Interview with Shivani Sardesai, Director-Africa, Alepo Technologies.

31 March 2017

Telecoms

Q What are the key trends shaping the telecoms future in Africa?

Telecom as an Industry is ever evolving and Africa being an emerging market has great potential. The market is largely untapped and therefore opens a flurry of opportunities for communication service providers in the region. We at Alepo have been working with major tier 1 and tier 2 operators in the African region and some of the major trends that we have seen are listed below:

Network Function Virtualization (NFV): The communications industry in Africa is abuzz with conversations around NFV because operators in Africa are constantly dealing with pressures to reduce costs and significantly increase agility and speed by which services are created and deployed. In such a scenario, NFV and SDN benefits African Operators who are facing challenges of low coverage, but high capacity demands and auxiliary infrastructure (such as grid power and environmental facilities) not being supportive of deploying sophisticated and intelligent telecommunication systems, especially in rural areas.

Operators in Africa realize the importance of NFV which reflects in the Telecoms.com survey done in March 2015. The survey indicated that 76% of African operators say NFV/SDN is the top, or one of the top, priorities for the next 12 months. The survey also found that 83% of African operators intend to roll out virtualised architecture or services, into the live network between now and 2017.

At Alepo we understand the needs of the operators to reduce their OpEx and CapEx and therefore Alepo’s core network and IT software solutions are both NFV / cloud-ready and employs modern and open APIs for the most flexible and robust performance in any best-of-breeds network. For network operators that have already begun to or plan to deploy core network infrastructure in a virtualized, partially virtualized, or private cloud environment, Alepo can readily provide its industry-leading core solutions as virtualized network functions, including –

Early trends of Adoption of Internet of Things:

Internet of Things has the ability to transform businesses across sectors including, manufacturing, mining, automobile, medical, public safety, transport etc. In 2017, we will witness, IoT as a key driver of transformation wherein more and more industries will become a part of this IoT landscape. We have already witnessed several deployments of IoT solutions across the world in 2016. According to Vodafone’s 2015 M2M Barometer Report 35% of companies in Africa now have M2M deployments in place. Analyst firm IDC predicts significant potential for M2M growth across the African continent in security services, energy and utility.

At Alepo, we understand that Internet of Things (IoT) is going to become the next big trend in the African market. As a matter of fact, Africa’s most economically developed country, South Africa, has much of the infrastructure in place to lead the market. It recently installed smart meters to measure household utility usage in Johannesburg. Elsewhere, Rwanda is connecting SIM cards to POS terminals in isolated areas to allow for the acceptance of credit card payments. One innovative IoT solution is connecting endangered black rhinoceroses in eastern and central Africa to this global network. Each is given an ankle collar that relays movement and exact geo-location data back to anti-poaching teams that can quickly act if poaching is suspected. Though the major barrier in adoption of IoT in Africa right now is the low internet penetration but according to consulting firm McKinsey Africa will have tripled internet penetration to over 50%, or around 600m people, by 2025. This will enable the adoption IoT solutions more easily.

  1. What are the key drivers of growth in the telecoms industry in Africa?

Steady GDP growth has led Africa to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This economic development in turn has opened gates for an even faster telecom growth in the country. Recent Deloitte research states, that Mobile subscriber growth in Africa remains fastest in the world, positively impacting telecoms markets as well as African economies at large. Subscriptions CAGR reached 42% during 2006-08 and 21% 2009-11. This clearly states that economic development has been a key driver in the growth of telecom market in the country.

With the economic development there has been an emergence of the middle class which has led to increase in the mobile penetration in the country which has also become one of the major drivers for the telecom growth.

With the digital revolution overpowering the world the Government of Africa is also feeling the need to embrace this technological revolution. They have now started to acknowledge technology and move from their traditional approach. This has further fuelled the growth of telecom and propelled it in a positive direction.

  1. What are the various opportunities and barriers for communication service providers in Africa?

There are immense opportunities and possibilities in the telecom market in the region ranging from monetizing data to partnering with OTT players and NFV. African telcos have an opportunity to benefit from more complex solutions that require strategic partnerships with device manufacturers, value added service providers, healthcare companies and others. Mobile payment solutions are a great space which CSPs can explore in the African market. The response towards M-pesa in Africa shows the potential in this area. M-Pesa (is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, launched in 2007 by Vodafone) for Safaricom and Vodacom. M-Pesa has spread quickly, and by 2010 had become the most successful mobile-phone-based financial service in the developing world. By 2012, a stock of about 17 million M-Pesa accounts had been registered in Kenya. It was launched in South Africa in 2014. M-Pesa allows users to deposit, withdraw, transfer money and pay for goods and services easily with a mobile device.

With Alepo’s Data Monetization solution, African communications service providers can create modern, digital customer experiences and launch innovative mobile data offers that resonate with their subscribers’ always-connected digital lifestyles. The solution enables a rich, digital shopping experiences for new mobile data services along with rapid service innovation and popular ready-to-launch mobile data plans like shared family data, international data roaming, flexible prepaid and pay-as-you-go offers, data rollover, recharge promotions and loyalty rewards, social media app passes, and sponsored content.

From an operator point of view the main challenge is to launch complex data plans in real time. They are constantly looking for a solution that has faster time to market and rapid service innovation that includes new competitive data offers and innovative promotions. They are keen on creating a sophisticated and personalized online customer experience to win market share and reduce churn. They want to rapidly implement the new solution with zero downtime or impact on existing services.

  1. How is LTE evolving in Africa? Is your company positioned to take advantage of Africa’s LTE growth?

LTE represents a powerful step forward in mobile network technology. Offering 4G capacity and a streamlined all-IP network architecture to support the emerging wealth of diverse applications and services, LTE promises to deliver impeccable customer experience while optimizing network resources and back office systems. For incumbent operators, a successful, smooth transition to LTE should not sacrifice or jeopardize the existing mobile infrastructure, but rather extend the functionality of the existing infrastructure to support new technologies through seamless and cost-effective integration.

Greenfield providers can enjoy the benefits of a complete, purely IP-based network. Whether you are ready to roll out LTE today or are making plans now for a future launch, Alepo can offer a complete “LTE in a box solution” without interruption of service or costly replacements to network elements. Alepo’s LTE in a box solution includes real-time charging (OCS), policy control (PCRF), CRM and additional business support systems.

Over the years, Alepo has worked with operators in the African region and helped them to launch 4G services with great efficiency. Not only LTE, we are also working with an incumbent operator in West Africa wherein we have enabled them to launch their 3G voice and data services.

One of our largest recent deployments was with Africell – the fastest growing Group which has operations in Gambia, Uganda, DRC and Sierra Leone. We have helped them launch new innovative data plans in their 3G network in Gambia, DRC and Sierra Leone and LTE in Uganda.

We view Africa as a strategic region for us. It is evolving market and therefore opens a scope for innovations. According to a report by CISCO, “In South Africa, 4G connections are expected to grow 14-fold from 2014 to 2019 at a CAGR of 69 percent. By 2019, 4G connections will be 23.2 percent of total mobile connections compared to just 2.2 percent in 2014. This will largely be led by the growing number of smart connections in South Africa, which are expected to increase to 62 percent of mobile connections by 2019, from 21 percent in 2014.”

This data shows the immense possibilities in the region and we at Alepo realize this. We have been a Go-to-technology partner for most of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators in the region as well as Greenfield operators. We at Alepo are targeting CSPs who are looking to either launch their 4G services in the near future. In the next 5 years we see ourselves being the technology vendor behind every successful transition and deployment of LTE network in the region.