Issue no 565 29th July 2011

top story

  • Over the last five years Africa’s mobile networks have undergone an intense period of constant upgrades as data has been added to the voice network. New infill sites have been added to combat congestion and improve data coverage. Lower customer voice and prices have seen the volume of traffic grow enormously. And underlying all these changes has been a shift in the overall breakdown between voice and data. The latter is now beginning to outstrip the former and will continue to do so. In this context, Russell Southwood talked to Lance Dickerson, CEO, TIA Telecom about how networks can be optimised to make savings.

    Although mobile companies manage their base stations through having a database of them, you will not be surprised to hear that what actually got built or what is currently on the ground does not always match what’s in the database. For as Lance Dickerson observes:”There’s a huge percentage of sites where the configuration on the ground is different from what’s in the automated planning tools operators use. As a result, every time they changed something, there was an error”.

    In West Africa, where we’ve done work, there was a 92% discrepancy between the plans and what was built. The errors included things simply not in the database, geo-positioning of the site, height and tilt on the antenna. A new site is added but no-one checks its impact on the 30 sites nearby.”

    Customer needs have changed considerably, the most obvious one being the need for greater data capacity. But also there has been a much greater need for reliable in-building penetration and this is now a necessity rather than a luxury. But within cities, new buildings have gone up and impacted on existing transmission patterns.

    The problem for the staff involved in network planning and implementation in operators is that they just don’t have the time to stay on top of all these changes. As  a former MTN staffer with just these responsibilities, Dickerson knows what it feels like:”You’re always trying to catch your tail. You’re rolling out and upgrading all the time. For example, the engineers are beginning to focus on LTE but GSM is still there as the bread a butter and begins to get less attention.”

    Furthermore. Most engineers think their work is pretty good so are reluctant to review all over again what they’ve implemented. It smacks too much of getting it wrong in the first place:”Engineers don’t acknowledge that problem exists because the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are reasonable. They tend to say to themselves, this is as good as I can get so that’s what I’ll accept.”

    But now rates are falling in most competitive markets, mobile operators are having to think about how to cut OPEX costs. Dickerson claims that the network optimisation his company does will add somewhere between 6-18% to network capacity. This either translates into additional revenue because more calls are made or into more network capacity. ”Dropped calls and congestion are always improved,” says Dickerson. The process is done using “clever algorithms” that make it quick to do. The process has a number of steps and the last of these is parameter optimisation.

    The company has done work in the USA (in Seattle and Florida) and in West Africa and in terms of savings, the results are remarkably similar. In the large West African city locations, the estimated increased revenues per city were between US$1-3 million.

    The founder of the company Felix Van Bormann worked for Sprint in Seattle and has developed the algorithms over the last four years and Lance Dickerson, who runs the South African-based company, worked for 17 years with MTN on RF planning and optimisation and planning and optimisation in all areas of the network.

     


    Video clips that might interest you on Balancing Act’s Web TV channel

    Femtocells and Wireless Backhaul – Ad hoc networks for disaster recover – an interview with Jesada Sivaraks, Engineer, TOT

    Strategies and Challenges in deploying femtocells in rural America – an interview with Rick Vergin, CEO, Mosaic Telecom

    Charley Lewis, Link Centre on research on African consumer issues in telecoms and internet

    Ofer Ronen,
    Business Development Director - Broadcast, Gilat Satcom on its move into African broadcast services

    South Africa: Styli Charalambous, Managing Director, The Daily Maverick on its new iPad subscription service

    Balancing Act's Twitter feed provides a combination of breaking news for telecoms, Internet and broadcast in Africa, direct tweets from countries visited and access to the occasional rumours circulating. You can follow us on:
    @BalancingActAfr

telecoms

  • Nokia Siemens will start building telecoms infrastructure for leasing to mobile phone operators as it battles competition from Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE. The firm, along with other European companies such as Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent had dominated Kenya's telephony infrastructure market until five years ago when the Chinese firms won multi-billion shilling tenders from Telkom Kenya and Safaricom.

    Nokia seeks to diversify from network tenders to leasing to avoid competition from the cheaper Asian firms and win over operators looking to cut costs amid a bruising price war. "We are looking forward to offering infrastructure that can be shared as it will be cheaper for firms to outsource rather than invest in individual networks ," Dimitri Diliani, Head of its Africa region at Nokia Siemens told Business Daily last Tuesday.
    "This is what will make us different from these Chinese firms both on quality and pricing," he added.

    The firm is also introducing smaller versions of telecommunications equipment such as the base stations, which are cheaper to install and operate as it takes on Chinese operators who have won the market with the gadgets.

    Telkom Kenya and Safaricom are planning to form a joint company to manage their networks as they seek to cushion earnings that have taken a beating from a more than 50 per cent tariff cut since August. Players in the telecoms sector reckon that Nokia's bid to offer shared network could open a new battlefront with the two Chinese giants that secured contracts with Telkom Kenya and Safaricom. The mobile phone operators have started multi-billion shilling upgrade plans-- with their focus on the advanced third and fourth generation networks fuelling a high stake battle for the contracts that has even pitted Western diplomats against their Chinese counterparts.

    The revamp of the networks have been informed by the diversification of the operators business to include internet services to cushion their earnings from falling revenues

    So far, Chinese firms have had the upper hand in battle that is also being fought in handsets and tablet (mobile computers) market. ZTE, which earns about half of its revenues outside China, recently beat Huawei Technologies and Europe's Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson for the Telkom Kenya Sh4 billion upgrade to the 3G network.
    This leaves Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as the biggest losers in the latest bidding war that has left them without any major local contract despite being dominant in the early 2000s.

    Huawei also tied up a Sh12 billion deal with Safaricom for the roll out of the firm's 4G core network while Airtel has partnered with IBM and Nokia Siemens in the 3G network launch and is planning to spend $250 million in the next 18 months to expand its network.

    Business Daily
  • The Federal Government has been advised to clear the liabilities of NITEL totaling N300 billion to remove any encumbrance affecting the conclusion of sale of the moribund first National Carrier. ThisDay sources stressed that NITEL's debt portfolio was an issue, which might affect the outcome of the federal government efforts to sell off the ailing entity.

    The NITEL liabilities are said to include third party charges over the firm, unpaid contractor fees, court judgments, payment to Transcorp, workers' salaries and gratuities, amongst others. ThisDay gathered that what the government might do about the debt depends on the strategy it adopts on NITEL.

    If it adopts the willing buyer, willing seller option, it will be forced to assume the debt completely because no investor will assume such debt. If it decides to liquidate NITEL, whatever it gets from the proceeds of the liquidation will be used to pay off the debt. The issue is that the debts must be paid to create a clean slate for incoming investors.

    Two weeks ago, President Goodluck Jonathan was said to have opted for the willing buyer/ willing seller option to tackle the challenge of selling off NITEL. The President decided on the option after he was presented with the recommendations of the Bureau of Public Enterprise BPE, the government agency that had been charged with the privatisation exercise of NITEL.

    The BPE canvassed for three options. One is a guided liquidation of NITEL, the second is willing buyer willing seller and the third option is the commencement of a fresh process.

    The privatisation process of NITEL was terminated recently by the BPE following the inability of Omen International, the reserve bidder to revalidate its bid for NITEL. After several extensions granted to Omen, according to the BPE, the consortium still could not come up with the $105 million needed to revalidate its bid following the failure of New Generations Consortium to pay its own 30 per cent bid of $750 million.

    The Federal Government had on the 14th of March invited Omen to revalidate its bid after the preferred bidder, New Generation failed to pay 30 per cent of the bid price of $2.5billion before the expiration of the deadline after many extensions given by the BPE.

    Omen was asked to revalidate its offer because Section 3.4.3 of the Request for Proposal (RFP) sent to bidders had set the validity of the bid at six months after the submission date, except the bid proposal is extended.

    Since Omen's bid was submitted February 16th, 2010 and it expired on August 15th, 2010, Omen had to revalidate its offer, if it was still interested, for the bid process to continue. The inability of Omen to pay led BPE to terminate the process.

    This Day
  • The usage of BlackBerry technology in Nigeria has increased tremendously in the last 12 months as new evidences revealed that there are now about 1.5 million BlackBerries in the hands of users in the most populous African country.

    Investigations, however, showed that about 40 per cent of this figure are not directly from any of the four GSM operators in Nigeria as they are obtained from the grey market where the handset is relatively cheaper.

    The usage of Blackberry gadgets is also said to have been influenced by various competitive strategies introduced by the GSM networks in Nigeria.
    Airtel Nigeria, for instance, recently introduced a new dimension to the competition in the BlackBerry market.

    Tagged ‘BConnected’ the bundle offers ‘BlackBerry Messenger’, a real time messaging and chat service, as well as access to social networks, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. It also offers access to monthly, weekly or daily plans on the expiration of a 30 day free trial period.

    The bundle is priced at N1, 580 (about $11) monthly and excludes e-mail services which most other BlackBerry services include. This pricing is believed to be cheaper than the cost of the standard service which includes e-mail services.

    MTN also introduced a similar package that allows subscribers to make a choice and enter the service at a cost that is as low as N450 ($3).
    The BlackBerry smart phone is primarily known for its’ ability to send and receive (push) Internet e-mail wherever mobile network service coverage is present, or through Wi-Fi connectivity.

    They support a large array of instant messaging features, including BlackBerry Messenger. BlackBerry commands a 14.8 percent share of worldwide smart phone sales, making it the fifth most popular device manufacturer after Nokia, Samsung, LG, and Apple.

    The consumer BlackBerry Internet Service is available in 91 countries worldwide on over 500 mobile service operators using various mobile technologies.

    The grey market operators tend to sell unauthorised products which come mostly from Asia, as well as second hand products which come from Europe and the US.
    The attraction for the grey market operators is that their prices are significantly lower than the prices of the authorised channels.  They sometimes sell at less than half the prices of the authorised products.

    The disadvantage of the grey market is that their products don’t come with warranties and are usually not as reliable or durable.  Market watchers say though, that because Nigeria is a low income environment, there is a special attraction for greymarket products, with all the problems they portend.

    It Newsafrica
  • Cameroon’s telecoms agency, Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications (ART), has issued fines amounting to XAF6.3 billion (USD13.6 million) to six of the country’s telecoms operators for violating laws that govern the sector.

    According to a report by CamerPress, mobile operator Orange Cameroun was handed the largest fine, around XAF4.14 billion, of which XAF3.2 billion was issued for establishing long distance transmission links without permission, while a further fine of XAF940.4 million was imposed on the operator for unauthorised use of numbering resources. The country’s other mobile operator, MTN Cameroon, was penalised XAF523.2 million for unauthorised use of numbering resources, while its internet subsidiary received a fine of XAF250 million for unauthorised use of frequencies in the cities of Douala and Bafoussam.

    State-owned fixed line telco CamTel is required to pay XAF887 million for unauthorised use of numbering resources, while internet service provider (ISP) Ringo has been fined around XAF421 million for using frequencies without permission in the cities of Yaounde, Douala, Limbe and Bafoussam. Another ISP, Alink Telecom, has been penalised XAF80 million also for using frequencies without permission for the provision of wireless internet services.

    CamerPress
  • - The number of mobile subscribers in Tanzania is expected to hit 36.6 million in the next four years. According to a Business Monitor International report, the industry is expected to grow at a penetration rate of more than 70 per cent by 2015. BMI attributes this to the impact of the recently heated tariff wars among the operators in a bid to boost subscriber growth.

    - Econet Wireless has launched Burundi's first broadband service. This follows an investment of over $10 million in 3G technology. Econet, the fourth licensed operator in Burundi is currently second largest but fastest growing telecommunications company a subscriber base of over 600,000 subscribers and extensive coverage in all provinces. The company has already invested over US$60 million on its existing network. The largets is Orascom owned Ucom with about 1 million subscribers. The others are the state owned Onamob, Africell, owned by VTL Holdings (going by the trade name Tempo) and Lacel SU.

    - Bharti Airtel has announced a five-year managed services agreement with Ericsson for its Africa operations. Manoj Kohli, CEO (International) & Joint Managing Director, Bharti Airtel, said as per the agreement, Ericsson will manage and optimize Airtel's mobile networks in Africa. He said under a separate two year agreement, Ericsson will modernize and upgrade Airtel's mobile networks in Africa with the latest technology including its multi standard RBS 6000 base station.

internet

  • The government has succumbed to Internet market players' demands for a piece of its inland fibre optic network.

    In a meeting chaired by Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo, and attended by telecom operators, it was resolved that a team be formed to manage the National Optic Fibre Backbone Infrastructure (Nofbi).

    The meeting on Monday agreed that Nofbi will be accessible to all interested licensed operators, who shall provide the last mile solutions to their customers.
    Telkom Kenya has been managing the cable on behalf of the government and sells capacity to other operators.

    However, the government and other operators say Telkom Kenya has not sold capacity to other players aggressively. "A committee was formed to look at pricing and help manage the cable," Dr Ndemo said, adding that the team would also investigate claims that Telkom Kenya has been incurring huge costs in operation and maintenance.
    "The government will not continue spending such huge amounts of money on operation and maintenance," he added.

    Ms Fiona Asonga, Chief Executive Officer, Telecommunications Service Providers Association of Kenya, said that the move will ensure as many people as possible have access to the backbone infrastructure and eventually make it sustainable.
    The new team consists of representatives from the government, Telkom Kenya, Kenya Data Networks, Jamii Telecoms, Safaricom and Frontier Optical Networks (FON) Ltd.

    "It is the hope of all those involved that the use of this shared platform will be a contributing factor to the reduced costs of internet access," she said.
    The committee will meet on Friday to announce a new pricing regime for the cable.
    The move to appoint a new team to manage the cable loosens Telkom Kenya's grip on the cable, in what could see it lose annual management fees of Sh250 million.

    The move to renegotiate the contract is part of the government's plan to lower internet costs, especially after connecting the country to the undersea cable that was expected to substantially cut prices -- and lift penetration especially to rural areas.
    In the country, the wholesale prices on international fibre optic cables have come down to Sh36,000 ($400) from Sh315,000 ($3,500) previously charged by satellite service providers since the country got undersea fibre connections by Seacom, Teams and Eassy.

    Daily Nation
  • As cheaper retail fibre prices began to appear in the market, Uganda’s SMEs are starting to offer online trading services.

    Recently, Kampala Money Mart launched an online portal, a platform aimed at linking buyers and sellers.
    It is a market where sellers can freely display their merchandise to attract clientele. The goods on display range from cars, electronics, clothing, and other house items.
    According to Roger M. Shillingi, the Public Relations Officer of Kampala Mart, online trading helps in times of economic crisis as it reduces on the day-to-day business expenses. It is free and it eliminates middlemen who usually take a percentage on money paid.

    "Even when you are hit by the economic crisis, you can display your goods on this online portal. Such trading keeps going on provided you can still access internet," he says.

    "In Uganda, we have a big number of small and midsized business operators. These people have businesses but many cannot afford mainstream advertising. With this website, such people can advertise their goods for free.

    The procedure is simple; sign in as a member, upload details about your goods and you will be viewed by the growing number of online visitors. There is no limitation on what commodity to advertise."

    He says this platform always links buyers and sellers and after getting the connections, they can link up to proceed with business transactions with no destruction from middlemen.

    "With this new portal, Ugandans can transact businesses with no middlemen. You simply visit the website and upload the details of your commodities."
    Other people will also visit the website and check out the goods on display. Any potential buyers will then get the contacts of the seller and negotiate on the terms of purchase without involvement of middlemen," he says.

    MTN also has a commercial partnership with CNN Marketplace Africa. Under this partnership, African businesses will receive exclusive publicity from CNN Marketplace Africa.

    This online platform gets up close with the major players and innovators in Africa with intent of developing African enterprises. Marketplace Africa has links that are directly connected to the MTN business website, visit the website here:

    Speaking in Kampala last week, Themba Khumalo, the MTN Uganda CEO, said this partnership will help African businesses develop at relatively fast pace. "Even though we are late entrants to the use of modern technology, we can still benefit from it. With this MTN-CNN partnership, Africa now has a catalyst that will help Africa businesses move forward. Africans are now connected to modern and widely used technologies," he said.

    Khumalo called upon Ugandans to come up with more original and innovative ideas that will put Uganda among the champions of development in Africa.
    Minus websites that are fully committed to providing business news, links and solutions, there are also a number of pages on social networking websites used to propel business.

    They include Trade Links Africa and Zillion Club Classifieds both on Facebook.
    These groups are online markets that link buyers and sellers with a membership of more than 25,000 people each.

    Such business platforms are expected to continuously increase as Uganda switches from traditional means of doing business to modern and advanced trends.
    Mohammed Kaliisa, one of the clients of Kampalamart says that this innovation is very useful for the Ugandan market.

    In just three weeks, he says that he has been able to sell a car and also in negotiations with customers who want to buy laptops.
    "The website is very useful. I opened my account three weeks back and I posted my items including a car, electronics and laptop bags.
    Last week, I managed to reach a deal and sold the car at 18 million. I am also in negotiations with people who want to buy second hand laptops."

    The Monitor
  • SEACOM has invested R100 million in additional South African infrastructure to meet the continuous high growth in demand for broadband services and applications. The investment includes the purchase of physical optical fibre links from Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) as well as installing the equipment required for SEACOM to manage the network linking KwaZulu Natal’s coast where the SEACOM marine cable lands to two redundant Points of Presence (PoPs) in Gauteng.

    Initially, 100 Gigabit per second (Gb/s) of the fibre will be lit (using current 10 Gb/s technology) and a further 20 waves are expected to be lit within the next 12 months. Ultra-modern transmission technology is being used with 100 Gb/s per wavelength which gives the new link a design capacity of over 8 Terabit per second (Tb/s). This is in line with SEACOM’s plans to expand the marine portion of the cable to over 4.8 Tb/s.

    This enormous amount of capacity enables SEACOM to align current and future customer needs with the explosion in broadband demand driven by a wave of content rich applications such as cloud computing to meet enterprise requirements, HD video streaming and IPTV services. This investment also supports SEACOM’s recently launched Internet Protocol (IP) platform that will drive the proliferation of content created in Africa and the regional hosting of international content.

    Brian Herlihy, SEACOM CEO, said: “South Africa continues to offer tremendous growth opportunities and this investment confirms SEACOM’s view that adequate infrastructure  will ensure that the market can absorb new capacity within record time.

  • - According to MyBroadband.co.za, British Telecom’s international unit BT Global Services is gearing up to get involved in one of South Africa’s ongoing national fibre projects, with an announcement expected during the next few weeks. Speaking at the Submarine Networks World Africa 2011 conference in Sandton, South Africa this week, Stephen Kelly, BT Global’s head of Middle East and Africa operation, revealed that BT is set to invest in a fibre network in South Africa, with the FibreCo Telecommunications consortium its most likely target.

    - Fly540 joins M-Pesa corporate Pay Bill partners using the service, including learning and financial institutions, NGOs, religious organisations, transport operators, insurance agencies, hotels and hospitals. Fly540 operations director Nixon Ooko explained: "M-Pesa will ease the procedure of buying tickets for our customers, many of whom are already familiar with using M-Pesa to pay for other services.

computing

  • Team Nerds, a team of four students from University of Technology, Akure, represented Nigeria in the just concluded 2011 Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals held in New York, the United States of America.

    The student competition, which is now in its ninth year, centers on the use of imagination, creativity and technology to help solve some of the world's toughest problems.

    David Olaniyan, Oluwafemi Alaba, Taiwo Orogbangba and Toluwanimi Kolawole made it through the local and regional legs of the competition in order to secure their ticket to the worldwide finals.

    Their entry, Project Medicare, is a software which solves the problems of inadequate medical support systems in rural communities.

    The Imagine Cup has grown to become the world's premier student technology competition with more than 325,000 students representing 100 countries participating in last year's event.

    This year's competition theme was inspired by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems".

    "We have an innovative product which we believe, when further developed, will change the face of medical care in Nigeria's rural communities" David Olaniyan, leader, Team Nerds, said.

    For Oyeshina Oyetosho, Developer and Platform Evangelism Lead, Microsoft Corporation Anglophone West Africa, "We are extremely proud of Team Nerds for making it through to the global finals and representing Nigeria.

    " We hope that they will inspire other students in Africa to develop solutions that address the challenges faced by their communities. The potential for technology to empower people can only be realized through imagination, and Team Nerds' project is a great example of how this translates into a tangible solution to real-world problems."

    This year, more than 350 000 students from 183 countries participated in Microsoft's Imagine Cup competition.

    124 teams secured their places at the July 8-13 Worldwide Finals event where they competed for international recognition and $215 000 (U.S.) in cash prizes in categories including Software Design, Embedded Development, Game Design, Digital Media, Windows Phone 7, IT Challenge, Interoperability Challenge, Windows 7 Touch Challenge and the Orchard Challenge.

    The overall winner of the competition was Team Hermes from Ireland. The team designed a device that plugs into a car and monitors dangerous driving behavior and road conditions, providing instant feedback to both the driver and the car owner.

    The team's solution uses embedded technology, Windows Phone 7, Bing Maps and the Windows Azure cloud computing platform to change driving habits and reduce road deaths, which impact a significant number of young lives each year.

    Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

    The Vanguard
  • Vodacom's new state-of-the-art, energy-efficient data centre on Cape Town's foreshore was designed and built not only to help the telecoms group reduce its carbon footprint, but also so that cost reductions can be passed on to its customers.

    Scalability of the data centre was a key design feature, with the data floor area being able to expand from an initial 1552 to an ultimate 2862 square metres.

    With low energy usage being a key design goal, cooling is provided by a water-cooled chiller plant, and air-cooled step-down transformers with an efficiency of greater than 98% distributing power at the highest possible voltage as close to the source as possible.

    The data centre is illuminated by a combination of T5 technology lamps and LED lamps, while lighting is controlled by individual light and motion sensors mounted to each fitting with a time delay to go off.

    The building also makes use of service passages around the data centre floor areas, which improves thermal insulation, reduces the risk of water entrance to critical data floor areas and improves physical security.

    "We're excited about this data centre because it shows our commitment to our joint initiative with our parent company Vodafone, to ensure that we reduce our carbon emissions worldwide," Vodacom head of corporate affairs Portia Maurice said in a statement this week.

    The data centre is the latest built to meet the needs of the growing community of Vodacom business customers and to prepare for the expansion of cloud computing, which is already gaining traction in South Africa.

    Since the establishment Vodacom's Business Services division just over three years ago, Vodacom Group executive Chris Ross said business customers of all sizes were demanding more and more services to run and grow their organisations.

    As a result, virtualisation, hosted services such as hosted call centres, telepresence, and increased acceptance of convergence have all been major factors in the investment in a new data centre.

    Scalable cloud computing plays a vital role in any modern data centre, and Vodacom has partnered with VMware and Novell to give customers all the benefits of efficient and cost-effective market-leading technology.

    "Vodacom has reduced the space needed to host traditional servers in our data centre," said Ross. "We have also reduced power utilisation to help reduce our carbon foot print. We will pass the benefits of cloud computing to our customers, enabling a truly flexible, agile and scalable cloud service."

  • mLab Southern Africa (SA), the region’s new incubator for entrepreneurs and innovators with a focus on mobile technology, is pleased to announce that application for membership has opened. The head office of the mLab SA will be officially opened at The Innovation Hub in Pretoria on 15 September, but already mobile developers and entrepreneurs with a startup business, organisation or mobile idea are applying to become members.

    The mLab SA provides incubation support to mobile developers and entrepreneurs through the following services: subsidised office space with meeting rooms – to allow members to benefit from being part of the mobile startup community; training and accreditation on mobile technologies and entrepreneurship; business mentoring and coaching; business intelligence, such as privileged access to market research information and knowledge repositories; testing of mobile apps and services in dedicated test bays; and organising regular events for networking and knowledge sharing. The mLab SA will also assist members in accessing finance, whether it be in the form of grants, seed capital, angel investors or venture capitalists.

    Members benefit from the shared services offered at the mLab SA, such as reception, internet and test bays, because this allows entrepreneurs to lower their burn rate – how quickly they spend their startup capital – and so extend the survivability of their ideas.

    The mLab SA, and the recently opened mLab East Africa, in Nairobi, are the first of a number of mLabs to be launched around the world as part of the Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy programme, supported by infoDev (World Bank), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland and Nokia. mLab SA is also generously supported by the South African Department of Science and Technology. While the head office will be in Pretoria, a number of satellite offices will be established throughout the region. A Cape Town satellite office is in the process of being established.

    Southern Africa was chosen as a region to locate an mLab because of the enormous potential of mobile technologies for supporting business development, social development and job creation in the region. In South Africa, mobile penetration is around 100%, and 39% of urban South Africans are now browsing the internet on their phones. Mobile phones touch almost every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the potential for improving areas such as healthcare and education has already been successfully demonstrated.

    But while there exists an enormous mobile opportunity in the region, there are still challenges to creating a sustainable business or organisation in mobile. Competition is stiff; the mobile landscape is highly uneven across different technologies, user groups and countries; and mobile developers are scarce and expensive. Added to that, a startup business or organisation is very vulnerable. It needs business, technical and financial support, and can benefit greatly from acceleration and incubation.

    The mLab SA offers three types of membership: Community, which is free and which anyone can join, and Silver and Gold, for which interviews are necessary. Silver and Gold members pay a fee to access the core services of the mLab SA at the facility in The Innovation Hub, and receive more structured support from the mLab SA team and it’s partners. Support services will either be delivered directly by the mLab SA, or through external providers to which members will be pointed, e.g. the Bandwidth Barn’s business mentoring program.

    Applications can be submitted via the mLab SA website, where further information regarding membership can also be found.

  • - TWAS is currently seeking nominations of young scientists in Africa whose research in computer science promises to have a positive impact in the developing world. Each year, three winners are selected from different countries on the continent. Each recipient receives a Euro 7,000 cash award generously contributed by Microsoft Research, of which EUR 2,000 may be spent at the recipient’s discretion and EUR 5,000 shall be earmarked for further research.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Nigerian firm Syntel has finalised a technical partnership agreement with Swedish equipment vendor Ericsson in an attempt to acquire a 75% stake in fixed line incumbent NITEL, after the latest attempt to sell the ailing telco was cancelled last month.

    Local news source ThisDay reports that under the agreement Ericsson would provide the technical assistance for the revival of NITEL, including the expansion of its network across the country.

    Snytel has also reportedly partnered with financial consortium DKAI to provide USD1 billion for the acquisition of NITEL and its mobile arm M-Tel. Syntel’s chairman and CEO, Precious Elekima, said the company has finalised plans to acquire and revive NITEL and M-Tel and assured that if it was successful in its bid to purchase the telco, the company would be fully operational within 180 days.

    Earlier this month it was reported that Microfone Telecom Nigeria, an initiative of the Nigerian Capital Development Fund, had also expressed an interest in taking over the operations of NITEL.

    This Day
  • MTN MobileMoney is introducing an e-commerce payment mechanism called payD that allows SA consumers to buy products and services online using their debit cards. Budget airline 1time is the first company to offer the new online payment technology.

    Dave Parratt, head of new business development at MTN MobileMoney, says only 3% of SA’s population has credit cards and “this is generally the only way to transact online” in SA.

    For the seller, transaction costs for credit cards cut deep into margins. Parratt says this reduces the range of products electronic retailers are able to offer.
    1time CEO Rodney James says the airline has been looking for “secure and convenient alternatives to the cumbersome electronic funds transfer or bank deposit payment options”.

    Standard Bank and Nedbank Pin-based debit card users on the MTN and Vodacom networks can use payD, with more banks expected to offer the service within a year. “As a payment mechanism, payD is completely partner-neutral. Standard Bank and Nedbank are the first banks operational on the system but will soon be joined by other major institutions,” says Parratt.

    PayD uses the “authenticated mobile transaction” technology developed by MTN MobileMoney and uses Sim and Pin technology to turn any mobile phone into a secure, encrypted point-of-sale terminal.

    “A critical element to payD’s security, apart from the high levels of hardware-based encryption, is that the service will work only for the registered user via their personal mobile phone,” says Parratt. “So, there need to be three elements simultaneously in place for the service to work: the debit card, the registered phone and the ATM Pin. It is as secure as walking into your nearest shopping centre, but it works online.”

    The greatest challenge to getting debit card holders online was recreating the security of a traditional point of sale (POS) in the mobile world. “Cellphones have many of the things POS units have. Networks have encryption, and Sims work like the chips in debit cards. We can secure the network and replicated the Pin pad at a POS,” he says.

    “We can’t even see the card number, but we can see the cellphone number,” says Parratt. “Once users have linked a debit card to their cellphone number, they need only quote their cellphone number, then they’ll be sent an SMS requesting their Pin — so Pin and card details aren’t kept together.

    The SMS users receive is what Parratt calls a “pervasive message”, which means it doesn’t remain on the phone once the transaction is complete. “You carry all of the necessary security on your phone, in your pocket. But if you lose your phone, no one will be able to transact with it without having your debit card Pin, too”.
    He says debit card transactions are priced at almost same rate as POS ones, at “around 1%”. He says that as credit card transactions carry a higher premium, payD will also allow small retailers to boost their profits.

    TechCentral
  • The ongoing revolution in the Nigerian Information Technology (IT) market will enable Nigerians to get access to latest technologies in banking services with the introduction of money deposit ATMs in Nigeria.

    This development is being spearheaded by an initiative and partnership between Interswitch Nigeria, an electronic payment transaction and switching company, and Guaranty Trust Bank, to offer Nigerians an improved Automatic Teller Machines services in the country.

    Under this development, Interswitch will implement an innovative cardless ATM cash deposit solution for GTBank that will enable cash deposits through GTBank ATMs without inserting or using a debit card.

    The director for payment processing and infrastructure at Interswitch, Akeem Lawal, said the GTBank Cardless ATM cash deposit solution represents a big step towards full branch automation where entire banking operations are automated and customers are guaranteed an improved and consistent standard of service delivery at all automated bank branches.

    The solution can be accessed on certain GTBank cardless ATMs by clicking the enter button on the machine, which prompts the customer to key in the account details of the beneficiary to be credited.

    The ATM then requests for a confirmation of the account number and account name of the beneficiary. Once confirmed, the customer insert the amount to be deposited, the ATM counts the cash and credits the beneficiary’s account immediately.
    The cardless ATM cash deposit solution allows a GTBank customer to deposit a bundle of different naira denominations and the ATM will sort through the different denominations.

    Once sorted, the ATM displays the amount according to the different denominations and also the total amount deposited.

    The ATM cash deposit solution has the ability to validate the account of the beneficiary, allowing the depositor to confirm or correct any error.
    The deposited amount reflects in the beneficiary account real-time, and can be withdrawn immediately. With the cardless solution, the bank’s customers who wish to make cash deposits no longer need to visit the banking hall.

    They can simply deposit their cash via the ATM into a beneficiary’s accounts at any time of the day, including weekends.

    This provides customers the flexibility of depositing cash anytime; hence, they do not need to worry about carrying huge sums of money home.
    Banks are leveraging the use of ATMs to provide improved consumer banking experience by taking self-service to a whole new level, he added.

    “Cardless ATM cash deposit solution has reduced the number of customers who visit the GTBank branches,” said Lawal pointing out that the ATM solution for cash deposit transactions was the first of its kind in Nigeria.

    Lola Odedina, head of communication and external affairs at GTBank, explained that the solution from Interswitch was bound to improve the Nigerian banking sector by providing a “secure, quicker and more effective channel for making deposits without visiting a banking hall” or using an ATM card.

    It Newsafrica
  • The government of Rwanda is hoping to sell telecoms operator Rwandatel by the end of the year in a move aimed at raising funds to pay off the company’s creditors, The New Times reports.

    The decision follows an order by the commercial court in Nyarungenge to liquidate the firm, which had its mobile licence revoked in April 2011 due to its failure to meet licence obligations. The court stated that liquidation is the best way to safeguard the interests of Rwandatel’s creditors and other stakeholders.

    ‘The liquidation strategy to be adopted is to sell the business assets to another player offering telecommunication services. The move will ensure maximisation of the value of assets and enable continuation of service delivery without interruption,’ commented Rwandatel’s administrator, Richard Mugisha. All Rwandatel creditors are requested to submit their claims against the company by 18 August 2011.

    Telegeography
  • - The government of Guinea-Bissau is preparing the financial restructuring and revaluation of its nation PTO Guinea Telecom ahead of the proposed privatisation of the operator, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior said last Friday. The PM’s announcement coincided with the release of details on a corporate restructuring of wireline operator Guinea Telecom and its mobile division Guinetel, both of which are 100% owned by the state but currently technically bankrupt. As part of the proposed plan to relaunch the two units, the government has received a budget of CFA7 billion (USD15.6 million) from the African Development Bank and Ecobank, to ‘balance’ the two companies (in technical terms) and then privatise them, he said.

    - Moroccan group Maroc Telecom has reported consolidated revenues of MAD15.32 billion (USD1.92 billion) in the first six months of 2011, down by 0.8% from the same period of last year, due to a 1.7% decline in revenues in its domestic market caused by intense competition. The revenue squeeze in Morocco was partly offset by 4.8% turnover growth in the group’s foreign subsidiaries’ revenues. Maroc Telecom consolidates Mauritel, Onatel, Gabon Telecom, Sotelma and Casanet in its financial statements, and since 30 June 2010 no longer consolidates Mobisud Belgique in its results.

    - According to iAfrica.com, South African internet service provider (ISP) Afrihost is close to finalising a deal to acquire the entire share capital of rival ISP Axxess DSL. The website reports that the deal should be completed by August. Afrihost and Axxess are expected to continue to operate as separate brands, eventually operating on merged platforms. Afrihost director Greg Payne commented: ‘Combining two entities like this makes the sum more valuable than the individual parts’.

Digital Content

  • Relevant local information that can drive more people into the Internet is what is required to spur mobile advertising in the country, according to industry experts.
    Moses Kemibaro, the regional manager of Internet marketing firm Dealfish said the potential of mobile advertising is enormous and barely scratched.

    "If you look at rankings on research from mobile ad networks such as AdMob, InMobi and BuzzCity, you will note that Kenya is within the top five markets for mobile ads in Africa, he says. "However the big challenge is that there is a need for more local online publishers to come on board mobile web so that there is more inventory".

    According to a recent TNS Digital Life survey, over 90 per cent of users access the Internet using their mobile phones. The unique characteristics of mobile devices - interactivity, compatibility and portability - enable users to defy spatial constraints giving the mobile phone an edge over other media of communication.

    In addition to this, the convergence of a number of features such as voice, video streaming, still pictures and Internet under the mobile device platform make the mobile phone a perfect tool to reach the masses.
    Despite this strategic advantage that the mobile phone has over other media and the enormous following, the bulk of the country's multi-billion shilling ad spend is channelled to conventional media outlets - TV, radio, newspapers with the Internet taking the back burner.

    "Since the majority of users access the Internet using their mobile phones, local advertisers stand to benefit immensely by harnessing the advertising potential of mobile web," says Kemibaro.

    Kennedy Kachwanya, a business tech expert says that while every person in possession of a mobile phone is a potential target for mobile advertisers, some limiting factors downplay mobile ad reach. "The typical Kenyan owns a phone with very basic features, he says. "As such, the only form of mobile advertising through which they can be reached is through short message service, SMS".

    "The majority of Kenyan mobile users are however not thrilled when they constantly get unsolicited ads through SMS, Mr Kachwanya interjects, "Many consider this spamming and often times complain to the respective mobile phone network operators to stop".

    Increased penetration of smart phones riding on the back of a growing middle class gives mobile advertising fresh impetus to further develop in form and content. This is because more sophisticated forms of mobile ads like Mobile Web Banners, and Posters, ads on apps can be adopted.

    Mobile banners and posters are ad formats where the ad content scrolls above and below the mobile screen respectively. Such ads require devices running on more sophisticated operating systems like Google's Android or Apple's iOS. Currently, Chinese firm Huawei is leading the pack with its Android powered IDEOS and analysts are expecting other handset makers to develop cheaper smart phones in an attempt to appeal to the growing middle class market.

    This, according to Kemibaro presents an opportunity for application developers and advertising agents to develop a symbiotic relationship where advertisers can market their products while developers can generate revenue using their apps.
    "App developers could generate income by making their apps free but monetise them through advertising. This is a common practice globally and one that will become more commonplace in Kenya as we move forward however there is need for developers to create more apps to carry mobile ads for this model to really take off".

    John Muiruri is the business development manager at Uko Technologies, a start-up with several apps on Nokia's OviMail. "The greatest challenge that app developers face is that many potential advertisers are not aware of how they can leverage on existing local apps in the stores to market their brands", he says.

    In addition to this, the rate of local app downloads is low because many mobile phone users are yet to fully understand the concept of applications. This despite a number of local apps being offered for free.

    "The concept and hype of mobile apps is mostly shared among techies but the greater majority of consumers are oblivious". Part of the blame however, lies on developers who do not carry out proper research before launching their applications to the market.

    In addition to research, developers are encouraged to use social media to market and obtain feedback about their apps. "We normally provide links to our free apps on Ovi Store on Facebook and Twitter and also use word of mouth", says Mr Muiruri.
    For advertisers, creativity in ad content is key to creating successful mobile advertising campaigns says Mr Kachwanya. "The numbers are there, what marketers need is research on what consumers want and consumer mobile behaviour".

    Business Daily

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - Zimbabwe’s Telecel has added a dollar's worth of free data to its one dollar Mega Juice airtime card, which already carries a dollar's bonus airtime. That means that for one Zimbabwe dollar, a Mega Juice card gives one dollar's ordinary airtime, one dollar's bonus airtime and one dollar's worth of data, which amounts to 10 megabytes of data.

    - The Gaming Commission has given Vodafone Ghana the green light to launch a new SMS game dubbed ‘More Money’ to reward faithful customers with lots of prizes plus a GHS 100,000 cash prize for the person that would send the one millionth text message in the game.

    - Over one trillion shillings has gone through the mobile money transfer service that was introduced by telecommunications companies in Uganda in 2009, the Bank of Uganda has said. Uganda's central bank said in its end of year report that over Ush1 trillion (about $400m) was transferred through mobile money services last year. Uganda's largest telecommunications operator, MTN Uganda, has noted upsurge use in the service with the money transferred through their network alone for the month of June recorded at Ush550b (about $220m).

More

  • - John Barorot, Airtel Kenya Network Director has resigned barely two months after taking up the position. Managing Director, Rene Meza said:” Barorot will be leaving for personal reasons in the next three months.” Before joining Airtel Kenya, Barorot was a long serving Chief Technical Officer with rival, Safaricom.

    - In Sierra Leone, retired telecommunications engineer, Max William Thompson was last week approved by parliament as Commissioner of the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) after going through rigorous screening from the Appointment and Public Service Committee.

    - According to TheRegister.co.uk, UAE-based telecoms executive Ousama Abushagur – a Libyan national who was raised in Alabama – has assisted rebel forces in the implementation of a second mobile network, this time in the country’s third largest city, Misurata. In April 2011 Abushagur coordinated the construction of an independent mobile network in Eastern Libya, after rebels were cut off from the country’s centralised infrastructure. ‘Free Libyana’ was supplied with the necessary telecoms equipment by UAE telecoms giant Etisalat, which stepped in when Chinese telecoms manufacturer Huawei rejected Abushagur’s approach; an unnamed Libyan businessman based in the UAE bankrolled the project.

  • Mobile Entertainment Africa
    23 -24 August, 2011, Cape Town, South Africa

    From the team behind the Mobile Web in Africa series of events comes Mobile Entertainment Africa. Aiming to create a fantastic annual event which showcases the very latest information relating to maximising the entertainment opportunities on handheld devices, both from within Africa and further afield. Ticket subsidies are available for mobile start-ups and developers. For more information on Mobile Entertainment Africa, including the latest news and updates, visit here:
    or send an email to info@allamber.co.uk. 

    Connecting Rural Communities Africa Forum
    24 - 26 August, 2011, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

    The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, in conjunction with the Tanzanian Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology and the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority will be holding the sixth annual Connecting Rural Communities Africa Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 24 – 26 August 2011. With a milieu of ICT organisations such as Ericsson and Helios Towers Nigeria, the event promises to be an engaging forum in identifying regulatory, technical, financial and social challenges in providing connectivity in Africa.
    For more information visit here:


    Nigeria Com
    September 20 - 21 September, 2011, Lagos, Nigeria

    The 2nd annual Nigeria Com returns to Lagos. Gain unique market perspectives and insights from a 40 strong speaker-line up including 25+ Operator leaders. The 2 day agenda equips you to capitalise on new networks and services, while the 60 stand networking exhibition will showcase the world’s foremost technology and solutions available for your business. With 700+ attendees, if you do telecoms business in the region, this is an event you cannot afford to miss!
    For more information visit here:

    North Africa Com
    11 - 12 October, 2011, Tunis, Tunisia

    Now in its 6th year, the ONLY conference and exhibition dedicated to the North African telecoms market moves to Tunisia to address the dynamic French-speaking markets.
    The expanded conference agenda is now in development and will feature a host of new topics led by a speaker panel featuring some of North Africa's leading telcos.  Contact us today to apply to speak in the conference, or reserve your sponsorship or exhibition package.
    Be one of the first to see the 2011 agenda and sign up for your copy.
    For more information visit here:

    CDN World Summit
    26 - 28 October 2011, Hilton Hotel Paddington, London

    The 3rd annual CDN World Summit promises to be the largest and most
    comprehensive CDN event ever.The full value chain is represented including content providers,broadcast operators, traditional and telco CDNs, represented by industry leaders such as; FilmFlex Movies, BT Wholesale and AT&T.
    For more information visit here:

    Digital Migration and Spectrum Policy Summit
    29 October to 01 November 2011, Nairobi, Kenya.

    For more information visit here:

    Africa Com
    November 9 - November 10, 2011, Cape Town, SA

    Join 5,000 of Africa’s leading telcos in Cape Town this November for what is set to be the biggest and best AfricaCom yet.  The conference agenda has doubled to incorporate a record 150+ speakers presenting across 4 strategic keynotes, 11 in-depth focus sessions and 2 co-located events – AfricaCast and Enterprise ICT Africa.  What’s more 250+ international solutions providers will be showcasing their latest products in the networking exhibition.
    For more information visit here:

    World Telecom Summit 2011
    9–11 November, 2011, Singapore Marriott Hotel

    World Telecom Summit 2011 is the must-attend event of the year. Bringing together top level executives and key decision makers of preeminent telecommunications companies from around the world, this is the perfect opportunity to meet the who’s who of the telecommunications and mobile industry.  It is the summit that addresses the evolving needs of telecommunications and mobile community. Get up to date with the latest innovations and technological advancements in the industry and gain access to the minds of the movers and shakers of the industry.
    Take advantage of the Limited Early Bird Rates for Operator Pass!
    For more information please visit here:
    or contact Vivian at vivian.ho@olygen.com

    Mobile VAS Africa 2012
    14 - 15 May 2012, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Mobile VAS Africa 2012 will bring together industry experts and representatives from leading financial institutions, mobile operators and solutions providers to provide a strategic insight into mobile VAS while exploring collaborative business models, innovative applications, technologies and straegies. For more information visit here:

    Roaming & Interconnect
    16 - 17 May 2012, Johannesburg, South Africa

    RIC Africa 2012 will uncover new strategies to boost roaming traffic and retain existing roamers. During the conference we will look at the innovative roaming solutions and pricing, supplementing roaming with alternative revenue streams, the latest EU regulations and their impact on operations in Africa, as well as the importance of hubbing and convergence.  For more information please visit here:

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