Issue no 544 4th March 2011

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Top story

  • With cheaper bandwidth access coming across Africa, cyber-cafes have been having a hard time surviving. Their non-profit cousins telecentres have always struggled to gain traction, particularly their Internet element, with poor network access and unreliable power. Also, not-for-profit management has not always driven high levels of skills and service. NICE International is a Dutch social venture that operates solar-powered ICT service centers with local entrepreneurs on a franchise-basis in Gambia. Recently it got EU funding to expand into Tanzania and Zambia. Russell Southwood looks at whether this new way of providing access might work and talks to its MD, Ties Kroezen.

    NICE started in 2006 with two pilot NICE-centers in The Gambia in West-Africa. After a successful completion of the pilot, a third center was opened in The Gambia in 2009 and four more where opened in 2010. Six of the centers are operated by local entrepreneurs on a franchise-basis. NICE International plans to expand the network of NICE-centers in The Gambia and to other developing countries in partnership with local organizations.

    As Kroezen recalls:”We set up the Energy for All Foundation with other energy industry people to offer decentralized energy provision in developing countries. We put together a container in a village with a grid offering power to the village. We knew it would never be financially feasible just through electricity sales so we thought, if we add ICT services, people might also pay for those as well. That’s the core of the NICE concept.”  So it set up and ran a pilot in Gambia through its local subsidiary NICE Gambia and afterwards went on to open two more centres.

    “We used the first two years to get the technology right. At first, the solar panels didn’t produce enough electricity and the computers over-heated. But as the technology became more stable, we began to put more emphasis on generating revenues. So by the end of 2009, the first two pilot locations were making a profit”.

    At this point, NICE initiated a change in how it did things:“We decided to change the business model to a franchise so 6 of the centres are now operated by local entrepreneurs through franchise companies who get leased equipment. The capex is about 30,000 euros so the franchisee pays a fixed monthly fee and there is a local company that takes care of maintenance”.

    In physical terms, the NICE centres have a reception and 1-2 computer rooms and can accommodate 15-35 people:”Ideally these are not all in the same room as education users and other customers need to be separated.” The centres are designed for energy efficiency and NICE has tried to push down energy consumption by using thin client computers connected to a server. Total power needed is 1,500W and 50% of the cooling is done by fans.

    “On the computers, our own software system runs all the processes in the system. Every customer gets a personal account with their own password. Once they’ve logged in, they get their own desktop so it’s as if they are working on their own computers. There’s also a timer for Internet use. We also sell physical products like USB sticks and pre-paid cards.”

    “Most NICE centres have a cinema where 50-150 people can watch things on a large, flat screen TV connected to a satellite TV provider and with a DVD player. They’re charged for the service and have to buy a ticket. So we sell primarily these kinds of ICT services but also sell snacks and drinks.”

    So how many people use these centres?:”One location gets 2,000-3,000 people a month but the intensity of use varies widely. Most of the Gambian centres are in peri-urban locations. All of them are in Greater Banjul in places like Lamin and Serrekunda. It needs lots of customers to generate revenues but were are planning to go ahead in places like Basse.We want to use the centres as a distribution channel to Bottom of the Pyramid markets. We think we can reach them fairly easily to sell physical products and things like education services:.

    NICE International has been granted a EUR 2.5 million subsidy from the EU for expansion over the next 4 years. This will allow NICE to expand to Tanzania and Zambia, setting up a total of 50 new NICE-centers in the 3 countries (including The Gambia) and develop new services that can be delivered through the NICE-centers. Furthermore, the project includes a pilot with a rural version of the NICE-concept in Zambia and the development of a solution for the e-waste of the NICE-centers.

    Maybe, just maybe, this is the shape of second generation cyber-cafes and telecentres, bringing together all the first generation functions with the traditional African “video booth” and other retail sales.

    Ties Kroezen of NICE is looking for other investors and can be contacted on: Ties.Kroezen@Nice-International.com

    Five video clips on Balancing Act’s Web TV Channel:

    Stephane Richard, CEO, Orange at presentation of FY2010 financials, on how Orange in Egypt is faring and the overall results for Africa:
    Click here:

    Stephane Richard, CEO, Orange at presentation of FY201 financials, on overall results for the group:

    Click here:

    Aline Rutily, Average, a consultancy that helps emerging markets’ companies source investment, particularly in the ICT sector:

    Click here:

    Patrick Akushie, Commercial Manager, Agence France-Presse talks about its strategy for selling news video in Africa using mobile:

    Click here:

    Funke Opeke, CEO, Main One on bandwidth sales and network blockages and extending the cable:

    Click here: 

telecoms

  • WikiLeaks , the online media organization that is drip-feeding leaked U.S. diplomatic cables into the public domain, has published a document, identified as a communication from the U.S. embassy in Kenya, that details reactions to Chinese companies' business practices in Africa, with particular reference to Huawei.

    There are a few things to note about this document, entitled "KENYA - DOING BUSINESS THE CHINESE WAY," which is marked as "Sensitive-but-unclassified."

    Although it was published by WikiLeaks late on March 1, the document is dated Oct. 30, 2007, so is more than three years old. It also, in a series of "anecdotes," attributes comments to senior executives at African telecom operators, which are probably best treated as hearsay, as there is no absolute proof of their veracity.

    That doesn't make them less interesting, though. Some are directly attributable to named individuals, the most notable of which is the series of comments allegedly made by Michael Joseph, the then-CEO (and currently non-executive board member) of Kenya's leading mobile operator Safaricom Ltd. , to U.S. Mission staff on Oct. 18, 2007:

    Echoing the views of many industry contacts, he [Joseph] said the quality of the ICT equipment provided by companies like Huawai and ZTE is pretty good, and their prices are low. But he used a monosyllabic expletive beginning with "S" to describe after-sales service. When there are equipment problems later, he said, the Chinese run for the door, and matters are made worse by the language barrier. Safaricom purchased equipment last year from Huawei, but the deal was too good to be true. Huawei effectively reneged and only delivered half the equipment promised in the contract. Joseph went to China personally, eventually got the Huawai CEO to admit that the company had lied, and then forced it to cancel the contract.

    The cable goes on to cite Joseph as saying he was put under pressure by Kenyan government officials to reinstate the contract with Huawei.

    It would appear that any doubts harbored by Joseph, who recently stepped down after 10 years as Safaricom CEO, about Huawei's ability to deliver on its promises were soon assuaged. Following the initial transmission of the U.S. diplomatic cable from the embassy in Nairobi in late 2007, and during Joseph's tenure as CEO, Safaricom continued to award deals to the Chinese vendor. In 2010 Huawei was awarded softswitch and convergent billing system deals by the Kenyan operator, while Joseph agreed to a trial of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology only months ago, reports IT News Africa. (See Safaricom Bills With Huawei and Safaricom Deploys Huawei Softswitch.)

    The document published by WikiLeaks also suggests that the country's state-owned operator, Telkom Kenya , awarded Huawei a CDMA contract without issuing a competitive tender, a process that should have been undertaken by law. The then-CEO of Telekom Kenya, Sammy Kirui, is also cited as suggesting that after-sales service from Chinese technology suppliers was poor. He also allegedly noted that ZTE was pressing hard to be an alternative supplier, but that he was insisting "the company's second strategic tech partner must be non-Chinese."

    ZTE did, though, land an optical equipment contract awarded by the Kenyan government. (See ZTE Wins in Kenya.)

    The cable concludes:

    The views and anecdotes conveyed by people like Joseph and Ndemo [Kenya's Permanent Secretary of Information and Communications] put a bit flesh on the bones of the oft-repeated (but seldom proven) contention that Chinese companies play dirty. Most disturbing in this case is the idea that Chinese influence is so great that it's actually distorting critical investment decisions in Kenya's all-important ICT sector. For further investigation is the role of the Chinese government. We wonder if it simply turns a blind eye to the dirty work of Chinese firms, or if it actively contributes to the problem.

    ZTE declined to comment "on what are effectively unfounded rumors from unproven sources."

    Huawei is currently preparing a response. Safaricom has yet to respond to Light Reading requests for comment.

    The publication of the document on WikiLeaks comes at a sensitive time for Huawei, which is seeking to build trust and credibility in the U.S. market as well as counter suggestions of anti-competitive trading practices in Europe.

  • Airtel Africa employees will now be able to work at its parent company in India under a new exchange programme launched. The mobile operator announced that a number of employees from Africa will be transferred to India for a period of one year.

    The initial group from Africa to India will be employees from the firm's operations in Congo-Brazzaville, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Zambia. The initial phase of this new programme has also lead to the integration of specialized staff from Bharti airtel into some African markets: "They will spend up to one year working within various units which include Bharti airtel's network infrastructure development, solutions for medium sized enterprises, sales and distribution, financial systems, marketing and other functions," a statement from the company said.

    Bharti Airtel intends to replicate its low cost model in India in the African market and this programme is a way to equip key staff with the necessary experience.

  • Mobile phone users in Kenya may cease to enjoy dramatic call tariff cuts if intense lobbying by Safaricom and Telkom Kenya for the government to intervene and put a break to any further price reductions bear fruit. The pair has succeeded in having the Prime Minister's office form a taskforce to study whether Kenya's mobile phone pricing is sustainable and what would be the future.

    Operators seem to have won one soul - the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr Bitange Ndemo who says that low rates will hurt the economy. "Already some operators have lost revenue; we are taking this matter seriously. We need to talk sense on this pricing issue," said Ndemo on Wednesday.

    He said only 40 per cent of the country's landmass is covered and it will be difficult to reach the rest of the country with the ongoing price war. "We can't sit and wait for companies to close," he added, as Safaricom chief executive officer Bob Collymore echoed, "We want conducive business environment for the telecoms industry. Low calling rates means we will have to go slow on our expansion plans."

    Speaking during a press briefing on the upcoming Connected Kenya Summit, Collymore proposed that the government must ensure healthy pricing in the industry, and attach strict rollout and coverage requirements to mobile licences. Others are effectively manage spectrum allocation and pricing by allocating it where it is needed and apply the principle of use or lose as well as try to moderate levels of taxation.

    If operators succeed to woo the government to put price floors, Kenya will be joining its neighbour, Uganda. The country recently issued guidelines that will become effective March 15. They will empower Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to establish minimum rates below which players will not be allowed to offer services, even under promotions. The guidelines are intended to curb anti-competitive practices, encourage new investments (including new players), enhance tariff transparency and protect consumers.

    The new rules target aggressive companies like Warid Telecom that have shaken up the sector with unprecedented tariff cuts and highly popular promotions like Pakalast, Kawa, Pepeya and Berako.

  • The dominant player in Namibia's cellphone communication industry, MTC, last week abandoned an attempt to get an urgent court interdict to stall a Namibian Communications Commission decision that would force it to lower the price of some of its services.

    For the second time in five days, MTC conceded that an urgent application that it had lodged against the Namibian Communications Commission (NCC), Telecom Namibia and Powercom, which owns MTC's main competitor, Leo, should be removed from the court roll in the High Court in Windhoek.

    In the urgent application, which was first removed from the court roll on Friday last week, MTC was asking the court to issue an urgent interdict that would have prevented the NCC from implementing a decision that should result in cellphone users paying less for calls made to cellphones on other cellphone networks and to land line phones.

    The NCC's board decided on February 9 that Namibia's cellphone network operators have to stop charging higher prices for calls that their subscribers make to other operators' networks and to fixed line telephones than the tariffs they charge for calls made on their own networks only.

    With the urgent component of its case against the NCC, Telecom Namibia and Powercom now abandoned, MTC is however continuing with the review application that it has filed with the High Court, the company's legal counsel, Sakeus Akweenda, told Acting Judge Harald Geier last week.

    In the review application MTC is asking the court to set aside and declare as unconstitutional and null and void the NCC board's decision to implement a price cap on the tariffs that cellphone operators charge for calls made from their networks to other cellphone operators' networks and to fixed-line phones.

    The NCC directed that these price changes had to be implemented by March 1. MTC spokesperson Tim Ekandjo said on enquiry yesterday that MTC will abide by the NCC's decision in the meantime. "The fact that we had differences of opinion with the NCC on their direction does not mean that we will not respect their decision, after all they are the regulatory authority of the telecommunications industry," he remarked.

    MTC is claiming that the NCC did not give it a proper hearing before the decision on implementing a price cap was taken. In an affidavit filed with the court MTC Managing Director Miguel Geraldes accuses the NCC of acting "unfairly and unreasonably" towards MTC. He also claims the NCC took its decision arbitrarily and without first having conducted an independent and comprehensive study on cell phone services tariffs and fees.

    MTC is further claiming that a study that has been done showed that its rates were price competitive in Namibia and when compared with prices in the Southern African Development Community as a whole.

    According to the NCC, though, MTC has known for the last nine months that the NCC was considering the issues that resulted in the price cap decision. The company has since May last year also been given ample opportunities to make presentations to the NCC on these issues, the regulatory authority has responded.

    MTC is also charging that the measures taken by the NCC are "anti-competitive, and have the effect of price fixing". In its response filed with the High Court, Telecom Namibia is throwing MTC's allegation of anti-competitive behaviour back at the company.

    Accusing MTC of itself being responsible for anti-competitive conduct, Telecom Namibia's General Manager: Strategy, Theo Klein, is arguing that MTC cannot ask the court to grant it an interdict to protect the revenue it earns as a result of anti-competitive conduct.

    MTC is claiming that the price cap would affect its earnings negatively, and could ultimately result in the company closing down. Whether this gloomy scenario would ever come to pass is being disputed by Telecom Namibia and leo, though.

    They note that according to MTC's latest annual report, the company had a turnover of N$1,389 billion in the year to the end of September 2009. MTC ended that financial year with a very healthy after-tax profit of N$387 million.

internet

  • Internet Solutions is betting big on telecommunications infrastructure, with plans to participate in a wireless spectrum auction later this year that could result in it building a national wireless broadband network.

    MD Derek Wilcocks says the company, which is a division of Dimension Data, is considering building the network in as many as 25 of South Africa’s towns and cities using a technology called long-term evolution (LTE). LTE is the successor technology to the 3G wireless networks deployed by MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and 8ta.

    Wilcocks says it’s too early to know how much Internet Solutions will invest in the network, but based on 2010 estimates by the company, it could spend as much as R2bn to R3bn over a period of years. The amount of investment that will be required will be firmed up only once the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has provided more details of an upcoming spectrum auction and set out how bidders will be expected to invest in infrastructure in rural and other underserviced parts of the country.
    An investment proposal will then be sent to the Didata board for approval. It appears likely that if Internet Solutions gets the go-ahead to bid for spectrum and is successful, it will use LTE technology. “A year ago, we would almost certainly have used WiMax, but by the time the spectrum auction happens, I certainly think we could use LTE,” Wilcocks says. “There appears to be a lot more weight behind LTE.”

    Internet Solutions has no plans to compete directly in the consumer market, preferring to deal with business customers, but it will sell wholesale capacity on the network to consumer-facing Internet service providers with which it has partnered. The company already provides wholesale bandwidth to Internet service providers such as Axxess and Afrihost that provide connectivity to consumers over Telkom’s broadband digital subscriber lines. A wireless network would give these providers another connectivity option for their customers.

    Wilcocks says Internet Solutions would prefer not to invest in its own networks, but is being forced to because of the high cost of bandwidth from wholesale operators like Telkom. If it were able to get access to national backhaul, for example, at lower rates, it would not have to invest as much in infrastructure. But he says at current market prices it makes business sense for it to build its own fibre and wireless networks. He describes the cost of leasing national backhaul links as “unacceptably” high.

    Internet Solutions is also a one-third shareholder in FibreCo Telecommunications, a consortium that plans to spend billions of rand on a national fibre-optic network that will connect the country’s major towns and cities to business customers and to undersea cables such as Seacom and under-construction West African Cable System. FibreCo investors are Internet Solutions, mobile operator Cell C and Convergence Partners, a company controlled by Didata SA chairman Andile Ngcaba.

    Wilcocks says to remain competitive in the enterprise market — and given that its main rivals are businesses that are owned by telecoms operators such as MTN and Vodacom — Internet Solutions has to invest in underlying network infrastructure. “A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable for us from a licensing and economic point of view, but the entry into SA of independent cable operators and operators like Cell C … create opportunities for us to enter into partnerships that make these investments very viable.”

    Wilcocks believes the demand for bandwidth will continue to surpass even the most optimistic expectations as e-commerce, video-on-demand, cloud computing and other services continue to drive demand for data from businesses and retail consumers. “We see a situation where 100 or 1,000 times more bandwidth will be required to meet the needs of businesses and consumers,” he says.

    Construction of the FibreCo network will begin soon. The consortium is at an advanced stage of selecting suppliers, after which trenching will begin. Specialist firms have been contracted to help FibreCo understand the complexities involved in building the network, such as gaining access to private land, running fibre over natural obstacles like rivers and mountain passes, and obtaining the necessary environmental assessment clearances.

    Wilcocks expects the first components of the FibreCo network will be switched on within the next 18-24 months. The focus initially is connecting the major metropolitan areas and providing connectivity to undersea cables at Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal and Yzerfontein in the Western Cape.

    On Icasa’s upcoming frequency auction — in the 2,6GHz and 3,5GHz bands — Wilcocks says Internet Solutions has invested a lot of time modelling the spectrum and considering various options. But he warns that the company won’t bid for access to the spectrum at any cost. “It really depends on universal service obligations and the price of the spectrum. There is a point where we can’t justify the investment.”

    Wilcocks says Internet Solutions wants to provide always-on connectivity to businesses. It expects to build wireless infrastructure in 17-25 metropolitan areas, including smaller towns such as Polokwane, Upington and Kimberley. Universal service requirements may also result in it expanding the network into more far-flung parts of the country, though Wilcocks admits this will “make the business case more challenging”. “But we are not averse to the idea.”

    He says Internet Solutions has already begun talking to potential partners that operate in remoter parts of the country. “If the licence conditions require us to go into underserviced areas, we will work with those partners to come up with a model for those areas.”

  • MTN Zambia last week launched the broadband internet services, to make it one of the fastest internet service. MTN Zambia managing director, Farhad Khan said his company had made substantial investment in technology such as easy cable to ensure that the broadband internet was the best on the market with higher speed and reliability. He said MTN was using integrated network and was offering 3G and EDGE technologies.

    Speaking at the launch in Lusaka lastt week, Khan said US$200 million was invested to ensure delivery of quality services to its customers.

    Khan said moving with global technological trends; internet has become key for business and consumer needs. "We believe that what is of importance and reliance is the fact that all our subscribers now have access to high speed internet anywhere on the MTN Zambia network.

    Equally important is the fact that our customers need not concern themselves about settings and configurations because all the settings are done by us as service providers," he said. He said the MTN broadband service was designed in such a way that mobile phones or modem automatically choose the fastest connection available expending on the, capability of the mobile phone or modem. This also depends on how busy the network would be at that particular time.

    Khan disclosed that MTN has doubled its subscribers on the network across the country from one million to two million.

  • A global education partnership is working to help selected pioneer African universities make significant savings on their internet bandwidth costs. Through the Bandwidth Consortium (BWC) initiative developed by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA), selected institutions of higher learning have saved about $19.7 million in the first three years since its launch.

    A report titled "Accomplishments of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, 2000-2010" aimed to act as a review of a decade of collaborative foundation investment, says that the savings "equals 3.5 times the PHEA investments of $5.5 million for subsidised bandwidth and the administrative and technical support of the BWC unit."

    "The lower cost afforded through the Bandwidth Consortium allowed universities to increase their purchase from an aggregated 12 Mbps of bandwidth, thereby ensuring that Africans were not left behind by their overseas peers," notes the report.

    Launched in 2000, the PHEA was formed by four foundations - Carnegie Corporation, John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Andrew W Mellon Foundation and later joined by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

    It works to coordinate its members' support for higher education in Africa. The foundations pledged $100 million in 2000 to cover the following five years. By end of 2005, the four PHEA founder members had made grants totaling $191 million for various higher education projects on the continent.

    "To address the issue of bandwidth costs, Carnegie Corporation worked various ICT consortia in various countries - including the Kenya Education Network (Kenet)- and other ISPs from the continent to see how to cheaply purchase bandwidth," said Vartan Gregorian, Carnegie Corporation president

    The BWC project also worked via UbuntuNet Alliance, a partnership established to capitalise on the emergence of optical fibre and other terrestrial infrastructure opportunities and thus become the Research and Education Network backbone of Eastern and Southern Africa tertiary education and research institutions.

    "The BWC works in a consortium comprising 35 universities in Africa to help them purchase internet bandwidth cheaply to enhance learning and is in recognition of the fact that Africa has the highest volume of unutilized bandwidth," noted Gregorian.

    The PHEA was formed in response to trends of democratisation, public policy reform and the increasing participation of civil society organisations in various African countries.

    Apart from the bandwidth support, notes the report, the PHEA support has helped 12 universities and research institutions to develop the capacity to manage their IT networks in collaboration with the Africa Network Operators' Group (AfNOG).

    Through PHEA support, seven universities are currently implementing action plans to use educational technology to improve teaching and learning through PHEA's Educational Technology Initiative.

    Projects in this area include deployment of learning management systems; development of digital content for health sciences, engineering and other disciplines; and creation of multi-media "tele-classrooms."

    Others are exploring use of mobile phones and radios for distance learning, digitizing of dissertations and past exams as well as development of students' e-portfolios.
    The body focuses its support in nine African countries - Kenya, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Mdagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana - which have a combined population of about 460 million.

    Overall, South Africa has been the highest recipient of PHEA grants at $124 million (28 per cent); followed by Nigeria with $61 million (14 per cent) with Uganda coming in third with $43 million (10 per cent).

    Tanzania has received $19 million (4 per cent); while Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Madagascar and Mozambique have each received grants worth more than 2 per cent of the total amount.

    The partnership's efforts will help improve Africa's tertiary enrolment ratio of 3 per cent and has so far improved conditions for about 4.1 million African students enrolled at 39 universities and colleges in the continent.

computing

  • JSE-listed technology distributor has unveiled a Windows 7-based tablet computer, the Mecer Xpress, on the same evening Apple announced the iPad 2. But Mustek says the Mecer Xpress is aimed at a different market to the Apple product. The company’s chief technology officer, Dimitri Tserpes, says the Xpress slate is aimed firmly at the business market.

    The Xpress, which will is available at prices starting at R5 959, ships with Windows 7 Home Premium, and is upgradeable to the Ultimate edition of Microsoft’s operating system.

    The 990g device, made by China’s Megatron, has a 1,6GHz Intel Atom processor, a 32GB solid-state hard drive, an 11,6-inch LCD TFT display (resolution: 1 366×768 pixels), 2GB of RAM, USB port and mini HDMI port. It comes with Wi-Fi support; 3G connectivity is an optional extra.

    According to Tserpes, the Xpress slate can be upgraded to future versions of Windows. Microsoft is expected to unveil a tablet-specific version of its upcoming Windows 8 operating system later this year.

    Battery life of the new tablet is about three hours, significantly shorter than the 10-plus hours of battery offered by the iPad. But Mustek emphasises the Xpress slate is not aimed at the same market as Apple’s popular product.

  • The Experts Meeting on Health and Telemedicine Harmonization in Africa, opened today, Monday 28th February, 2011 at the Headquarter of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to present its outcome to the 5th session of the Conference of the African Union Health  Ministers scheduled for April 2011,in Namibia.

    Speaking at the opening ceremony of the experts meeting , African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, her Excellency Bience Gawanas said  a number of strategies ,plan of action and initiatives directly or indirectly related with ICT for health have been developed and supported by the AU and its NEPAD coordinating and planning Agency in collaboration with AU Partners.

    The commissioner stressed that the AU will not succeed without the concerted effort of all member states ,RECs, the Development Partners, and especially the private sector that play an important role at national level.

    The commissioner added that the AU will continue to provide leadership in playing its role of Advocacy ,Harmonization and coordination as well as resource mobilization to ensure that ICT for health is placed high on Africa’s agenda and also to ensure that the necessary policies are in place for the progress and sustainability of relevant initiatives.

    According to Prof. Derege Kebede, World Health Organization (WHO), Regional Office for Africa said on behalf of the regional director Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo in his opening remarks, eHealth can contribute to health system strengthening in several ways by improving the availability, quality and use of information and evidence through strengthened health information system and public health surveillance system; developing the health workforce and improving performance by eliminating distance and time barriers (reducing cost) through continuing medical or public health education.

    He added  “ Unfortunately , the availability of these technologies in the region is far from adequate, and eHealth project continue to exist on a small scale and are fragmented." Prof. Kbede noted that WHO has for many years now given an important priority to eHealth and has worked with AUC and many partners to leverage eHealth in strengthening national health system.

    The Network of Experts main responsibility under the supervision of the DSA/AUC will be to assist in, contribute to , and support eHealth policy development; provide policy advice; and offer technical expertise for ensuring sustainable projects development and implementations.
     
    Jointly organized by the Department of Social Affairs and partners.

    Proposed Objectives of the Network of Experts are:

    - To support the AUC in the development of eHealth Policy for Africa.
    - To be in standing position to provide expert advice to the AUC on matters pertaining to eHealth in Africa.
    - To develop a framework for and facilitate the process of harmonizing eHealth initiatives and policies in Africa.
    - To support AUC’s efforts in endorsing and supporting eHealth projects by local and international partners in Africa.
    - To assist the AUC members states and RECs, upon  request in developing ,harmonising and implementing eHealth projects
    - The Experts Meeting on eHealth and Telemedicine Harmonization in Africa ends Tomorrow 1st March, 2011.

  • The Minister of Lands and Environment, Stanislas Kamanzi ,wants to use ICT to facilitate land transactions. His Ministry intends to introduce Land Administration Information System (LAIS) in all districts. Kamanzi made the remarks during the swearing in ceremony of district land officers at the ministry's headquarters in Kimihurura. "LAIS will help in legal land documents exchange whether buying, donating or inheriting any piece of land," Kamanzi explained.

    He said the Ministry also intends to support projects to draw up a proper District land master plan. It is necessary that all District land Officers are trained in Geographic Information System (GIS) and how a land use master plan can be developed. It is estimated that 8 million plots of land are yet to be demarcated. 4 million have already been recorded.

    Legal documentation of all land plots is scheduled to end in December 2013, according to the minister. The job of the newly sworn in district land officers will be the awarding of building permits, deed plans, and resolving conflicts. They will work as District land notaries who will also advise citizens on legal procedures of acquiring or transferring land before going to National Land Centre for land titles.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Senegalese incumbent telecoms operator Sonatel said its net profits for FY2010 were hit as increased competition in the markets in which it operates trimmed its margins and it was hit by a temporary tax surcharge on incoming traffic.

    The group also warned about the future impact of fiscal and regulatory pressure, which it says ‘is becoming a major concern’. Nevertheless, the group is upbeat about the future noting: ‘The macroeconomic outlook is good for 2011 with higher GDP growth than in 2010 seen in all our countries.’

    Sonatel's consolidated turnover rose 6.5% year-on-year to CFA599 billion (USD1.2 billion) as it expanded its business operations in Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and its home market – where mobile subscribers topped the five-million mark for the first time. However, net profit fell to CFA184.8 billion in 2010 from 185.0 billion a year earlier and its EBITDA margin fell to 54.1% from 56.2% over the same period.

    Between June and November 2010, Sonatel was adversely impacted by a surcharge on incoming international calls as Senegal sought to monitor telecom traffic and boost public finances. This measure was suspended after union protests caused a shut down and disruption of some long-distance and internet services. Sonatel, 42%-owned by France Telecom, has a total market share of 60% in Senegal and 69% in Mali.

  • Kenya's smaller mobile networks want the country's Central Bank to set up a centralised clearing house for mobile payment transfers - in a deliberate attempt to reduce the dominance of Safaricom's M-Pesa platform.

    The networks argue in a letter sent to the Prime Minister that inter-network transfers are currently too expensive and that a central clearing house would lower the costs - and make it easier for Safaricom customers to switch to an alternative mobile network.

    Currently, the cost of sending funds from M-Pesa to a customer on a rival network costs Sh400 for a Sh25,000 transaction - about double what Airtel charges for a similar service on its own mobile money platform.

    Currently transactions between networks still rely on the recipient being sent an SMS and them having to visit a money agent to collect the cash. Under the proposal, the money would be transferred electronically between accounts as happens with transfers between customers on the same network.

  • House of Representative Committee on Communications yesterday recommended the immediate disengagement of the entire 3,389 staff of the nation's moribund Nigeria Telecommunications and its mobile subsidiary, M-Tel.

    It also suggested the re-engagement of 455 transition staff from the 3389 staff so as to reduce the monthly wage bill to N115.5 million from the current N695 million.

    This was as the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) said the communications outfit is currently weighed down by over N208 billion indebtedness being claims filled in by its various creditors.

    The House Committee made the recommendations while meeting with the top management of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) led by the Director-General, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa over the lingering controversy surrounding the settlement of the ex-staff of the communication's outfit.

    It would be recalled that recently, crisis erupted between workers in the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and protesting ex-staff of the nation's first communication's outfit who were agitating over non-settlement of the entitlements.

    That was shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan approved the payment of the outstanding staff entitlements of N33.4 billion due to the ex-staff of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and its mobile arm, M-tel. The payments to be effected in two installments in March and May, 2011, will commence next week.

    The BPE Director-General said the verification and payment of all NITEL/M-tel staff and pensioners, except the casual staff, was carried out in 14 designated centres across the country between December 6 and 21, 2010.

    Ms Onagoruwa in a release by the BPE Spokesman, Chukwuma Nwoko, said the sum of N54.4billion was sourced to settle outstanding staff liabilities which include salary arrears, entitlements to current disengaging NITEL/M-tel staff, allowances payable following court judgment in respect of the staff disengaged by Transcorp in 2006, pensioners and casual workers of the two telecoms outfits.

    National Council on Privatisation (NCP) had at its meeting on June 11, 2010 reactivated the Presidential Task Force on NITEL/M-tel Labour Restructuring (Taskforce) headed by the Minister of Labour and Productivity to address the issue of outstanding salaries and allowances owed Nitel/M-tel staff and to determine the number of staff to be disengaged to reduce the wage liabilities of government since the enterprises are not operating.

    The committee recommended that all employees of Nitel/M-tel be disengaged and that 455 transition staff from the 3389 staff should be reengaged. The plan would reduce the monthly wage bill to N115.5 million from the current N695 million.

    The re-engaged staff will remain till handover to a core investor while the existing security arrangements will also be maintained to secure the assets of the companies.

    Director-General added that owing to the poor record keeping of the pre-and-during Transcorp management of NITEL/M-tel, it was impossible to establish the actual debts of NITEL/M-tel.

    She said in order to attract reasonable bids, the National Council on Privatization (NCP) approved to sell the enterprise net of all debts: "The entire debts of NITEL/Mtel were assumed by government and would be warehoused for subsequent settlement from the proceeds realised from the sale," she said.

  • Telecel Zimbabwe has come under fire for being slow in regularising its shareholding structure, which is heavily skewed in favour of foreigners.

    The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology, chaired by Nketa Member of the House of Assembly Seiso Moyo, said it was concerned about Telecel's management and shareholding structure. .

    Moyo criticised Telecel Zimbabwe managing director Aimable Mpore, a Rwandese, saying even the management structure was dominated by foreigners. He said it was more prudent to second Zimbabweans to other countries where they could gain the required expertise on new technology than to bring in foreigners to run the firm. Moyo was responding to Mr Mpore's claims that they seconded foreigners because Zimbabwe lacked expertise in "some" technological fields.

    Uzumba MP Simba Mudarikwa asked the company for an update on the their licence, which was revoked by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe over the same issues.

    In response, Mpore said his company supported Zimbabwe's indigenisation laws. "We are here as management and our responsibility is to run the company, I can't answer on behalf of shareholders. It's up to the shareholders and the Government - whatever they say we will comply with," said Mpore.

    In her contribution, company secretary Ms Angeline Vere said Telecel Zimbabwe had appealed against a decision by Potraz to Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development Minister Nicholas Goche against the decision to cancel their licence.

    She said there had been correspondence to the parent ministry as well as to the Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere regarding their roadmap to indigenisation.

    "We were asked to write an implementation plan," she said. "Pursuant to that, we have since responded. One of the options was to consider listing but it was said listing was not a good option because the shares can be bought by foreigners."

    Ms Vere said the two shareholders had agreed that Telecel International would nominate the chief executive officer while the Empowerment Corporation would nominate the chairperson of the firm.

    Mrs Jane Mutasa, representing the Empowerment Corporation, was suspended as the Telecel chairperson last year on allegations of misappropriating of funds. The company is yet to appoint a replacement.

    Turning to operational issues, Mpore said while the law provided that telecommunication service firms could share base stations, some of the companies had refused to co-operate in this regard. "We have worked well with TelOne and Econet in sharing towers. NetOne has dismantled our equipment just because the facilities belong to them," said Mpore.

    He said NetOne should have approached them and asked them to pay rent if necessary.
    "For site-sharing to happen there has to be an enforcement and that cannot be done by operators. As Telecel, we welcome the sharing, but it's not the view of other players."
    He said one reason why some players resisted sharing was that they feared losing their competitive advantage.

    The Telecel boss said the Universal Services Fund administered by Potraz, should be used in making lawful interception of communications rather than have players bankroll the exercise.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • Telkom Kenya has introduced competitive prices for data and voice on its network. The two months promotional offer, dubbed Jienjoy na Mbao, Orange Mobile customers will enjoy a daily bundle of 200 minutes on-net calls, 100 on-net SMS and 10MB of data at a cost of Sh20 per day.

    Angola and Namibia mobile users can now roam. The services will be operated by the Angolan telecommunications company of UNITEL and its Namibian counterpart of MTC.

    Norman Moyo, Zantel CEO informs that the firm is set to roll out its 3G network in April, raising the stakes in the battle for the Internet market in Tanzania. The 3G technology, he says, will be implemented in phases starting with Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and later to other parts of the country.

    Airtel Zambia is set to launch 3G services in the second quarter of this year, reports the Lusaka Times. 150 W-CDMA base stations have already been deployed, and the Bharti-owned company says it will roll out an additional 300 sites by the end of September.

    Nashua Mobile, South Africa’s leading independent telecommunications service provider has expanded its product offering with the introduction of its EasiVoice Solution – commonly known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Digital Content

  • A farmer in Niger learns how to protect his crops from insects. A resident of Port-au-Prince or a rural Haitian village learns how to avoid exposure to cholera. An entrepreneur in Mali gets step-by-step instructions on extracting the oil from shea seeds to make shea butter she can sell at a local market.

    These people are benefiting from a new approach to sustainable development education that reaches a much larger audience than traditional methods - and at a fraction of the cost. ­The initiative, led by a team of extension educators and faculty at the University of Illinois, produces animated educational videos that people around the world can watch at home, over and over again, on their cell phones.

    "This is a very different paradigm from some other current development projects, where U.S.-based educators are flown to another part of the world, interact with people in the field for a few weeks to several months, and leave," said University of Illinois entomology professor Barry Pittendrigh, a member of the team that is developing the animations. "From a financial perspective, this is a much cheaper way to do international development."

    The initiative, Scientific Animations Without Borders, takes advantage of the widespread availability of cell phones in the developing world. According to recent research, nearly 60 percent of the 2.4 billion cell phone users in the world live in developing countries.

    As of 2006, more than 150 million cell phone users lived in Africa, for example, with cell phone technology spreading faster there than anywhere else in the world.

    Animation reduces the costs associated with making a video on a particular topic, and allows the videos themselves to have near-universal appeal. The videos are narrated, and the narration can be recorded in any language with any dialect or accent.

    "The way these animated videos are designed, they can be easily adapted to other cultures," said Julia Bello-Bravo, a University of Illinois field extension specialist and leader of the project. "We are also capturing indigenous knowledge and putting it into the video, so when they see the video it is familiar to them."

    The first animated videos developed by the Illinois team (with funding from the Dry Grain Pulses CRSP - U.S. Agency for International Development and created in collaboration with aid workers and farmers in West Africa) demonstrate safe insect-control methods that are already in use in some regions. The scientifically validated techniques make use of local plants or widely available materials - such as black plastic sheets, ashes, or plastic bags - to control or eradicate insect pests from cowpeas, a staple in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

    In one video, a farmer processes the fruits of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) to make a liquid insecticide that he sprays on his cowpea crop. The neem is a drought-tolerant tree found in Southeast Asia and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers working with extension educators in West Africa developed the methods depicted in the video, Bello-Bravo said. Scientific studies had validated the methods and the materials needed were cheap and widely available, she said. But explaining the technique to large numbers of people would be difficult and costly.

    "In Mali they are using this technique and it's very effective, but in Burkina Faso, for example, there are not many people using this technique," she said. "If we can show these animated videos in different parts of West Africa where this tree grows, we can get the information to many, many more people."

    A newer video demonstrates how to boil or treat water to avoid exposure to cholera. This video is available in English, French, Haitian Creole and other languages.

    The process of producing the videos is fairly fast and cheap. Communicating primarily via e-mail, aid workers, farmers, entrepreneurs and an animator collaborate on the videos with the Illinois team. Once the content is approved, the collaborators produce two scripts: one to be read by a narrator and the other describing the actions the animated character is to perform. The animator builds the animation in stages with input from the collaborative team. Once a video is complete, the voice-over narration can be swapped out to match that of a particular country or region.

    In this way, the team is building a library of educational videos that can be distributed around the world via e-mail or through the sustainable development website, SusDeViki.

    Future videos will touch on other agricultural or health issues, such as bed bugs, lice or malaria, and will target viewers in the developed and developing world.

  • Online search company WinDeed has come up with what it thinks is a solution, at least in part, to the fraud problems plaguing the Companies & Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro). In the past year, fraudsters have hijacked a number of high-profile companies, including Kalahari Resources, leaving SA business owners concerned about the security of their assets.

    Now WinDeed has launched a website, CompanyAlert, that notifies registered users via e-mail of any changes in the Cipro database. WinDeed has access to several public databases that it downloads on a daily basis, the most popular of these being those belonging to the SA Deeds Office and Cipro. CEO Colin Day says users can register at CompanyAlert, allowing them to be alerted as soon as any changes are made.

    Day says the idea came to him one morning while listening to a security specialist discussing the matter on radio. “He suggested the best way to protect companies from becoming victims of these kinds of attacks was to check the information on Cipro regularly.”

    However, that wasn’t a practical solution. “Since we already had access to the database, I thought we could use it to help SA companies keep track of any changes in a much easier way,” says Day.

    “In the event of identity theft taking place, companies can act immediately to limit any material damage by contacting Cipro, their bank and the police,” says Day.

    Day says although CompanyAlert can’t actually prevent the fraud from taking place on Cipro registrations, early detection can save a company many hassles in the long run.

    “Fraudsters have used illegitimately updated details to set up new bank accounts and then illegally claim tax rebates from the SA Revenue Service or invoice the company’s creditors with phony bank account details,” he says.

More

  • Listed cellular infrastructure company Africa Cellular Towers has appointed a new FD. The company last week told shareholders Pieter Nicolaas would take up the position from the beginning of this month. He replaced Redik du Toit, who was appointed acting CFO on 1 October last year.

  • 5th Africa Economic Forum 2011
    7-9 March 2011, Cape Town, South Africa Venue BMW Pavilion, V&A Waterfront

    Our 5th Africa Economic Forum 2011 (AEF-2011) in Cape Town at the BMW-Imax Theatre, with Africa Exhibition is a landmark Conference on Africa and significant business networking occasion for the top corporate players active in, across and involved with the development of the African continent - Cape-to-Cairo, with Governments and officials in key industries and state institutions.
    Contact: babette@glopac.com
    For further information visit:

    Cloud Computing World Forum Middle East & Africa
    9 March  2011, Grand Millennium Hotel, Dubai

    Taking place on the 9th March 2011, the Cloud Computing World Forum Middle East and Africa is a Free-to-attend event and will feature all of the key players within the Cloud Computing and SaaS market providing an introduction, discussion and look into the future for the ICT industry. This one day conference will provide the most complete and comprehensive platform for the global Cloud Computing and SaaS industry. Register Free today and get inspiration on how to address your latest issues with advice from real-life end-user case studies and practical examples.
    contact the Keynote team on +44 (0) 845 519 1230 or email info@keynoteworld.com.
    For further information visit: 

    Broadband World Forum MEA
    14-15 March 2011, Dubai UAE

    Network, learn and do business with 750+ decision-makers from across the regional Broadband ecosystem to deliver you inspiration, insights and ideas that will further your regional business.
    The conference programme features 60+ visionary speakers presenting across keynote plenary sessions, 4 in-depth technology tracks and a Rural Coverage and Connectivity focus day.  Co-located to the conference is a 35+ stand technology exhibition showcasing some of the region’s latest cutting-edge broadband technologies, applications, solutions and services to hit the market.
    Limited FREE passes for operators and early booking discounts apply to all others.  Register with VIP code: BBM11BAA
    For further information visit:

    HR4ICT11 - Business Continuity Planning: Strategic and Organisational Imperatives in a Global Economy
    21-23 March 2011,  Hilton Nairobi, Nairobi Kenya.

    The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation is holding its annual HR4ICT Forum in Kenya, beginning 21 March 2011. The event will take place over three days addressing the human resource management aspect of business continuity planning.  With a theme focused on "Business Continuity Planning: Strategic and Organisational Imperatives in a Global Economy", HR4ICT'11 will focus on the challenges faced by major communications user groups (telecommunications, IT, finance, transport, energy, etc) in developing and implementing effective business continuity programmes. Visions, ideas, challenges, needs, success stories as well as best practices on the development and implementation of effective business continuity programmes, will be discussed by a selection of expert speakers.
    For further information email: programmes@cto.int or visit:

    ICT For Development in Africa – Sustaining The Momentum, Extending The Reach
    23-26 March 2011, Ota, Nigeria

    The conference will initiate research and practice agenda where ICTs will aid the academia, organizations - public and private and non-governmental to improve socio-economic conditions and directly benefit the disadvantaged in some manner.
    For further information visit:

    Managed Services Growth Markets 2011
    4-5 April, Movenpick Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, UAE

    Now in its 4th year and attended by over 200 attendees in 2010, Informa Telecoms and Media’s Managed Services for Growth Markets event will take place on 4th - 5th April at the Moevenpick Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, UAE.With a proven track-record and repeat sponsorship from leading suppliers Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, NokiaSiemens Networks and Motorola, this event is truly established as the ultimate meeting-place for the Managed Services industry in the growth markets.A 50% discount for operators ensures a high percentage operator attendance.  Extended break times and additional social functions will guarantee a further enhancement to the already unique networking opportunities. Informa’s Managed Services for Growth Markets conference is the only established event in the region, proven to deliver an industry focussed agenda, the highest level speakers, superior networking opportunities, and top class delegates year on year.

    For further information visit: 

    Ghana ICT and Telecom Summit
    28-29 April 2011, Ghana-India Kofi Annan ICT Centre Accra, Ghana

    The summit will bring together over 200 decision-makers from Ghanaian operators and international stakeholders with an interest in the market to share experiences, knowledge and ideas with a view to overcoming the industry challenges. The 2 day summit agenda will address all aspects of Ghanaian ICT & telecoms strategies for attracting investment, broadband connectivity for all, solutions to boost operator ROI, Regulatory challenges & opportunities, infrastructure development, VAS and local content for Ghanaians, subscriber acquisition and retention strategies, mobile banking, customer loyalty, future trends and more.
    For further information visit:

    eLearning Africa 2011 - Spotlight on Youth, Skills and Employability
    25-27 May 2011, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

    The 6th event in the series of pan-African conferences and exhibitions will focus on Africa's youth. Africa has the highest percentage of young people anywhere in the world. How can it unlock the vast reservoir of talent? How can technology support education and training?
    For further information visit:

    MMT Africa Conference and Expo
    10 - 13 May 2011
    Nairobi, Kenya

    Some of Africa’s top mobile money transfer operators, financial institutions and high-tech innovators will gather for the annual MMT Africa conference and expo in Nairobi, Kenya which is still considered THE hub for mobile money transfer initiative and success. 
    For further information visit: 

     

  • IP Network Design Engineer - Telecom Services Company - South Africa

    A major provider of pan African network services, which delivers high quality connectivity solutions to hundreds of network operators. They're looking to hrie an IP Network Design Engineer to join their expanding technical team and are looking for a professional to take on the following responsibilities:-

    - Design IP (MPLS/VOIP/Wireless) Networks
    - Provision of timely design reviews of all IP related requests
    - Issue implementation documentation as regards changes on the network
    - Design the optimization of the Gateway IP network and issue documentation to implement changes
    - Integrate and control the installation of Gateway Data networks and provide procedures for acceptance of tasks performed
    - Maintain a database of IP networks
    - Monitor and control the utilization of IP Network capacity
    - Design the formulation and implementation of the Gateway Internet service policy
    - Interface with internal department on projects and IP design related issues

    For further information or to apply click here:

  • Cell C and Huawei – South Africa
    Huawei Technologies (“Huawei”), a provider of next generation telecommunications network solutions, announced the successful live deployment of a New Generation Business Support System (NGBSS) solution in Cell C, South Africa. With this NGBSS solution going live, Cell C  is now able to bill for its postpaid, prepaid and hybrid services in real-time, and in one single bill for all services. This provides Cell C with sustainable advantages of rapid time-to-market, cost efficiency, and enhanced customer experience in today’s competitive environment.

    The Institute of Directors (IoD) and Software Technologies Limited (STL) - Kenya

    Software Technologies Limited (STL) and the Institute of Directors (IoD) have signed a reseller agreement that will facilitate IoD to resell STL’s eHorizon eBoard on SaaS (Software as a Service) model.
    The eHorizon eBoard System that has been developed by STL will help transform the Boardroom by making it more efficient, cost effective and assisting Boards to “go green”. The product which is the first of its kind anywhere in the World has already created a “buzz” with several Directors in both the private and public listed companies who are excited at how the eBoard system will help drive corporate governance to new heights.