Angola: In tough times, Unitel focuses on CSR to combat malaria and keeps betting on content as a driver of data

18 November 2016

Top Story

With the oil price on the floor, Angola’s economy is experiencing really tough times. But privately-owned Unitel is focused on doing right by the country and wants to keep developing its content offer despite the difficulty of not being able to buy international content. Russell Southwood spoke to its Marketing Manager, Miguel Soares at this week’s AfricaCom in Cape Town.

Soares sees two growth areas in the company: its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects and its focus on local content to drive data use. Angola has recently suffered a very bad malaria outbreak:”At the beginning of the year hundreds of people were dying per day in one hospital. It was impossible for us not to do something about this.”

It has distributed bed nets to hospitals and has a long term project for creating awareness and education about what to do to avoid malaria and what to do if you get it. It has bought in a range of local musicians to help create songs to support the campaign including Anselmo Ralph, Matias Damasio Perola, Yanick Afroman and Noite e Dia. It has run a big Stop Malaria benefit concert and the revenues went to the hospitals. It bought a big international artist over for the concert on a travel and expenses basis.

It has assigned one person in each of its sales outlets to be able to speak about malaria prevention:”You can get a flyer and talk to someone in our sales outlets. We are running a competition that is challenging neighborhoods to tell us what they are doing to make a difference. We want them to alert the (local) communities, change mentalities and introduce others to how they can change the problem. We want to give back to the community.”

It has created what it calls Mini Labs to go into schools: a smartphone with a microscope. The teacher can collect blood samples from students and use the kit to spot malaria at an earlier stage so that it is treatable and does not become fatal for the pupil.

”You might say why’s the teacher doing this? People leave going to the hospital too late and you need partnerships to make sure they get there early. Some communities are testing this already.”

On the content and data side, Soares says that they will keep betting on music. The big dent in the strategy has been that it is impossible to get dollars out of Angola so they have had to abandon buying international music, which was proving a significant part of what its customers wanted. Its service bundles the music offer with data.

“We had 1 million users (but when we introduced the pay service), most left because the price was too high. It used to be US$7 per month and it is now US$3.50 a month and we’re going to try to bring more users o board at that price. We now have 150,000 users and we have a chance to grow significantly. We’re pushing local talents and by next year we’ll have a very different story to tell.”

As a proxy for the number of Internet users, there are 4 million Facebook users so there are at least a quarter of them in the market for music, either free or paid:”What we’re saying in data terms is how can we create content and services that will give us this level of use on a daily basis. We’re going to keep betting on content and turn people into current daily users.”

But there is not yet any presence from the big international Internet service brands like Jumia and Uber and mobile money services are still at the policy discussion level:”I don’t know when these discussions will conclude”.

It also has an app about fitness in the community which has attracted 140,000 users:”It’s like a personal trainer for everybody. All of these things help us grow data usage.” It wants to use content and services to transition to a greater level of data use and to speak to the customer in a language they understand:”They don’t understand megabytes and gigabytes. You need to sell them (time-based) use of the Internet or hours of music.”

It has 4G coverage in Luanda, Benguela and Cabinda and had plans to roll out coverage to 60% of the country’s population but these have been held back by the economic situation which has made it hard to import equipment:”But we want to concentrate on creating a quality network.”

Its competitor Movicel is struggling and there is talk of a third licence, which will probably reduce its share of the market. A third licence will be almost impossible to sell in the current climate as the cost of rolling out infrastructure for a new operator will be extremely high. However, Angola Telecom has a unified licence so the third operator may turn out to be them.

One other way of combatting the inability to buy things externally has been the roll-out to its 40,000 agents of a mobile app to deal with customers:”You don’t have to use scratch cards any more and it gives flexibility. The user can specify what amount of data or airtime they want. It’s like buying at an ATM machine.”

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