Using Mesh Wi-Fi software that sits on a range of popular devices, US tech policy intervention start-up X-Lab has created a way of rolling out local connectivity. With two working examples in Somaliland and Tunisia, this is not just a good concept. Russell Southwood spoke to X-Lab founder Sascha Meinrath.
The software is called Commotion Wireless and is Open Source software that allows routers, android phones and linux laptops to all speak the same language and communicate using a mesh network. This allows communities to build their own networks out of these devices and they can either be connected to the Internet or use it solely as a local area network. Access to the network is identical to using a Wi-Fi network: once you have the software, you simply choose the network.
Commotion Wireless grew out of the political ferment in the late 1990s:”I was looking for a way of documenting what was happening on the street and we needed a mechanism to distribute it. I thought this is an interesting problem to have to solve so got a group of super-geeks together to do it. I didn’t realise how complicated it would be to do but we did it and that’s how we got to Commotion 1.0. It’s not like a mobile hub-and-spoke network where the only way to communicate is through the central hub”.
Mesh technology started with a heated debate about how much the available bandwidth would degrade as more hops were added:”The debates were around how with every hop, the bandwidth reduced by half. We’ve clearly demonstrated that it goes down but not in a linear fashion. Also it’s often faster in the network than it is outside the network.”
One of the working projects is in rural Somaliland, which is as Meinrath puts it, “in the middle of nowhere.” The connection to build the mesh network came through Don Hastings who was appointed ICT instructor at Abaarso School of Science and Technology. He had heard of the software and once he’d managed to get some Ubiquiti routers into the country involved his students in setting up the network.
With various high points like water towers, the network covered the school itself (including the boys’ and girls’ dorms) and surrounding areas. Hastings says in his blog account:” I wanted to use the full sense of the term and make file sharing among my students easy and manageable. In order to solve this communication problem I decided to rely less on the outside Internet and rely more on local applications installed on our servers”.
“I found the solution to our inconsistent and slow Internet by installing OwnCloud, an open source alternative to Dropbox, on our local server. Now students could share homework assignments with me and other teachers without having to rely on the Internet at all.”
The school currently has a satellite connection but this is only available on an occasional basis so it is largely a local network. Somaliland will before too long be connected to international fibre but Abaarso remain a remote desert location.
It is precisely these kind of remote locations that have little or no chance of getting mobile coverage in the medium to long term. Nevertheless this kind of local area network has the potential to offer a VoIP based local network that would greatly improve the lives of those within its coverage area.
The second of X-Lab’s working projects covers an urban area in Tunisia. The Sayada community network, Mesh Sayada, is a collaboratively designed and built wireless network. The town of Sayada is located on the Tunisian coast, 140 kilometers from Tunis and has somewhere around 10,000 inhabitants.
The network serves as a platform for locally-hosted content, such as Wikipedia and Open Street Maps. Since the network was put up, a local entrepreneur has launched an online radio station with talk shows. Meinrath says he found out about it on Twitter. Local residents and CLibre, a Sayada-based free technology association, initiated the network in December, 2013. Currently 70-80% of the town’s population has wireless coverage.
The community installed one network server with Open Street Maps of Tunisia, Wikipedia in French and Arabic, a collection of 2,500 free books in French, an Etherpad application for collaborative document editing, and a MediaGrid application for secure chat and file sharing. A local developer created a local portal that links to each of these services. A DNS server on the network allows people to use comprehensible names such as SAYADA.MESH, WIKIPEDIA.MESH, and so on, to access the local applications.
The municipal government agreed to provide bandwidth for synchronization and proxy of particular sites (as providing an open connection to the Internet over the network would violate existing regulations). The community is planning to synchronize the existing Sayada web portal and the existing Sayada Wikimedia site, which are currently hosted in France. Several developers from around Tunisia have volunteered to contribute additional applications for the local network.
According to a case study on the project written by organisation X-Lab comes out of (New America Foundation) most points on the network are only one or two “hops” away from each other, with only a few routes on the network having three or four hops:”It was difficult to verify the number of hops a given bandwidth test would take, due to the dynamic and automatic nature of the mesh routing protocols”.
“For the most part, throughput on single hop connections is very good. The maximum throughput on the PicoStation M2 units, under perfect conditions, is 32Mbits per second. Two of the well-connected single-hop links displayed good throughput numbers, 12.3Mbits per second on average. The discrepancy with the third single-hop link result of 3.6Mbits per second may result from a fluctuation in the link quality between two of the routers (SayadaLibre-4 and SayadaLibre- 3)”.
Although Meinrath knows how many people are covered, he’s not able to give user numbers as they are anxious not to use the network to be “surveilling the users.” Nevertheless, he says that the use of applications on the network is in the hundreds and in some cases the thousands.
Is X-Lab looking to do more in Africa?:”We’re looking for partners on the ground as part of our mission and support from Government and NGOs.”
TV White Spaces has had a lot of airplay as an innovative, low-cost technology to improve access in Sub-Saharan Africa. This kind of Mesh Wi-Fi should also be added to the list for those African countries that want to use the most innovative technologies to crack providing low-cost Internet access.
Digital Content Africa: Balancing Act’s web TV channel Smart Monkey TV has launched a new e-letter called Digital Content Africa. On a fortnightly basis, it will cover online film, music, publishing and services and applications. We have already produced 20 issues and these can be viewed on this link:
Essential reading for those in mobile VAS to anyone just interested in what African and relevant international content they can now get online. If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to email@example.com with Digital Content Africa in the title line. Some examples of past issues below:
Digital Content Africa Z19 – The Mobile Deal that is keeping Africans from having more music, film and TV on their mobiles
Digital Content Africa Z17 – South African entrepreneurs create Live AndroidTv using XBox Media Centre with device costing just over US$100
Digital Content Africa Z16 - MTN Play Côte d’Ivoire is looking for digital content that will play well on mobile phones
Digital Content Africa Z-13 - Ghanaian online platform Reel African announces the launch of first viewer votes feature film competition with cash prize
Videos interviews to watch:
Bastian Gotter of Lagos incubator Spark on providing services for Africans coming online
Videos interviews to watch:
Gillian Ezra, Simfy Africa on launching a music streaming service with MTN in South Africa
Sascha Meinrath, X-Lab on using Mesh Wi-Fi to connect the unconnected in Somaliland and Tunisia
Andrea Bohnstedt on the challenges of SME investing and the African tech sector
Antos Stella, CCA on the impact of digital on the music business in Africa – The company MTN bought into
Brett Loubser on how WeChat Africa is both a radio station and a second screen
The late Carey Eaton, One Africa Media on how it became one of Africa's largest online players
For breaking news, follow us on Twitter: @BalancingActAfr
The terrible state of the telecommunications infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC) has touched the World Bank and it wants to rehabilitate it with a funding of $92 million.
The funding will be made available via the International Development Association (IDA) on a five-year basis, the Bretton Woods institution said.
“For the first time ever the country’s main cities will come close to one another, adequately reconnect the Congo with its neighbors, improve connectivity and therefore boost telecoms companies’ operations,” Longange said.
According to the World Bank, the funding will help develop the missing links in the national fibre optic network, and overcome the distance between the most densely populated economic centres of Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi.
The Bank also said that the project offered a unique opportunity to develop crucial infrastructure, and exploit the ICT’s potential of transformation in the aim of promoting growth and creating new opportunities for Congolese citizens.
World Bank DRC representative Eustache Ouayoro said linking the country’s three economic centres will help private telecommunications operators get access to shared infrastructure which they could have been unable to finance.
Three main Somali telecommunication companies namely Hormud, Somtel and National link have signed cooperation.
The three said in a joint press conference that the cooperation will pave way for easy communication of their customers across the three networks.
The three have also agreed to form Somali telecommunication company (STC) to urgently implement and facilitate the pact between the telecomunication giants in the country.
It is not clear when exactly the joint service will come into effect however some of the Somali citizens whom the Somali current has contacted for reaction have welcomed the idea saying the agreement was timely and based on the everchanging world of telecommunication.
Liquid Telecom and Eutelsat have extended their relationship to 2019 with a new multi-transponder contract for satellite capacity delivering premium coverage of sub-Saharan Africa.
The additional capacity is on the Eutelsat 7B satellite recently deployed at 7 degrees East. Liquid Telecom has also transferred existing traffic at 7 degrees East onto Eutelsat 7B and has plans to ramp-up further capacity over the coming 12 months.
The new resources support Liquid Telecom's objectives to expand satellite operations in Africa. As part of a multi-million dollar investment in its satellite business, the company recently became the first operator to build a satellite hub at Teraco's earth station in South Africa. The hub enables Liquid Telecom to route African traffic in Africa rather than backhauling it via Europe.
Bharti Airtel's Zambian subsidiary expects to invest around USD80 million over the next 12 months expanding its network coverage and deploying LTE upgrades.
Airtel's managing director Charity Lumpa told the Zambia Daily Mail that while in the past the firm had experienced significant challenges in terms of network coverage, it has done a lot of research into the problems and secured the investment funding to fix them.
"Our focus in terms of rollout is to enhance quality and coverage," Ms Lumpa said at a media briefing in Lusaka.
"In 2014, we will spend an additional USD80 million in terms of network expansion and coverage with 147 new sites. We have also received an approval of USD62 million to enhance our OPEX in order to manage and enhance the network operations," she added.
Ms Lumpa noted that 4G services will be available on 25 base stations in 2014.
The country's three mobile networks are under considerable regulatory pressure to improve their quality of service, and the regulator is currently mulling issuing a fourth mobile operator license to increase competition.
It has also taken to deploying its own towers in rural areas, which it plans to lease to the mobile networks.
- Airtel Niger, the local cellular unit of Indian telecoms company Bharti Airtel, has been awarded a 15-year licence for the establishment and operation of a 3G network, Reuters reports, citing a government statement. The West African country has also agreed to renew Airtel’s existing 2G concession, for a total consideration of XOF34 billion (USD69.8 million).
Tigo's successful testing of 4G (LTE) wireless technology in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, is a significant landmark for Millicom as well as a regional first for the country.
The event itself, on 17 July, was attended by Daoussa Deby Itno, the Minister of Post and New Information Technologies, and demonstrated our capacity to connect this landlocked central African nation's population of 12.5 million people to high speed mobile broadband.
We aim to develop high speed internet across the country and to roll out to new sites, including in rural areas. At present, Tigo’s networks reach 85 per cent of Chad’s population. Such unique opportunities are in line with our transforming lives approach to markets in Africa and Latin America.
Tigo Chad's General Manager Benoit Janin said: "We are proud to be the first operation of Millicom's operations in Africa to kick off the 4G (LTE) technology. But we are even more proud to be the first operator in Central Africa to do so, thus putting Chad amongst the top ICT leaders within the whole African continent."
Since 2007, the Tigo brand has been Chad's leading mobile service provider, turning exciting, innovative ideas into real digital lifestyle opportunities.
Over the next five years, we expect these opportunities to grow as we invest a further $200 million to improve quality of service in mobile communications and accessibility.
Initially, our 4G service will be made available to residents in N'Djamena, and then rolled out from there.
We will also be rolling out 3G more widely before the end of 2014, as part of our commitment to the people of Chad.
Residents of another upmarket Johannesburg suburb have kick-started the process of building a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network in their neighbourhood. Parkview has signalled plans to follow the example of nearby Parkhurst, which has taken an early lead in building FTTH.
“We have fast fibre-optic cables running through and around the suburb that could be used to provide much better broadband Internet services at reasonable cost,” the Parkview Residents’ Association (PRA) says in a newsletter that will be sent to residents later this week.
“We have a vision of a ‘connected suburb’ where, just as we expect decent roads and pavements, we could expect high-quality telecommunications infrastructure.”
Indra de Lanerolle, the Parkview resident in charge of the PRA’s fibre campaign, called iParkview, says there are a number of major fibre rings that pass through the suburb, yet the best access residents can get is copper-based ADSL broadband. Residents are unhappy with speeds, reliability and value for money, according to De Lanerolle.
Parkview has about 1,100 homes, with the PRA also looking after the eastern side of neighbouring Greenside.
“Fibre to the home may be the best answer, though we are not tied to a particular solution. Once we have established the demand, we hope that businesses will propose viable solutions to meet it,” he says.
Whatever solution is chosen, Parkview intends offering free wireless access in public areas, including the business node. “This should be very attractive to local businesses.”
The PRA has already initiated discussions with potential suppliers and intends putting out a formal request for proposals soon, according De Lanerolle. He says it’s difficult to put a timeline on Parkview’s projet.
“One of the greatest challenges to setting timelines is trying to get engagement from some of the decision makers who control the passive infrastructure like street poles,” he says.
“If the city wants to get cheaper and better broadband more widely available, it could make a big impact by addressing some of this red tape. I was in Nairobi last year and spent a morning with a team cabling suburbs with a similar income level to those in Soweto. They could do this economically because authorities gave them access to passive infrastructure at reasonable cost and with minimal red tape.”
The PRA is asking residents to complete an online survey to determine how much they’d be prepared to pay for superfast Internet access at speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. The survey suggests Parkhurst hopes to offer a wide range of services, starting with a “value contract” at 4Mbit/s.
Malawi launches Internet Governance Forum, to help shape the development of Malawi’s internet economy
The Malawi Government and the New Partnership for Development (Nepad) have launched the Malawi Internet Governance Forum (Malawi IGF) in an effort to bring a semblance of order in the internet services in the country.
Speaking at the event, the Head of Nepad’s e-Africa Programme, Dr. Edmund Katiti, said that with the launch, Malawi would now be able to take advantage of the global internet economy. “We are happy to be part of the kick-starting process of Malawi’s Internet Governance Forum,” he declared.
Katiti said they have been trying to work with countries in the region but it is encouraging that Malawi has been the first country to come through with IGF this year and becomes only the third after South Africa and Tanzania to have a forum in SADC.
“Having ICT under the office of president is the best practice to give ICT the weight it deserves,” he said. The E-Government in Malawi is under the Office of President and cabinet.
Speaking before the official launch E-Government Principal Secretary Olive Chikankheni said government appreciate the need to govern internet because as a global network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business and government networks, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies, and therefore, carrying extensive range of information resources and services, there is need that it be governed.
“As a member of the United Nations, African Union and SADC organisations which have called on their members to have IGFs, Malawi celebrated the Malawi-IGF and committees to ensure that there is maximum multi-stakeholder participation in the forum foe internet related policy dialogue,” she said.
Chikankheni said the forum will bring together business, nongovernmental organisations, government and end users to discuss internet related policy issues, exchange ideas and best practices, and help shape the future of the internet in an open, inclusive and sustainable setting.
“I trust that the Malawi Internet Governance Forum will produce good fruits in the very near future,” she said before mentioning some of the fruits as being the improved internet governance locally and globally, lower internet service charges, both vertical and horizontal increase in internet use, enhancement e-government and realisation of “An ICT-led Malawi” as the country moves from predominantly producing to exporting country.
She said the forum should certainly participate in promoting ICT for both inclusive and sustainable development. The current indicators call for more concerted effort in this area. She said the ICT sector has contributed 3.5 percentages to the country’s GDP in 2010 to 3.8 percent in 2013 and this is expected to reach 3.9 this year. The PS says it is the hope of government that the Forum will improve this contribution tremendously.
Chairperson of the The country’s National ICT Working Group (NICTWG) which will coordinate the forum’s functions Seyani Nayeja said Malawi will now achieve global recognition with the launch of the forum. “We either have to adapt or die,” he declared.
“This will give us an opportunity to give platform to discuss the use and misuse of internet and provide solutions in internet use. We need to make this work. This is a live activism of voluntary participation. We should work towards a common good,” said Nayeja during the launch.
He said since NICTWG will be coordinating the forum for the next five years it will facilitate the sharing of skills and knowledge gathered elsewhere by members so that it moves with speed.
“With the forum we have now set the scene for our future generation,” he said.
Ben Chitsonga who is the Director of Finance and Administration of the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) observed during the launch that internet has become one of the critical tools for human survival. “We will ensure that it is well resourced,” he pledged. He said the forum will reduce the burden of networking and consultation as with the forum it will be one stop shop.
Before the launch stakeholders discusses about launching of the forum and the end result was coming up with a document called the Malawi Internet Governance Forum (Malawi IGF) Charter
The charter says the forum’s aim is to provide a platform for inclusive multi-stakeholder discussions in the issues pertinent to the internet in Malawi n general and internet Governance issues in particular
The country’s National ICT Working Group (NICTWG), according to the charter will coordinate the activities of the Malawi IGF while the Department of E-Government will be the secretariat and coordination of the forum will be reviewed within a specified period.
The charter says the overall objective of the forum is to establish a multi-stakeholder process that will shape the development of Malawi’s internet economy with a number of specific objectives.
This will include increasing awareness and build capacity on internet governance issues amongst stakeholders in Malawi, facilitating the participation of a broad range of Malawian stakeholders in regional and global internet governance and ensure that national concerns are taken into account and shaping and informing national policy on development of the internet and ICTs.
The charter says other specific objectives include contributing in strengthening the multi-stakeholder dialogue model for internet Governance in the SADC region and Africa and provision of a consultative and participatory platform for multi-stakeholder discussions and dialogue on internet government issues.
The charter says amongst the activities of the forum will undertake will be facilitating and organising main sessions, workshops, as well as open forums discussions, regional, national and subject area initiatives.
- Kenyan daily The Star has launched an e-paper set to operate on smartphone platforms such as Android, iOs, Blackberry OS, as well as on desktop PCs and tablets.
- Algerie Telecom (AT), the country’s incumbent fixed line provider, has enlisted Nokia Networks to modernise its transport network with a highly flexible seamless Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) platform, which is expected to help deliver significantly improved broadband services to subscribers.
There are many problems that need to be overcome before the full potential of online learning can be realised for refugees.
But solutions are already on the horizon, and some were presented at the Humanitarian Innovation Conference held at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, last weekend (19-20 July).
The most obvious difficulty to online learning is access to the internet, which can be prohibitively expensive and very slow for those living in refugee camps, the meeting heard.
So Neil Sparnon, a consultant with Jesuit Commons, a Catholic organisation that provides accredited and free-at-point-of-delivery higher education to marginalised people, leaned towards a more old-fashioned approach.
Their courses in ‘Liberal Arts’ and ‘Community Service Learning’ rely on a mixture of textbooks donated by publishers and face-to-face classroom learning, as well as online content and assessment provided by volunteers from US-based academic institutions.
Another solution is preloading the online course, for example onto a memory stick, so it can be used even with no internet access.
The team behind the online humanitarian training resource DisasterReady.org is using memory sticks and is also developing an app to allow users to access learning materials and complete coursework offline, then upload their coursework next time the user’s device is connected to the internet.
Barbara Moser-Mercer, professor from the University of Geneva, who conducted a case study to investigate the challenges of MOOCs (massive open online courses) in a refugee context, also had to develop offline solutions, such as putting video lectures on a USB memory stick.
Ultimately, Moser-Mercer’s solution for making MOOCs accessible to refugees was to create solar-powered learning hubs — originally built from old shipping containers, now from recycled materials.
Up to ten users can access online courses at once from these hubs and the University of Geneva has now partnered up with Kenyatta University, Kenya, to offer online courses at the Dadaab refugee camp through them.
Speakers at the meeting emphasised the importance of the local context: courses cannot just be “parachuted in”, but need to be “taken over locally”, said Moser-Mercer.
For example, MOOCs commonly require a level of English that refugee populations just do not have; courses often have to be translated into the local language.
In addition to technological and linguistic challenges, cultural differences have to be taken into account.
For example, respect for the authority of teachers makes it difficult for refugee learners to accept peer evaluation, and they may not know how to assess their peers’ work, the meeting heard.
It can also be challenging to recruit women for MOOCs and other forms of online-assisted learning, but Moser-Mercer said that offering free transportation and a free meal to learners (all for the cost of “a bad coffee at The University of Geneva”) makes a big difference. As does providing safe environments for study — such as the learning labs; ensuring that women form a significant proportion of the students; and holding up women’s success stories as examples to other women.
Such success stories are not difficult to find. Moser-Mercer notes that 100 per cent of their female students are on target in their learning.
The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) has announced a strategic partnership with the private sector to deliver e-learning programmes in Kenya to thousands of marginalised girls.
Project iMlango is a first of its kind e-learning partnership, led by global satellite operator Avanti Communications and its partners sQuid, the smartcard and digital payments system provider; online maths tutoring provider, Whizz Education and technology NGO, Camara Education. The integrated programme aims to improve learning outcomes for 25,675 marginalised girls, across 195 Kenyan primary schools.
Project iMlango uniquely addresses the cultural and financial issues that can lead to reduced school attendance and drop outs, with electronic attendance monitoring and conditional payments to families. At the programme's core sits an internet learning platform, accessed via high-speed satellite broadband connectivity, where partners provide students with interactive, individualised learning tools.
Project iMlango will also deliver high-speed satellite broadband connectivity to schools, personalised mathematics tuition with a virtual online tutor, alongside digital learning content for mathematics, literacy and life skills. The project will also offer tuition and support to teachers to use ICT in their teaching, electronic attendance monitoring with conditional payments to incentivise families to send their daughters to school for use with local merchants, in-field capacity in IT, technology and support resources and real-time project monitoring and measurement;
"Project iMlango is a unique combination of high-speed satellite broadband and e-commerce technology, supported by interactive educational and IT resources directly addressing the societal barriers girls face in attending school, the programme will impact Kenyan girls and their communities on a huge scale. We are extremely proud to lead such a ground-breaking technical solution and to be working in consortium with such innovative partners. We believe the programme could have significant application across the education sector in Sub-Saharan Africa," said David Williams, Chief Executive at Avanti Communications.
The programme has been designed with the ability to measure and benchmark Project iMlango's impact in real-time. Data includes daily attendance statistics at the whole school level for over 100,000 children, as well as measurement of access to the learning platform and charting each student's individual progress over time.
- Eneza is not necessarily seeking to replace the Kenya Government's laptop project but when it comes to enhancing education for the young Kenyan students through the use of technology, it is coming pretty close. Eneza (Swahili for 'to reach' or 'to spread') comprises of a team of volunteers who are on a mission to give students access locally and is easily accessible through the mobile device. Eneza also gives parents, school administrators and teachers the necessary tools to help their students. These tools are in the form of meaningful data and tips. In the last year according to an Impact Survey Report conducted on the impact of the education programme, there was a 37 point different using Eneza for 2hours per week for 5 months and those that did not.
Atlantique Telecom has reportedly introduced the ‘Flooz’-branded electronic money transfer service for its Gabonese unit, Moov. According to online journal GabonLibre.com, the service was unveiled by director general Abdoulaye Cisse on Friday. Regional financial institution Orabank will act as the cellco’s partner, ensuring the security of all money transfers.
The Flooz service, previously launched over the networks of Moov’s sister companies in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger and Togo, provides mobile functions including payment for goods and services, money transfers, deposits and withdrawals to/from virtual bank accounts, other account management functions and mobile phone credit top-ups.
Perago (SIA Group) Signs Contract with Swish Payments to Support Launch of New M-Commerce Solution in Africa and Europe
Perago, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SIA, has signed an agreement with Swish Payments Ltd., a mobile commerce provider owned by leading South African payment service provider Setcom Payment Solutions, to support its new m-commerce initiative in Africa and Europe.
Through SIA’s technology infrastructure, Perago will enable the Swish solution that utilises a mobile app and card reader (both chip and magnetic stripe card) to effectively convert a merchant's smartphone or tablet into a POS terminal so businesses of all sizes can accept debit and credit card payments from virtually any location.
Perago will specifically provide Swish with the SIA gateway for payment switching to all international circuits in conjunction with a PCI-compliant Acquirer Independent solution for transaction authorisation and clearing. The SIA technology platform will be combined with the Swish solution to provide seamless integration with multiple acquirers in multiple countries, giving Swish the capability to serve varied geographic locations rapidly with its state of the art mPOS solution.
Swish Payments will be launching the new mobile POS solution in Africa and in 20 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom) starting later this year. According to its forecasts, Swish expects to reach about 400,000 merchant subscribers by the end of 2016.
“In addition to our proven experience in creating advanced systems for central banks, RTGS in particular, starting today Perago opens up its infrastructures to new services such as payment card transaction management. With this in mind, our agreement with Swish Payments represents an important milestone for SIA Group as this is the first card processing agreement in Africa, and it allows us to expand our portfolio with the integrated offer of the parent company SIA,” said Claudio Ceresani, CEO of Perago.
“The deal with SIA is a critical component of our offering as it allows us to count on an established processing infrastructure. It also allows us to focus our efforts on the business and enhance the Swish value proposition for our customers,” said Stephen Grech, CEO of Swish Payments Ltd.
Plans are being concluded to add Verve cards to the accepted cards for integration on PayPal, according to Chuma Ezirim, head of e-business at FirstBank Nigeria.
According to Ezirim, PayPal cannot afford to leave out Verve cardholders in Nigeria.
“Verve cards will soon be added – 18 million issued, 13 million are active and integration is happening in few months. FirstBank controls 35 per cent of issued Verve cards,” Ezirim said.
He said currently only cards issued by Visa and MasterCard are accepted, but in addition FirstBank’s customers can open a PayPal account directly from the bank’s website. When they do this, he said they get automatic verification and higher limits.
“We are the only bank in Nigeria that allows PayPal account opening through the bank’s website,” he said.
Maroc Telecom, the country’s leading telco in terms of subscribers, has published its financial results for the six months ended 30 June 2014, reporting a marginal 0.7% annual increase in revenues, from MAD14.468 billion (USD1.746 billion) to MAD14.564 billion.
The improvement was chiefly attributed to 10.9% annual growth among the company’s international operations, which partly offset a 2.4% sales decrease in its domestic market during the same period. Meanwhile, Maroc Telecom’s EBITDA decreased by 4.4% in the period under review, to MAD8.034 billion; the slump was attributed to a 7% decline in the Moroccan unit’s EBITDA, although this was partly compensated by a 4.1% increase in EBITDA from the company’s international operations.
Maroc Telecom’s net income in the period under review reached MAD3.073 billion, a 12.7% decrease on the MAD3.521 billion income reported in 1H13.
In operational terms, Maroc Telecom reported annualised growth of 9.2% for its consolidated customer base, with the total number of customers passing the 38 million-mark at end-June 2014. In Morocco, wireless customers increased by 0.6% year-on-year to reach 18.163 million, up from 18.049 million in 1H13; the telco’s wireline customer base grew by 9.0% to 1.444 million users, while broadband customers increased by 22.3% y-o-y to 923,000.
In Mauritania, wireless numbers decreased by 6.1% to 1.877 million users, due to intense competition in the market, while broadband subscriptions increased by 3.4% to 8,000. In Burkina Faso, the Office Nationale des Telecommunications (Onatel, incl. Telmob) saw its mobile subscribers increase by 27% y-o-y to reach 5.394 million by 30 June, although its broadband customer base declined by 34.2% to around 18,000. Further, Gabon Telecom reported a 16.6% increase in its number of its mobile users, to 1.083 million, while Mali-based operator Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (SOTELMA) increased its mobile subscriber numbers 21.8% to 9.164 million in 1H14, with more than one and a half million net additions in the period under review.
Going forward, the group will expand the scope of its international operations with six new markets, following the signing of a USD650 million agreement with its new major shareholder Etisalat in May this year. The deal involves the acquisition of the UAE telco’s subsidiaries in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Niger, the Central African Republic and Togo; the deal also includes Prestige Telecom, which provides IT services for Etisalat’s subsidiaries in those countries. The agreement is subject to approval from the relevant authorities and Maroc Telecom anticipates that it should be closed by Q3 2014. Further, the operator expects that the accelerated international diversification will result in 40% increase in group revenues.
Abdeslam Ahizoune, chairman of the management board, stated: ‘Maroc Telecom Group confirms the return to revenue growth, with the rise in traffic driven by our operating performances and by the quality of our offers. Our customers communicate more and more inspired by our innovations and secured with the quality of our networks. Despite a challenging regulatory environment, the group continues its proactive policy of modernising networks through the deployment of ultra high speed fixed line and mobile services. The agreement concluded with Etisalat to acquire its activities in six countries with high-potential markets allows Maroc Telecom Group to pass a new milestone in its development in sub-Saharan Africa.’
South Africa-based Vodacom Group, part of the Vodafone Group, has published its financial results for the three months ended 30 June 2014, reporting an 4.3% year-on-year increase in revenues, to ZAR18.287 billion (USD1.739 billion), up from ZAR17.536 billion in the corresponding period of 2013. Service revenues from international operations reached ZAR3.493 billion, up by 17.3% y-o-y on a reported basis, while South African operations generated a total of ZAR11.442 billion, representing a 2.0% decrease on the ZAR11.678 billion reported in 2Q13, mainly due to cuts in mobile termination rates (MTRs).
The group added eight million net new users over the past twelve months to take its total subscriber base to 59.602 million, which includes 32.516 million in its domestic market – up 11% year-on-year – and 27.086 million across Tanzania (10.638 million), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, 10.502 million), Mozambique (4.604 million) and Lesotho (1.342 million). Further, Vodacom said that it has increased the number of Long Term Evolution (LTE) sites in its domestic market to 1,389 (from 916 in end-March 2014), while 3G-enabled sites reached a total of 7,541 in 2Q14; Vodacom pointed out that 74.5% of the base transceiver stations (BTS) are connected to its ‘self-provided high capacity transmission network’ and that it expects to complete a Radio Access Network (RAN) upgrade programme in the next quarter (Q3 2014).
Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO, added: ‘Data and the International businesses have once again been the largest contributors to growth, and the entire business is seeing the benefit of our sustained investment programme. In South Africa we executed well operationally and grew our customer base by 11.0%, but revenue was impacted by the dramatic decrease in MTRs. We continued with our price transformation strategy, bringing down the overall effective price per minute by 25.3% to ZAR0.68 and driving an increase in outgoing voice traffic of 26.1%. The elasticity effect was even more notable on data, with a 30.3% reduction in the average effective price per megabyte more than offset by a 70.1% increase in data traffic. The International businesses performed well, with service revenue increasing 17.3% and the customer base increasing 21.7%. The contribution of the International businesses to group service revenue increased to 23.4%.’
Senegal’s telecommunication giant Sonatel has announced Monday, a net profit rise of 6.6 percent to 97.67 billion CFA francs ($201.37 million) in the first six months of 2014.
The company is enjoying a steady rise in profit, with an 11.1 percent increase in 2013 (190 billion CFA francs ($400 million) and a similar 11 percent in 2012 (171 billion CFA francs ($351.47 million). Sonatel’s profit had fallen by 16 percent in 2011, 154.4 billion CFA francs ($317.34 million) from 184.8 billion CFA francs ($378 million) a year earlier, due the end of its tax exemptionin Mali.
However, it as has enjoyed a turnaround in fortunes since then, and in the first half of this year its turnover stands at 398.47 CFA francs ($819 million), a rise from the 356.82 billion CFA francs ($733.4 million) of the same period last year. The company, in April, attributed its sustained success to its various transformation projects to improve operational excellence and strengthen its leadership value in all the countries in which it has a presence.
Part owned by France’s Orange S.A, Sonatel dominates the telecoms market of Senegal and Mali where it controls a 63 percent and 64 percent share respectively in 2013. It also has a significant pull of 34 percent and 39 percent in Guinea and Guinea Bissau, according to 2013 data.
Six Ethiopian bloggers were formally charged with terrorism in Ethiopia's Lideta High Court last week, a move provoking deep concern for hackers and human rights activists in Ethiopia and around the world. Three journalists were also charged and a seventh blogger, Soleyana Gebremicheal, was charged in absentia.
The seven members of the Zone 9 blogger collective, who sprung to international attention upon their arrest last April, stand accused of associating with outlawed political groups and of attending a digital security training, among other charges. The criminalization of digital security training generates particular alarm among human rights activists, including PEN, who often promote these trainings for bloggers in repressive societies as a preventative measure against exactly the kind government spying and twisting of information that can lead to bogus charges like associating with outlawed groups. The bloggers maintain that they were openly critical of the outlawed groups and not, in fact, allied with them in any way.
"It is terrible that all of the articles we have written for two consecutive years have been brought to court as 'evidence' to support the terrorism charges. It is insane," said Endalkachew Michael, a Zone 9 blogger currently living in exile.
Thinking and reflecting on the realities of the country is literally impossible in Ethiopia today. I have seen the charge sheet and they brought the laptops of the bloggers as evidence against them, including attending a training on encryption tools. The government has also accused us of associating with two ideologically hostile opposition groups which are outlawed. The paradox is that we have been very critical of these outlawed political parties.
The name "Zone 9" is derived from a section of Kality Prison in Addis Ababa where journalists are held, called Zone 8. According to the bloggers, Zone 9 represents the invisible prison that surrounds all the citizens of Ethiopia, who may be arrested at any time for speaking out. Their motto is simple: "We Blog Because We Care." Those who can continue to blog in the face of government harassment, threats, surveillance and intimidation to fill the silence created by the government's ongoing crackdowns on free speech and dissent.
Ethiopia is among the greatest violators of the right to free expression, operating one of the most sophisticated Internet monitoring and filtering systems in the world with near total impunity. Journalists Eskinder Nega, winner of the 2012 PEN / Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, and Reeyot Alemu continue to suffer in prison on lengthy sentences for exercising their right to free expression.
Hackers from the HOPE X convention in New York City posed in support of the Zone 9 bloggers and free expression.
Pristine beaches, wild animals and vibrantly colourful cities - Africa has something for everyone.
No wonder more than 40 million people visit Africa every year, according to the World Bank, and that number is rising fast.
Research group Euromonitor International says tourism income has risen from $42bn (£25bn) in 2011 to an estimated $54bn in 2014.
Competition to attract this tourist cash is fierce and technology is becoming an increasingly powerful tool in the battle.
For many, Cape Town - situated on the continent's southern-most tip and famous for its beaches, penguins and Table Mountain backdrop - is a "must-see" destination.
"Technology has levelled the playing field in terms of how you market a destination," says Enver Duminy, chief executive of Cape Town Tourism.
"I think technology and innovation has affected the tourism industry perhaps more than any other industry."
Mr Duminy's organisation began looking at ways to use technology to reach potential visitors, as well as interact with those that choose Cape Town as a regular destination.
"Just before the 2010 World Cup, which was held in South Africa, we realised we had to innovate," he says.
"We don't have the same budgets as other big cities and the exchange rate was not in our favour. We saw a mega trend in the shift to digital and we embraced that."
The most recent innovation has been the creation of a mobile visitor information vehicle known as Thando, which means "love" in the local isiXhosa language.
The vehicle offers visitors free wi-fi along with LCD [liquid crystal display] screens and the ability to make bookings and secure trips at roving locations.
For most travellers, the use of mobile has opened a world of opportunities to explore and understand the places they are visiting.
A small South African start-up called VoiceMap is trying to bring a local feel to walking tours with the use of smartphones and GPS technology.
Founder Iain Manley travelled around the world for many years before returning to South Africa and getting involved in GPS-triggered commentary on cruises and open-top bus tours.
He soon found that there was something lacking in the big box product.
"When we were doing the commentary for Cape Town's open-top bus tour the single voice idea didn't work at all because Cape Town has so many different communities and the history of the city is so contested. The same is true of cities all over," he says.
This gave him the idea of creating a platform to enable people to record their own personalised GPS-based commentaries. Anyone can go to the VoiceMap website and use the publishing tools to create some sort of walk and put their voice over it.
The company also has an iPhone app and is working towards launching an Android version soon.
VoiceMap's platform enables people to add their own personal commentaries to walking tours
The person creating the route commentary can decide if they want to offer it for free or charge a small fee. After the usual payments are made to the likes of Apple and PayPal, profits are shared between the storyteller and VoiceMap.
Mr Manley believes that technology is uniquely placed to change the way people perceive Africa and travel within it.
"I think there is a lot of stereotyping in terms of what it means to go to Africa and people don't appreciate the nuances," he says.
"Not only every country, but every city and place, has a completely different identity. Technology obviously provides people with a way of communicating those different identities and [allows] others to access those nuances," says Mr Manley.
Breaking with tradition
Thanks to technology, remote places, as well as small businesses, can now reach a global audience and encourage people to move away from the traditional African experiences and be more adventurous.
Damian Cook is the managing director of Kenyan-based E-Tourism Frontiers, an initiative aimed at developing online tourism in global emerging markets.
He comes from a traditional tourism background, but after many years in the industry he noticed the growth of technology in the sector and how Africa was lagging behind.
Security concerns in countries like Kenya and South Sudan have not helped.
"I saw what Bill Clinton called the digital divide - technology that should have been helping emerging and developing economies was actually harming it," says Mr Cook.
"It was rather a slow process lobbying government and I realised that the private sector could do it themselves if trained and given the right connections and resources."
He soon started holding training seminars on how businesses could be more effective online, and lobbied government for better internet connectivity and e-commerce solutions.
"Social media has changed the game because, for the first time, people are getting referrals not from any official sources but from clients," he says.
"People are coming into the destinations with smartphones, getting access to free wi-fi and... constantly broadcasting their experiences."
One success story E-Tourism Frontiers tells is about a small lodge off the Tanzanian coast that embraced social media and turned itself into a "must-visit" destination.
Ras Mbisi Lodge Ras Mbisi Lodge in Tanzania has used social media to raise its profile
According to Mr Cook, the Ras Mbisi Lodge relies completely on social media for its marketing, and thanks to an active and innovative Twitter profile has been featured globally in numerous travel and lifestyle magazines.
But many obstacles remain when it comes to bringing tourism and technology together, such as limited internet bandwidth, relatively high costs and skills shortages.
And the team at E-Tourism Frontiers warns that putting the technology ahead of the tourism experience can result in a lacklustre offering.
"We have also found that there is an increased challenge in terms of keeping up with market expectations," adds Mr Cook, "especially in regards to social media, locally based content and mobile applications."
Despite these challenges, tourism is booming in Africa, buoyed by a resurgent economy and a more digitally connected world.
Uptake of the UberX low-cost taxi hailing app in Cape Town has been “incredible”, while drivers “love” the work model as it provides flexibility and removes shift-based work, according to Anthony le Roux, general manager for Uber Cape Town.Uptake of the UberX low-cost taxi hailing app in Cape Town has been “incredible”, while drivers “love” the work model according to Anthony le Roux, general manager for Uber Cape Town in an interview with Appsafrica’s Gabriella Mulligan.
Uber launched its low-cost option uberX – which runs alongside the premium uberBlack service – in Cape Town in June, inviting users to try out the service for free for five days under a launch promotion.
Customers download the uber app, and have the choice of hailing a high-end uberBlack taxi – with which customers ride in luxury Audi, BMW and Mercedes vehicles – or an uberX vehicle, which sees Toyota Corolla and Toyota Avenza type cars picking up customers at a much lower cost, often undercutting the traditional taxi companies.
Speaking with Appsafrica, le Roux said the public in Cape Town is eager to make use of the alternative affordable transport option, and uptake of the app in the month since the uberX launch in the city has been “incredible”. “We do not disclose user numbers but can tell you that the uptake has been incredible. Capetonians are loving having an alternative choice in moving around their city, at a very affordable price,” he added.
“For riders, we want to be the safest, most affordable and reliable ride. uber is the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to consumer safety and this is all because of technological innovation in the app,” he said. During the promotional period offering free rides, le Roux said demand was “huge”.“All the uberX vehicles were doing back-to-back rides for the whole [long] weekend.”
Although uberX offers a low-cost option which has proven very popular, le Roux said the premium uberBlack service remains in demand and has not been hampered by the launch of the uberX service.
“UberX means we providing a price point that makes the Uber app more accessible to more people. It also means we can partner with small to medium transportation providers, growing the economic opportunity for drivers. That being said, as a higher end segment, uberBlack is also equally popular for users looking for more luxury ride around the city,” the general manager said.
As such, Uber does not plan on increasing the uberX prices, le Roux said. “At the moment, we don’t have any plans for increasing prices. We priced uberX competitively in order to make our app more accessible to more people.”
Similar to Tranzit in Nigeria, Uber does not employ any taxi drivers directly, but partners with existing transport companies and allows drivers to “log in” and accept Uber-based taxi requests freely without any set work hours.
Le Roux said this makes the app very popular with drivers, and the company is ploughing ahead with its plans to have as many cars on the Uber network as possible to ensure the shortest possible waiting time for customers hailing a ride via the Uber app.
“Drivers lover Uber because of the flexibility of the service; they can work whenever they want and are not obliged to work in shifts. This means that they can log-on and off when they choose to do so giving them amazing flexibility in their lives,” le Roux said. “We partner with the existing supply of transport operators and our goal is the match demand with supply, which has been steadily growing. Our aim is to get the ‘estimated time of arrival’ to as little time as possible,” he said.
Uber launched its first African presence in South Africa in August 2013, first in Johannesburg, and spread quickly to Durban and Cape Town. The company has a presence in 140 cities across 41 countries worldwide, and intends on expanding its service across the African continent.
“We believe in choice and we want the people in Africa, to have more choices, be it rider or driver,” le Roux said.
Some Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa Have No Online Presence. ‘Kumusha Takes Wiki’ Wants to Help Change That
People in Sub-Saharan Africa face hurdles to get online. Despite some progress, the region lags behind in Internet connectivity due to the high costs of service and poor infrastructure, according to a recent World Economic Forum report.
This digital divide means some African communities are underrepresented on the web. Without a well-developed online presence, misinformation about them can spread relatively unchallenged.
The Kumusha Takes Wiki Project wants to give those communities a voice. The initiative is working to enable African people to take ownership of information on Wikipedia to strengthen the level of understanding foreigners have about local communities across Africa — and the continent more broadly. The word “Kumusha” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe means “the place where one comes from.” According to the project,
[Kumusha Takes Wiki] uses community journalism to gather community-relevant information on heritage, culture, notable persons, geographical features, among other things. It gives each community an online presence that is ‘owned’ by the community [...] and it adds immeasurably to the understanding of Africa to every human being on the planet.
Much existing information available about local African communities can only be accessed within the confines of specific languages and dialects. Though Wikipedia is available in several local African languages including Swahili, Yoruba, Zulu and Afrikaans, these versions are underdeveloped due to a small number of contributors. Thus, there is a need for skills development and encouragement among new communities across the continent.
This is part of the larger WikiAfrica, which “encourages individuals and organisations to create, expand and enhance online content about Africa, its history, its people, its innovations and its many contemporary realities, on the world’s most used encyclopaedia, Wikipedia.”
Kumusha Takes Wiki centers on “activating” communities, starting initially as a pilot in two countries: Cote d'Ivoire and Uganda. In the two targeted countries, Wikipedians In Residence work with various communities, such as fishing and agriculture, universities, writers and borders towns, teaching them how to contribute to and edit Wikipedia about their local environments and heritage.
Zimbabwe-born Isla Haddow-Flood is the project manager of Kumusha Takes Wiki, who has spent the majority of her life in Africa. Through Skype, she told us that the project will work to create information that benefits everyone — not just those writing the articles. So far, there have been many challenges, including a lack of cell phone coverage and Internet connection in remote areas, and sometimes a language barrier.
Also involved in correcting the spread of incorrect information, the Africa Centre, where the project is based, is working on other projects to “revitalize the information base”, including (but not limited to):
Badilisha Poetry X-Change- A poetry podcast platform dedicated to the discovery, exposure and archiving of contemporary and historical poetic voices from Africa and its Diaspora.
Everyday African Urbanism – a research and intervention laboratory which seeks to understand and intervene in some of Africa’s most pressing social challenges. The current lab focuses on food security in South African cities.
Infecting the City - a public arts festival bringing art out of theatres and galleries, into the communal spaces of the City of Cape Town.
More WikiAfrica programs, including WikiEntrepreneur, a social entrepreneurship model working with African museums, libraries, galleries, media houses and universities to share information with Wikipedia and WikiAfrıca Culture and Knowledge, working with writers, experts, journalists, academics and archival organisations to expand Wikipedia in the field of African culture.
Together, these projects hope to, as they say at WikiAfrica “share their knowledge of their community and passions” across the world.
JumpStart Africa is the first crowdfunding platform to revolutionize the way the world supports Africa by backing innovative projects developed by African entrepreneurs. Simply put, JumpStart Africa is Africa’s Kickstarter.
All entrepreneurs face great challenges – coming up with the perfect idea, finding the time to develop a plan, etc. – but those in Africa have an even harder time securing funding for such projects. Banks aren’t as supportive and investors are generally scarce due to challenging business environments and legal structures. Online payments remain a challenge for many in Africa, but there are a growing number of solutions that allow more people to start and support businesses.
JumpStart Africa aims to change that by creating a uniquely African online platform to attract attention for African entrepreneurs. The process to create a campaign is similar to other crowdfunding campaigns – set a campaign length, set a fundraising goal, create a video, and set perks. What sets JumpStart Africa apart from other crowdfunding sites is a dedication to African ideas. Potential backers already know that all projects on the site are intended to empower African entrepreneurs and can therefore understand the projects through a more refined lens.
Though the site isn’t 100% live, JumpStart Africa is already accepting projects to help aspiring entrepreneurs raise the funding they so desperately need. We had the chance to test-drive the platform and we must say the flow is seamless. Nearly all features are similar to those found on popular sites Kickstarter or Indiegogo (a good thing!). If a project is successfully funded, JumpStart Africa will apply a 10% fee.
In the meantime, we encourage you to signup for the newsletter and better yet, considering submitting a project. Projects can fall into any category (art, comics, craft, design, fashion, film, games, music, photography, publishing, technology are all free game) as long as they lead to an eventual product.
Plus, Jumpstart Africa is hosting a free Q&A session with their Founder, Ahmed Zrikem, on July 31st. This is a great opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators to meet with a seasoned African entrepreneur live via Google Hangout.
MTN has launched MTN Pulse service), offering calls to other MTN Pulse subscribers for as low as 29c per minute. “Keep your MTN Pulse friends in the loop and get in on the latest gossip for only 79c per minute for your first 60 seconds of the day, and 29c per minute for any other MTN Pulse calls thereafter,” MTN said.
Airtel Uganda gets new Managing Director
Tom Gutjahr AirtelTom Gutjahr, a Former Tigo Paraguay chief executive officer is Airtel Uganda’s new managing director effective 1 August.
Gutjahr was previously CEO for three Tigo operations in Paraguay, Rwanda and Chad. The Tigo brand forms part of the Millicom Group.
Former MTN executive and now CEO for Airtel Africa, Christian de Faria, said in a statement:
“In Mr. Gutjahr, I am confident that Airtel will continue to enhance the benefits of telecommunications services for the communities in Uganda. I want to warmly welcome him to the Airtel family.”
The 7th edition of DCD Converged Johannesburg
Monday, 13th October 2014
Join us for this engaging learning opportunity and the chance to network with over 250 data center professionals.
- IT & Networking
- Design & Construction
- Power & Cooling
- Cloud & Outsourcing
Hear the very latest thinking on these key topics as well as in-depth analysis of the new trends and technologies impacting the region through practical case studies, interactive debates and thought-leading keynote presentations from those at the forefront of the industry.
Please click here for full details
CFP “IT Sourcing and Development” international workshop
20-21 October 2014
The University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics
The workshop seeks to reflect on the changing context for IT sourcing and socio-economic development: analysing the new forces driving and shaping IT sourcing; characterising the new models of IT sourcing these forces have created; and reassessing the impacts of IT sourcing in light of the new criteria based on inclusive and sustainable development models and on corporate social responsibility.
Prospective presenters are asked to submit an abstract of 200-400 words outlining their proposed paper to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11 July 2014.
Full details here: