in Nigeria stood at 103,347,158 at the end of April 2011 while the CDMA operators reported a total subscriber base of 11,793,523.

    - The Sports Association of Ghana (SWAG) in partnership with telecommunication giants, MTN Ghana have launched a text poll for the 36th MTN SWAG Awards Night.
    The text poll is to solicit for public input into the decision process of the SWAG for the two of the topmost awards; 2010 Sports Personality of the Year and Footballer of the Year at the ceremony to be held on Saturday, July 2 at the Banquet Hall, State House in Accra. Each text will costs 50 Ghana pesewas and fans can predict as much as possible to secure the attractive prizes at stake.

More

  • - Following the reshuffling of Uganda’s Cabinet, veteran politician Aggrey Awori who was the Minister in charge of Information & Communication Technology(ICT) has lost that post to Nduggu Ruhakana Rugunda.

    - Vodacom has appointed an outsider to head up its local unit, putting to rest speculation that the company would hire someone from within parent company Vodafone's ranks. Vodacom said BP Southern Africa CEO Sipho Maseko would take over running Vodacom SA in September. Maseko, who has a BA and LLB from the University of Witwatersrand, will fill a position that has been vacant since Shameel Joosub left the company to head up Vodafone Spain at the end of March.

  • West & Central Africa Com
    15-16 June 2011, Dakar, Senegal

    For more information click here:

    TMT Finance & INvestment Africa
    17 June, 2011
    Venue, London

    The second TMT Finance & Investment Africa Summit - Defining Investment Strategies for African telecoms, is provides an exclusive knowledge exchange platform for leading telecom executives, investors, bankers and advisers active in Africa.
    For more information click here:

    Telecoms World Africa
    27- 30 June 2011, International Convention Centre, Cape Town

    For more information click here:

    VAS Africa
    July 6 - July 7, 2011, Johannesburg

    For more information click here:

  • HIPSSA Project – Consulting Opportunities

    [HIPSSA/G-5] Call for Applications related the Regulatory Auditing and Cost Modeling in Sub-Sahara Africa project
    For this HIPSSA project's activity a team of five consultants and one project manager will be set up.

    The experts will be responsible for the development of the regional assessment study on regulatory auditing and cost modelling for electronic communication services with price control (West, Central, East and Southern Africa) and a cost-benefit analysis of a pan-African multilateral agreement. Click on the links below to download the application forms.

    - G-5.1 (s) [WA]: Senior Expert on Cost Modelling [EN] Date limite: 27 juin 2011

    - G-5.2 (s) [CA]: Senior Expert on Cost Modelling [EN] Date limite: 27 juin 2011

    - G-5.3 (s) [EA]: Senior Expert on Cost Modelling [EN] Date limite: 27 juin 2011

    - G-5.4 (s) [SA]: Senior Expert on Cost Modelling [EN] Date limite: 27 juin 2011

    - G-5.5 (s) [INT]: International Expert on Regulatory Auditing and Cost Modelling [EN] Date limite: 27 juin 2011

    - G-5.6 (s) [PM]: Senior International Expert on Cost Modelling and project management [EN]  Date limite: 27 juin 2011

    For further information on these calls visit the ITU’s website here:


    Africa entrepreneurship awards launched

    Africa entrepreneurship awards launched / First time awards have incorporated all of Africa; $350,000 in Prizes to be awarded in 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship; now accepting applications. Visit the website here: 

    Legatum, a private international investment group, and Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, today announced the launch of the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship, one of the continent’s most prestigious business awards.  For the first time, the Africa Awards is open to entries from every country in Africa. Owners of profitable, growing enterprises (with annual revenues between US$1 - 15 million) may submit entries online here, until August 24, 2011.  The Grand Prize Winner will receive US$ 100,000 and five other companies will receive awards of US$ 50,000 each.

    Kicking off its fourth successful year, the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship recognises and rewards African business leaders who embody the entrepreneurial spirit and demonstrate the qualities required to succeed in business. Applicants will be evaluated on key areas such as profitability, return on investment and growth; long-term business strategy; leadership, culture and values; investment in employees; innovation to address market needs; and contribution to the community.

    “Entrepreneurs hold the reins of Africa’s future and the Africa Awards programme is evidence of the business revolution that is now sweeping the continent,” said Alan McCormick, a Managing Director of Legatum. “The Africa Awards has expanded and now for the first time is open to every country in Africa. We believe that neither location nor size of the population is a barrier to world-class entrepreneurs competing for one of the most prestigious business awards. Entrepreneurs drive local economies, create jobs, support communities, and deliver the most effective solution to sustainable development. They are the inspirational role models who are crucial to the future of Africa’s continued growth.”

    The 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship builds upon the highly successful 2010 programme, which included over 2,700 entries received from 15 countries and 18 different industry sectors; 250 business leaders and influencers attended the Gala Awards Event; and 10 finalists from Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda were recognised.  Since 2007, the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship programme has grown from five countries to including every country in Africa.

    The announcement of this year’s Africa Awards coincides with the publication of a report on entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa from the Legatum Institute, the publishers of the 110-country Global Prosperity Index. The report finds that entrepreneurs are the “enablers of growth” who break down economic barriers and social constraints and that entrepreneurship and access to opportunity are by far the most highly correlated indicators of a nation’s overall prosperity.

    “Legatum and Omidyar Network share the belief that motivated entrepreneurs can foster positive social impact from within Africa,” said Matt Bannick, Managing Partner of Omidyar Network. “We are proud to renew our support of the Africa Awards, a program that honors and connects a growing network of leaders that are creating terrific new opportunity across the continent.”

     For the first time, a high-profile one-day conference on entrepreneurship, CONVERGENCE: AFRICA, headlined by a globally-recognised champion of entrepreneurship, will precede the Gala Awards banquet on December 8th in Nairobi. The 2011 Africa Awards will conclude by honouring the ten finalists and winners in the presence of an international audience of leading business people, investors, policymakers, and entrepreneurs.

  • Bharti-Airtel  and  Huawei - Africa
    Bharti Airtel, a telecommunications company with operations in 19 countries across Asia and Africa, said it has signed an agreement with Huawei, to modernize and expand Airtel's 2G and 3G network infrastructure in Africa. As per the agreement Huawei will be responsible for designing, planning, modernization and expansion of Bharti Airtel's networks, as well as managing operations and maintenance.

    Globacom and Performance Technology - Nigeria
    Globacom has awarded a multimillion dollar contract to Performance Technology (PT) for the deployment of its SEGway signalling solution to enable network expansion in Nigeria. PT is providing the SEGway Signalling platform as the basis for both geographic and network expansion while enabling Globacom's transition to an all-SIGTRAN network. PT's Signalling Solution is built on an IP-native fabric providing the capability to support future network interfaces, and the power to host multiple core network features such as Mobile Number Portability, SMS-Defense and upcoming LTE applications.

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