Issue no 549 8th April 2011

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Top story

  • Getting voice and data to Africa’s remaining un-served citizens will be a tough nut to crack. Some mobile operators are already saying that 10-15% of their existing base stations lose money. The dual challenge of finding cost-effective technologies to reach scattered populations and a business model that will finance them seem daunting. Russell Southwood talks to former Kenyan resident Malcolm Brew about possible solutions from halfway across the world in a windy island off the Scottish mainland.

    There are weeks when all sorts of things just collide and start to make sense. This week it was the unlikely combination of a Scotsman, White Spaces and African rural roll-out. Former Bushnet Technical Director Malcolm Brew who used to roll-out rural networks in Uganda returned to his family home in the Isle of Bute in the Scottish Highlands and Islands after over 20 years away. The Highlands and Islands have extremely poor data and voice coverage because of low population density: there are less than 3.7 people per square mile. There is little chance of fibre or LTE, indeed mobile coverage is also very limited as the terrain is very hilly.

    Brew started to investigate the problem and began to cast about for solutions: “I spent a lot of time at Strathclyde University with clever RF engineers using modified WiFi in HF in White Spaces. I wanted to deliver on the rural commitment.” A consortium of different partners including Brew and Professor Bob Stewart and others at Strathclyde University’s Centre for White Space Communications have set up a co-operative called Hopscotch to deliver voice and date to Bute and further afield: :”We want to export the tech to the rest of Scotland”.

    It has set up a demonstration test network with a Wi-Fi link from a mountain on the mainland across to Bute. It uses standalone, low power, self-powered masts: these use mainly wind but the aim is to create a wind/solar hybrid. It is a vertical axis wind turbine and the masts have a NiCAD battery back-up, giving 96 hours standby power. The “base station” as they call it, has a sub 20W power requirement. As the project’s promoters say:”It’s ultra light, ultra small and ultra cheap.”

    The initial test network was on 5GHz in bands B and C giving a 0.5 Gbps link and it has been encouraged by UK regulator Ofcom which has granted them a “light spectrum licence” as a testbed facility. The pilot has enabled the team to develop comprehensive coverage plans backed by empirical measurements and modeling tools.

     “The challenge (both for Bute and Africa) is in the business model and how to make things work financially in the ‘not-spots’. ARPUs can only go so low on the GSM/Pay-As-You-Go model, especially with mainstream vendors. You’re going to have high prices. The users won’t be able to get to the Internet unless they have money on it. It’s not the right way to do it. The Internet should be open and your right as a citizen. You become a stakeholder in a co-op and can take a longer-term view financially. It can build up a relationship with you and understand the services you want. It can help you build your business so that you can afford the services in the future.” 

    The plan is to build a 4-hop network and on the Island of Bute they have villages where there are users who want to be connected: “You need to place base stations in the right place to overcome geography. You can build up very long, high-capacity links.”

    The problem for mobile operators is that the CAPEX and OPEX for rolling out and using GSM base stations just won’t work at the kind of population densities found in the Highlands and Islands. Sound familiar? Yes, because it describes large swathes of rural Africa. However, with the kind of low cost, low energy base stations being produced by Range Networks, it will be possible to use IP to deliver some GSM access into these remote areas:“We’re not a mobile operator but we could create the access. We could get the GSM signal to where we need it as a community and make money on the interconnect.”

    By itself, the existing test network would be an interesting approach for Africa but the potentially revolutionary moment is the arrival of White Spaces spectrum as part of the dividend from the transition to digital in broadcasting: broadcast signals will then be able to be much more compressed and this will free up spectrum.

    In the UK, Ofcom is auctioning 4G spectrum for LTE use but alongside this “big boys” process, it will be offering four times as much spectrum just below it on the range for community use in places like the Highlands and Islands.

    Ofcom in its consultation wrote:” Of course, not all innovative ideas are successful and alongside WiFi and BlueTooth sit some initiatives that have yet to gain any traction, such as ultra-wideband (UWB). Our role however is to enable as many new ideas to be tried as possible so that the market and consumers can determine which should succeed, without trying to pre-judge which will be the most successful”. The FCC in the USA is also making broadly similar proposals.

    So what are the White Spaces? National and international bodies assign different frequencies for specific uses, and in most cases license the rights to broadcast over these frequencies. This frequency allocation process creates a spectrum plan, which for technical reasons assigns white space between used radio bands or channels to avoid interference. In this case, while the frequencies are unused, they have been specifically assigned for a purpose, such as a guard band. Most commonly however, these white spaces exist naturally between used channels, since assigning nearby transmissions to immediately adjacent channels will cause destructive interference to both. In addition to white space assigned for technical reasons, there is also unused radio spectrum which has either never been used, or is becoming free as a result of the digital transition.

    Ofcom’s aim is to allow these White Spaces to be used for community uses. The way of delivering this spectrum is quite complicated. It requires the devices used to act as slaves to a master database of frequencies that will assign them usable frequencies. And this is where the research expertise of the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for White Space Communications comes in. Too complicated for Africa? No, because once the technology is there it will be possible to use it anywhere. But why doesn’t a forward-thinking Africa regulator get involved in the development process by issuing a testbed licence?

    One of the elements that may add viability to the rural business model is the delivery of digital radio and TV signals. Another of Hopscotch’s partners is BBC Research: “The BBC are the wizards of this spectrum." A rural roll-out which combines voice, data, radio and TV begins to offer things that people on a range of income levels will be interested in.

    The UK Government has a broadband roll-out strategy called Broadband Delivery UK which it has put £530 million behind it.

    So what are things that Africa can learn from this example to help rural roll-out:

    1.    There needs to be a focus on getting the costs right down. There may be other technologies but Wi-Fi is cheap and proven. Shaped signals can provide transmission links. Cheap, hybrid wind/solar masts exist that have extremely small footprints. Wi-Fi mesh solutions like those of Village Voice provide ports that allow cheap, existing phones to be plugged in and used. Wi-Fi CPEs are extremely cheap.

    2.    African regulators need to get encourage these kinds of developments by offering testbed licences to those developing the technologies that will deliver cheaper CAPEX and OPEX. Many of the regions that need serving have “quiet” spectrum because no operator is anywhere within a great distance of them. This “quiet” spectrum can be used to develop both voice and data solutions. In the mid-term, African regulators need to get on board with White Spaces and get ready to use this important part of the dividend from the digital transition in broadcasting. (which they also need to encourage to move along much more quickly)

    3.     In business model terms, there are two broad approaches: either locally based, micro-businesses or the existing major operators providing branded but outsourced coverage. The best approach would be to allow both things to happen to see what the advantages and disadvantages of each are. However, there must be an understanding that if mobile operators don’t want to provide coverage in these areas, then they have to provide realistic interconnection arrangements to those who will. The choice for the mobile operators is clear: their existing cost base in terms of staff and equipment will not deliver coverage in these places. Therefore they need to get behind encouraging an ecosystem of local providers who will.

    4.    There are considerable attractions to delivering a package of services that have attractions for a wide range of people and organizations. It may not be immediately possible but having the delivery of mobile voice, data, radio and TV as an objective adds weight to the need for this kind of roll-out.


    Now available on Balancing Act’s Web TV channel

    Enrico Chiesa, africafilms.tv on delivering African films using VoD

    SteveSong, Founder of Village Telco
    talks about: how the Mesh Potato came to be invented; how Wi-Fi Mesh works; the functions and capabilities of the device; and where the Mesh Potato is being used:

    Herman Chinery-Hesse, CEO, the Soft tribe on creating Africa's eBay and payment systems

    Mauritius: Viv Padayatchy, CEO, Cybernaptics on a PC and mobile app for logistics companies

    Ayo Alli, Business Development Consultant for Goal.com
    talks about its massive growth in West Africa

    To look at past telecoms videos, click here:

     

telecoms

  • The head of the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), Regis Francois Gatarayiha, said last week that the revocation of the Rwandatel's mobile license is permanent.

    The decision taken on Monday in accordance with article 57 of the law no 44/2001 of 30/11/2001 governing telecommunications in Rwanda, clears any notion that Rwandatel can, after putting right the non-compliance issue, regain its license.

    "There is no hope of regaining the license. The decision is final. We have revoked it and this is permanent". Gatarayiha said, during a news conference at RURA headquarters.
    This leaves two operators; Tigo and MTN, in a market which the regulator still insists lacks competition.

    Hundreds of employees are bound to lose their jobs. Over 320 Rwandans, five Libyan expatriates and 11 distributors countrywide are employed by Rwandatel. The switching off of the network will mean that Rwandatel has to lay off employees and retain a few who will operate the fixed telephony and internet services which the company will provide using a different license. "The fixed telephony and internet license shall remain active and operational as usual," RURA announced.

    By Tuesday evening, all employees in the customer care centres in the city were thinking of the next step, while others had already abandoned their work in search of other jobs.

    The regulator noted that the exit of Rwandatel won't affect the market and the targeted penetration percentage of 60% by 2012, which is now at 36%, the lowest in the region after Burundi.

    "The penetration is determined by the competition in the market, not the number of operators. We can have two operators, and how they strategize to reach out to new subscribers determines penetration. What we have been having is three operators competing for same subscribers," Gatarayiha said.

    Gatarayiha noted that Rwandatel's subscriber base had dropped from 535,710 to 345,000, by February this year following Tigo Rwanda's low price call rates. This comes at a time when the industry is facing setbacks of interconnectivity costs which stand at Rwf 40, forcing operators to hike call costs."Pricewaterhouse Coopers, funded by the World Bank, is currently conducting a study to see how much operators are spending on interconnectivity," Gatarayiha said.

    The report, which is expected to be out in May this year, will help the regulator determine how to cut interconnectivity costs, which will result in reduced call charges.

  • Ethio-Telecom (the new brand name for incumbent ETC) stopped making unlimited EVDO Internet access available to customers on Friday, April 1, 2011. The announcement of the revised packages and new products was made on Wednesday, March 30, by the service provider at a press conference held by Abdurahim Ahmed, manager of external communications, and Jean Michel Latute, CEO, both from Ethio-Telecom. The former is the France Telecom manager bought in to provide strategic management to the company.
     
    The new EVDO packaging and pricing system does away with the former unlimited service package. Instead, it offers packages of one, two, and four gigabytes at monthly charges of 300 Br, 500 Br, and 700 Br, respectively. Once this runs out, customers must pay 35 cents per megabyte of use.

    The former unlimited EVDO service package of 4,000 Br per month allowed the customers of the Internet café managed by Zelalem Belay to see and download unlimited amounts of software, pictures, and videos. However, even the comparatively cheaper 4GB package will cost the café more, according to Zelalem.

    "The monthly charge for the package, which amounts to around 18 cents per megabyte, may seem cheap, but many of our customers download various materials that take up a lot of memory," he told Fortune. "With this new tariff package, we must restrict our users' ability to download memory exhaustive programmes or charge them a combined price system for the time spent and data transfer rate."

    "With our sizeable number of customers, the four gigabytes could be finished in few days," Zelalem said. "It would be costly to buy 100 Br Internet cards at 35 cents per megabyte for weeks until the next month."

    Yet, the service provider's network problems persist. "We have been receiving complaints about the slow Internet connection the country is experiencing and the unavailability of Internet services on most mobile phones," Latute said. "Ethio-Telecom is increasing the security of Internet traffic through a microwave system as a national backup plan, to cope with Internet outages, that will be finished by August or September this year."

    Ethio-Telecom is to expand the Internet fibre optic system routes in addition to the ones already laid on the Port Sudan-Metema-Addis Abeba and Djibouti-Addis Abeba routes.
    There will be one additional line added to the Djibouti route and another one between Mombassa and Addis Abeba by the end of April 2011, Latute confirmed.

    Aside from the revised Internet packages, new tariffs for mobile phone services, mobile SIM cards, and replacement SIM cards were introduced. Ethio-Telecom has adjusted its tariff rate to introduce a new flat rate for mobile phone calls of 72 cents during peak hours and 30 cents during off-peak hours. Unlike the previous structure, the new tariff rate allows no price difference linked to tariff zones across the country.

    As of Friday, all costs for calls from mobile to mobile, mobile to fixed line, and fixed line to mobile are uniform whether it is a long or short distance call - charging all national calls at the same price as local calls.

    The fixed rate would benefit Gebresha Ergete, who works as a guard, since he has a Dire Dawa mobile number. Living in Addis Abeba made most of his calls more expensive for being charged as "long-distance," but with the rate adjustment, the amount he spends on mobile cards should decrease substantially, he claimed. "The new system of charging flat rates is efficient and cost-effective for the user," Latute told the press.

    Baheria Mustefa, a shopkeeper who has a call centre, hopes that the changes in the tariffs will also be beneficial to her business. "My call centre charges a uniform price of 1.50 Br per minute, whether the call is made to a mobile phone or fixed line of whatever tariff region," she told Fortune. "To date, it has been operating at a loss, and I hope it will change when next month's telephone bill arrives."

    The new price for mobile phone SIM cards has been reduced by 30pc from the previous 85 Br to 60 Br, inclusive of VAT. However, the fee to replace a SIM card that has been stolen or gone missing will be increased from 15 Br to 45 Br.

    Abdurahim admitted that the increase was business oriented. "The enterprise has two objectives," he said. "One is developmental and the other focuses on business. It has to cover its losses and make a profit, too."

    However, Fire Dawit, a temporary supervisor at Commercial Nominees, which sells SIM cards and airtime, does not expect a rush of customers because of the sudden price decrease in new SIM cards. "Most people already have SIM cards, even those who wanted a second one, after the previous adjustment to 85 Br per SIM card," she told Fortune. "Sales could increase after the Preparatory Exams since parents nowadays shower their children with mobile phone as gifts for succeeding in their academic careers."

    The tariff revisions are being touted by Ethio-Telecom as a move towards making Ethiopia's rates the lowest among countries in East Africa. Ethiopia's fixed line tariff is one of the lowest in Africa, according to the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) 2010 African Telecom Indicator.

  • Vodacom would like the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to delay a long-awaited auction of spectrum in the 2,6GHz band. Vodacom regulatory adviser Mortimer Hope says the spectrum in the 2,6GHz band should be auctioned at the same time as the “digital dividend” spectrum in the 800MHz band to make sure that telecommunications providers can provide blanket service to all South Africans. The digital dividend is the spectrum that will be freed up when broadcasters move to digital terrestrial television.

    Hope was speaking at a digital dividend workshop being held by Icasa’s offices in Sandton on Thursday. Icasa is expected to auction spectrum in 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz later this year. Hope says 800MHz is being used around the world to provide access to the next generation of wireless broadband technology, known as long-term evolution, or LTE. “The lower frequencies are far better for wider coverage, and already providers are ‘refarming’ the 900MHz spectrum that was traditionally used for voice to provide broadband coverage,” he says.

    Hope says that although the coveted 2.6GHz band can be used for LTE, the high frequency range makes it less suitable for wide coverage and more suitable for bolstering city coverage and providing additional capacity.

    Icasa is in the process of finalising how it plans to licence the spectrum in the 2,6GHz band and all operators are hoping to get their hands on it. However, the authority’s recently released spectrum regulations could result in most of the larger players being excluded from bidding for the spectrum. The new regulations require that companies have 30% of their equity in the hands of historically disadvantaged (HDI) people.

    Vodacom could use the additional time afforded by a postponement in the auction to bolster its HDI requirement and bid for an assignment in both frequencies. The company will need all the capacity it can get its hands on because, according to Hope, it expects a boom in wireless broadband in the next five years. By 2014, Vodacom says almost 70% of all network traffic will be video delivered over the Internet.

    With fibre still not widespread in SA, Vodacom is banking on LTE to help curb the cost of the last mile to customers for broadband access.

  • The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) has confirmed that mobile number portability (MNP) was successfully implemented in the country on 1 April 2011, making Kenya the 63rd nation to allow mobile phone users to retain their existing phone numbers when changing service providers. The long-awaited introduction of MNP follows a series of extensive public consultations that took place between 2004 and 2008.

    In March 2010 Netherlands-based Porting Access was awarded a contract to supply, install, commission and manage the country’s MNP services; those wishing to switch operators while retaining their numbers will pay a one-off fee of KES199.80 (USD2.36). However, Airtel Kenya, the country's second largest cellco by subscribers, has declared its intention to waive the MNP fee for anyone porting their number to its network.

    Rene Meza, managing director of Airtel Kenya, commented: 'The successful rollout of MNP is a great boost for Kenya's image in the global arena as it confirms the country's status as a technologically savvy nation, especially in the developing world'. Bob Collymore, CEO of market leader Safaricom, commented: 'We are not afraid to lose customers. Other networks have always been after Safaricom subscribers anyway. It is good that consumers now have a choice, I think each network should be left to deal with MNP in its own way'.

    CCK director general Charles Njoroge commented: 'The implementation of number portability is expected to deepen the level of competition in the mobile telecommunications market and enhance consumer choice. In the new dispensation, service providers who do not pay attention to quality and good customer service may find it hard to survive. The operators have carried out the necessary tests and we expect the services to kick off without major hitches. There might be a few teething problems at the beginning, but this should be sorted out within the shortest time possible'.

internet

  • SkyVision Global Networks Ltd., a global provider of IP connectivity over satellite and fiber optic systems, last week announced the expansion of their new corporate solutions in DRC. The company’s recently established local hub is the first of its kind in Kinshasa, DRC. “Our local hub marks the importance of the Congolese corporate and government market sectors to SkyVision and enables us to provide suitable solutions to meet their specific requirements, such as the SkyVision VPN and SkyVision Private Network solutions” said SkyVision CEO, Doron Ben Sira. SkyVision’s corporate solutions allow local and global organizations located in DRC to connect their WAN sites, making it possible to share information and collaborate efficiently via voice and data applications.

    Being a huge country with a scattered population, DRC is considered to be a strategic market for SkyVision due to its huge growth potential. SkyVision will provide quality services to the most remote areas in DRC and contribute to the development of the country. SkyVision’s local hub provides low-latency, single-hop solutions that connect corporate headquarters to remotes sites via a terrestrial link, thus ensuring optimal function of enterprise applications. SkyVision’s corporate solutions, supported by the company’s attentive local presence, offer customers scalable solutions that easily keep pace with network growth. In addition, all SkyVision’s satellite-based services are tailored to customer requirements and are easily integrated into terrestrial and wireless communication networks to enable hybrid solutions.

  • The GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, last week called on the Nigerian government to unlock potential NGN862 billion of GDP growth by 2015 by supporting the rollout of Mobile Broadband across the country.

    At a press conference in Lagos this morning, Ross Bateson, Special Government Advisor, GSMA, outlined the findings of a new independent report by analyst firm Analysys Mason and called on the Nigerian government to:

    – Unlock the 2.6GHz spectrum quickly to support the high demand for Mobile Broadband in urban areas;

    – Release the digital dividend spectrum to deliver broadband services to rural areas; and

    – Reduce the 35 per cent tax level faced by Nigerian mobile operators, a tax which is double the global average.

    According to the study, only 6 per cent of all Nigerians currently have access to broadband services, and 74 per cent of those do so through Mobile Broadband. There is little fixed broadband connectivity outside of Lagos, and even in Nigerian cities, most cyber cafes now connect to the internet using wireless services. It is widely acknowledged that mass-market broadband availability will only be possible using mobile technologies, and this report highlights the steps the Nigerian government must take to promote Mobile Broadband growth.

    Bateson said: “It is essential that the new Nigerian government acts quickly to support Mobile Broadband expansion, as failure to do so could hinder the country’s social and economic growth. Not only could the country realise as much as NGN862 billion of incremental GDP, but people of all ages and livelihoods would benefit from the vast amount of information and opportunities Mobile Broadband can unlock.”

    The study found that Mobile Broadband could potentially contribute more than 1 per cent of GDP, or 1.7 per cent of non-oil GDP, as soon as 2015 and will facilitate much needed diversification of the economy. According to the report, government support for Mobile Broadband services could help deliver significant advantages to the wider wireless ecosystem and the way in which other sectors use the internet:

    – 55 per cent annual growth would be seen from the online retail industry, growing from NGN4.5bn in 2010 to 44.9bn in 2015;

    – The financial services industry’s benefit from broadband would grow by 95 per cent CAGR, as a result of mobile access to bank accounts and money transfer services, from NGN0.6bn in 2010 to 16.8bn in 2015;

    – The use of the internet and mobile to deliver of social services, including healthcare and education, would generate growth of 70 per cent CAGR, from NGN2.2bn to 30.3bn in 2015; and

    – The overall corporate market, especially agriculture and utilities, would experience a 55 per cent annual growth rate through the provision of services online, from NGN3.6bn in 2010 to 32.1bn in 2015.

    Wider availability of Mobile Broadband could also vastly improve overall industrial productivity through improvements in business processes. A 73 per cent annual increase in the working population with access to Mobile Broadband, reaching 5.2 million users by 2015, will deliver an additional NGN140 billion to the Nigerian economy each year.

    Bateson concluded: “Mobile is the most cost-effective way of delivering broadband services in Nigeria. Nigeria already has advanced mobile networks, such as Glo’s recently launched LTE network, and has experienced significant take-up of HSPA Mobile Broadband. The laying of submarine data cables between Lagos and Europe has provided much of the international backhaul needed, but mobile is vital in providing ‘last mile’ connectivity to consumers, especially in rural areas. However, without proper spectrum allocation in line with internationally harmonised band plans and broader government support, it will not be possible to realise the full potential of Mobile Broadband.”

    *ITU Option 1 (ITU-R M.1036-3), for 2.6GHz spectrum allocation dictates that 2 X 70 MHz FDD (2500 MHz – 2570 MHz paired with 2620 MHz – 2690 MHz) be allocated to Mobile Broadband deployment, and 50 MHz is allocated to TDD (2570 MHz – 2620 MHz).

  • Tanzania’s Zantel, last week slashed prices for its modems by about 50 per cent, reviving hopes of boosting internet connections in a country that has one of the lowest penetration rates in East Africa. The firm's modems will now be sold at Sh25,000 from Sh49,900, according to a statement from the firm's offices, availed to The Citizen in Dar es Salaam last week.
     
    The company has also doubled the volumes on selected bundles on its 'Z-Connect' internet service, without changing the price. "Our aim is to ensure that more people own personal internet modems to increase internet penetration," Zantel's acting marketing director, Brian Karokola said in the statement.

    Recent data, released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) indicate that Tanzania tails behind fellow East African Community (EAC) member states of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in Internet penetration. The country of an estimated 41.8million people has a penetration rate of only 1.6 per cent of its entire population. Tanzania is only better to Burundi where the penetration rate is 0.7 per cent.

    With a penetration rate of 10 per cent of its 40 million people, Kenya is on top of all other EAC member states. The country is closely followed by Uganda which boasts an internet penetration rate of 9.6 per cent as Rwanda comes third with an internet penetration rate of 4.1 per cent.The landing of the first fibre optic international submarine cables in the country in 2009 and 2010 was meant to revolutionise the market which, before that point, was completely dependent on satellite connections.

    And according to Karokola, Zantel is constantly working towards upgrading its network and increasing the coverage. "We are currently undergoing extensive core network upgrade to ensure we increase internet coverage in suburb areas and outskirts of major cities," he said. Capitalising on the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), for which Zantel is a key partner, the company feels it has the technical muscles of offering greater capacity internet penetration.

    "We have huge capacity at our disposal as Zantel is a key partner on the EASSy cable that is now live, and are capable of offering the best and fastest Internet connectivity to meet the demands of both corporate and individual needs," he said.

computing

  • Gilat Satcom, a provider of domestic and international fiber and satellite-based connectivity services in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, announced last week that it has concluded a partnering agreement with Global Tracking of Ethiopia to provide comprehensive fleet management, personal tracking and related solutions across East Africa.

    Global Tracking, established in 2000, is the wireless business solution division of Global Investment Technology of Falls Church VA, USA and maintains operations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The company is a leader in real-time terrestrial GPS/GPRS and satellite GPRS tracking systems. It focuses on helping companies in the transport sector reduce operational costs and increase efficiency while enhancing customer satisfaction.

    Participating in the Information Communications Technology Exhibition which recently took place in Addis Ababa, Gilat Satcom saw the huge potential for tracking solutions. Entering into an agreement with a strong player like Global Tracking enables the company to provide world-class, comprehensive solutions to a host of Africa-specific tracking requirements.

    Gilat Satcom’s Mobile Satellite Services Sales Manager, Itzik Baron, stated, “We have encountered a strong demand for real-time, tracking-related solutions that are served by our ever-present, pan-Africa mobile satellite communication capabilities. Teaming with Global Tracking, experts in tracking solutions, we can offer comprehensive solutions throughout Africa.”

    Global Tracking maintains an around-the-clock operations team in Addis Ababa to provide direct support to customers of the joint venture. Backed by Gilat Satcom’s award-winning Customer Services Center (CSC), customers are assured comprehensive, accessible support for all their needs.

    Zelalem Dagne, Global Tracking’s Managing Director said, “We are tracking experts with excellent solutions. Working with Gilat Satcom, we are able to make our solutions available across Africa to increase fleet efficiency while we reduce transportation costs and accidents.”

    The first company to use the new fleet management system is Weyera Transport Share Corporation.  Weyera’s Managing Director, Ato Mesfin Tefere, stated, “We were working with Global Tracking in 2008 on a pilot project and entered into a contract to use their fleet management system.  We are now able to monitor our trucks remotely at any time.  In my opinion, the combination of Global Tracking and Gilat Satcom provides us with a new level of quality of service and value that we can offer our customers. We are extremely pleased with the capabilities of the solution and the rapid and seamless deployment of the new system.”

  • A new online search engine, Wankel, has been developed and launched in Nigeria and the brain behind the innovation, Yusuf Bodija told newsmen in Ibadan, Oyo State that Wankel is a personal search aggregator that allows users to define their search, thus allowing online user flexibility to search using three different platforms.

    According to Bodija, online visitors who search the web through www.thewankel.com for information, also consider searching for news, images, videos, jobs, articles and many more on Wankel which delivers the result to them in a pleasing and unique way.

    He said that language translation is also a feature of the website enhancing user satisfaction of words displayed in native dialect. "Users can register on the Wankel website with an opportunity to comment and rate websites; share a website containing relevant information with their friends on social sites such as facebook, twitter, digg, delicious, among others."

    Bodija stated that users of Wankel can e-mail their friends with link to the social sites and print the page of the site from Wankel without ever visiting the homepage of the website they found relevant according to their query.

    On what makes Wankel unique to other online search engines, Bodija said that the website being a personal search aggregator allows users to define their search, thus giving them flexibility to search using three different platforms. "Whatever platform you decide to search from is personal to you and you will always get the best result that will match your query online."

    The website developer advised users who type long queries to always conduct their searches using the filter search provided by Wankel by filtering contents from the three different platforms on the site.

    A critic on Nairaland noted:” I don't say this to discourage anyone but this is totally pointless in my opinion. All this does is generate google search results! Its clearly written "Google Custom Search". Now why will I spend 40 seconds waiting for this to load when I can just google it str8 up? How is this a "Nigerian Made Search Engine"?
    What was made in Nigeria? The Wankel logo that was put on the search engine script?
    C'mon people!”

  • Rwandan businesses will start accessing markets and other business opportunities from the Asian, Caribbean and European markets through Community of Opportunities for Development (com4dev).

    Com4dev is an initiative by Pro-Invest, funded by the European Union to create an electronic information platform, which will be a state-of-the-art capacity building tool for Intermediary Organisations.

    The local business community will benefit from the use of this web platform through relieved hassle of browsing many websites for different business, grants and investment opportunities.

    The managing director imani Development East Africa, Patrick Sinnot, said the platform allows users to network and share Information on regions, countries, organisations and companies, programmes, projects, opportunities, events, people, studies, reports and best practices.

    "The e-platform will enable intermediately organisations to have a higher online visibility " he said on Thursday.

    This, he said, will help local businesses to identify partners, experts and formulate fundable projects as well as exchange best practices through interaction.

    Robert Twagira, a consultant who is one of the few Rwandans that have used the platform said that it helps one to advertise and present his proposals, events and projects to the whole world at no cost and also access information on different opportunities in all sectors of development.

    The website www.com4dev.com is free and accessed by everyone and will host export and investments agencies, tenders and contracts, a directory of donors and funding agencies, business opportunities and revenue generating activities.

    It will also provide for specialist and consultants who would wish their expertise to be hired.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Visafone has further strengthened its market position by acquiring Multilinks Communications Limited's CDMA mobile assets. Multilinks is arguably the oldest mobile phone company in Nigeria, having been operating in the country for over 15 years. Telkom Limited, it was learnt, agreed to sell Multilinks' CDMA business to Visafone Communications Limited for N8.1 billion ($52 million).
     
    Telkom on November 22 said Multilinks has 7,000 kilometres (4,351 miles) of fiber-optic cable, 2,000 kilometres of which is shared with MTN Group Ltd. and Globacom Ltd.

    At the signing of the agreement in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week, with Jeffrey Hedberg, the Chief Executive Officer of Telkom, the parent-company of Multilinks, Jim Ovia of Visafone said his company recognised that this deal will solidify its position in the Nigerian marketplace and was committed to offering world-class voice and data solutions to existing Multilinks customers.

    He said: "This transaction brings us closer to achieving our target of 10 million subscribers within three years. We believe that the superior technology offered by CDMA, combined with a subscriber base of 4.2 million active subscribers will enable Visafone to continue as a game-changing innovator in the Nigerian marketplace."

    The union of Visafone and Multilinks creates a total active subscriber base of 4.2 million, which cuts across the nation's six geo-political zones. Ovia, Chairman and Founder of Visafone is strategically redefining and reshaping the CDMA mobile marketplace in terms of both voice and data.

    Multilinks has an enviable, high quality subscriber base, some of whom have been on their network before the mobile telephony explosion in Nigeria. According to Mr. Ovia: "Multilinks customers will be afforded the same high quality of network and customer service as existing Visafone subscribers enjoy." Multilinks has, however, assured its customers that it will continue to offer a high level of service and support during this transition period.

  • MTN punts the advantages of its investment in submarine cables which will “reach new frontiers as WACS prepares for SA landing” MTN Group last week said in a press statement that its US$90 million (±R602 million) investment in the West Africa Cable System (WACS) will reach an important milestone this month when the 14,000 kilometre-long submarine cable lands at Yzerfontein in the Western Cape.

    MTN’s investment in WACS forms part of many submarine cables in which the company has a stake. MTN states that this is an attempt to bring much-needed broadband capacity to the African continent. “As the single biggest investor in WACS, MTN will receive an initial capacity of 11% when the cable becomes commercially available in the second quarter of this year,” MTN said.

     “WACS will provide millions of MTN subscribers across Africa the much-needed bandwidth and will go a long way towards catapulting Africa into the digital age. Lack of bandwidth on the continent has arrested the development of Africa and has constrained the continent from achieving its full potential,” said Karel Pienaar, MTN South Africa Managing Director.

    “MTN’s investment in WACS and a myriad of other submarine cables bears testimony to the company’s commitment towards the development of the continent and reaffirms our long-held confidence in the future of the continent.”

    The WACS submarine cable is a high capacity fibre optic submarine cable system which links Southern Africa and Europe, spanning the west coast of Africa and terminating in London, United Kingdom.

    This US$650 million (±R4.35 billion) cable system is the largest capacity international backhaul link yet landed on the African continent. It has 15 terminal stations which anchor along the western coast of Africa, including countries in which MTN has operations such as Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

    Pienaar adds that as a multinational corporation with a strong presence in 16 African countries, MTN’s multi-million rand investments in undersea cables are also underpinned by the critical role that telephony has played in contributing meaningfully to gross domestic product (GDP) and alleviating poverty.

    Quoting figures released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Pienaar says mobile penetration in Africa is the lowest worldwide at 41%, and that Africa still lags behind when it comes to fixed (wired) broadband.

    “Although subscriptions are increasing, a penetration rate of less than 1% illustrates the challenges that persist in increasing access to high-speed, high capacity internet access in the region. We believe that these investments MTN has made in submarine cables will vault Africa into the digital age and afford our subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond the capacity and ability to be part of this growing global village,” said Pienaar.

    In addition to the US$90 million investment that MTN ploughed into WACS, MTN has invested in the following cables:

    $50 million in Europe India Gateway (EIG) - the submarine cable that connects Europe and India. $40.3 million in the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) – an undersea fibre optic cable system connecting countries of eastern Africa to the rest of the world.
    $10 million in SAT-3/SAFE linking Portugal and Spain to South Africa, with connections to several West African countries along the route.
    In EASSy, MTN has already been allocated an initial capacity of 30GB in-line with its investment in the cable, while the company enjoys 317GB of capacity on the EIG cable.

    WACS configuration

    WACS – a minimum 4-fibre pair cable system linking South Africa (SA) to Portugal, with landings in several intermediate countries and an extension Segment to the United Kingdom (UK) and London Point of Presence

    System Design – 5.12 Terabits per second measured at 10Gbps wavelength technology.
    Initial Equipage – more than 500Gbps.

    Certain segments will deploy 40Gbps wavelengths technology from first day of operation.

    Express fibre pair - interconnect SA, Portugal, and UK through to London.
    Semi-express 1 fibre pair - interconnect SA, Nigeria, and UK through to London.
    Semi-express 2 fibre pair - interconnect SA, Angola, Democratic Repubblic of Congo, Ivory Coast and UK through to London.

    Omnibus Fibre pair - interconnect SA, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Cape Verde, Canary Islands, Portugal, UK through to London.

    The landing Parties are: Telkom (South Africa), Telecom Namibia (Namibia), Angola cables (Angola), OCPT (Democratic Republic of Congo), Congo Telecom (Congo), MTN (Cameroon), MTN (Nigeria), Togo Telecom (Togo), MTN (Ghana), MTN (Ivory Coast), PTC (Cape Verde), Vodacom Group (Canary Islands), Tata Communications (Portugal), Tata Communications (UK), Cable and Wireless (London PoP).
    Segments are capable of carrying between 128 and 160 x 10Gbps wavelengths per fiber pair.

    The WACS Consortium members are: MTN Group, Angola Cables, Broadband Infraco, Cable & Wireless, Congo Telecom, Office Congolais des Postes et Telecommunications (OCPT), PT COMUNICAÇÕES, Togo Telecom, Tata Communications, Telecom Namibia, Telkom SA Ltd and Vodacom Group Ltd.

  • Telecoms firm Wananchi Group is to invest an extra Sh 8.4 billion to increase the rollout of its services across east Africa, its CEO said yesterday.

    Wananchi Group, which bundles broadband internet, cable television and voice telephony into one package, is owned by venture capital firm East Africa Capital Partners. It has operations in Kenya and Tanzania and is planning to also roll out its bundled service in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia.

    In 2009, U.S.-based private equity group Emerging Capital Partners invested $25 million in Wananchi."We have to date invested $120 million in this programme and we expect to invest an additional $100 million in the next 12 months just on building these infrastructure in a few key towns in east Africa," Richard Bell, Wananchi's chief executive officer, told a regional telecoms conference."The biggest challenge of all to getting this sort of thing going triple play in the region is the ability to roll out the infrastructure, and it takes a lot of time, a lot of capital."

    Bell said that Wananchi planned to have laid down fixed line infrastructure thoughout Kenya capital Nairobi, Mombasa and Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam within the next two years.

  • The government has lost nearly Sh1.5bn in tax collected on airtime due to the mobile phone tariff wars. The shortfall to the Kenya Revenue Authority is attributed to mobile users spending much less on airtime since the telecom operators started the price battles in August last year.

    KRA Commissioner General, Michael Waweru says the revenue from the telecom sector is likely to reduce further as a result of the Mobile Number Portability that is starting today."If people have the option of moving to the cheapest network, the Value Added Tax they pay on airtime will be much less, "he said.

    It is not only the taxman who has been hit by the price wars but also the mobile phone companies whose revenues have been falling. By end of February, he said, KRA was behind its quarterly target by about Sh10 billion.

    Government collections from taxes have been falling and by end of last month stood at Sh394.5 billion against a target of Sh426.4 billion for the financial year. The drop was due to the on goings in mobile telephony sector and other changed regulations.

    The implementation of the Alcohol Control Law, popularly known as the Mututho laws, will also have a negative effect on the revenues as it reduces the earnings of beer companies."The effect of the Mututho Bill has not yet been fully assessed," said Waweru.

    He said added that the amendment in the Finance Act that removed excise duty based on description of cigarettes also lowered taxes collected on the product.

    But he is optimistic that the authority will reach the Sh605.9 billion annual targets as companies are expected to make better returns this year.

    Waweru was speaking to the press after an event to launch KRA's ISO9001:2008 recertification. It was first awarded the quality management systems certification in 2007 by SGS Kenya Ltd. Among the changes it has initiated is automation of revenue collection which has helped minimise tax evasion.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - The National Communications Authority (NCA) of Ghana says that around 85% of SIM cards in the country have now been registered with their respective network service provider. However, it went on the say that 2.5 million SIM cards were barred from making calls from the weekend and that those involved have until July to register them before their lines are completely disconnected.

    -Telkom has defended its tariffs for voice and data services, arguing that independent research shows its prices are not excessive, or even expensive, when measured against its international peers.

    - On the back of its recent rebranding, Ethiopian monopoly telecoms provider Ethio-Telecom has announced the restructuring of tariffs for its mobile voice, mobile broadband and fixed line high speed services. All calls will now be charged on a national basis, with both pre- and post-paid customers charged at ETB0.72 (USD0.04) per minute at peak hours (7am to 9pm, Monday to Saturday), while off-peak calls will be charged at ETB0.30 per minute. The rate will apply to both the operator’s 2G and 3G subscribers. Further, the cost of a new SIM card has been reduced, to ETB60  down from ETB80, which includes airtime worth ETB15. Replacements of lost or stolen SIM cards is increased from ETB15 to ETB45. Discontinued its tariffs offering unlimited usage; as of 1 April 2011 the largest monthly data usage allowance on offer is 4GB per month, which costs ETB700 per month, with any additional usage charged at ETB0.35 per MB. Prices for the ADSL service start at ETB400 per month for a 512kbps connection with a 2GB monthly usage limit, while the telco’s top end residential fixed line broadband option offers 6GB of data per month at speeds of up to 2Mbps for ETB700.

    - The total number of mobile phones in Senegal reached 8.34 million at the end of 2010, with net additions of 515,967 in the fourth quarter, according to data published by the regulator, the Agence de Regulation des Telecoms et Postes (ARTP). Orange Senegal added a net 390,000 new subscribers in the last quarter of 2010 for a total of 5.09 million, handing it a market share of around 61%. Second-placed Tigo Senegal’s base dipped to 2.36 million from 2.42 million (or 28.2% of the market), while third player Sudatel Telecom (Expresso) increased its users to 898,113 (10.8% share). The net gains from the incumbents pushed cellular penetration in the country to 68.55%, far eclipsing fixed line teledensity which stood at 2.81%, or 341,857 main lines in service, up from 278,788 at 31 December 2009. The total number of internet subscriptions was 86,964 at end-2010, up 27,219 on the end of 2009, of which 89.2% were on an ADSL connection.

    -Vodacom Tanzania yesterday unveiled a new corporate colour by shifting to red, dumping blue in a move meant to align itself with its parent company Vodafone, which has a controlling stake in Vodacom South Africa.

    - As Sierra Leoneans prepare to celebrate the country's 50th independence anniversary, leading mobile phone operator, Airtel has launched another innovative promotion named '50 Days of Freedom'.

Digital Content

  • Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom has announced an agreement with global money transfer firm Western Union to introduce international mobile remittance services to the 13.5 million users of its M-PESA mobile banking system. Under the terms of the agreement Western Union customers will be able to visit one of 80,000 Western Union Agent locations in 45 countries across the world, and send funds directly to the 'mobile wallets' of M-PESA subscribers. Funds are usually delivered within a matter of minutes.

    The M-PESA service, which was launched in March 2007, was available in over 24,000 agent outlets as at 31 October 2010; over 600 organisations now accept bill payment via M-PESA. The service does not require users to have a bank account, and has proven hugely successful in Kenya, where millions of citizens do not rely on traditional banking methods. M-PESA users can hold up to KES100,000 (USD1,193) in their M-PESA account at any one time, and funds worth between KES50 and KES70,000 can be deposited, sent or withdrawn during any given transaction. According to the Central Bank of Kenya, Kenyans living outside of their home country sent USD642 million home in 2010 – up from the USD609 million sent back in 2009.

    Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore commented: 'Our customers are very proud of the revolutionary M-PESA service, and this partnership sees us pushing new boundaries to continue to keep Kenya at the forefront of the mobile world. Through this partnership, our customers and their friends and families will benefit from affordable, faster and more convenient international remittances, and the money is available to use straight away for any M-PESA transaction, or can be withdrawn as cash at any of our 24,000 Safaricom agents'.

  • Kenya Commercial Bank-Rwanda, a subsidiary of Kenya's KCB Group said it will introduce Quick Serve Visa Eelectron Debit Cards, a simple and convenient way to pay for goods and services.

    KCB Rwanda's Managing Director, Maurice Toroitich, said that the card, which will be introduced in the second quarter of this year, can be used in more than 20 million outlets worldwide. "We are pleased to add another innovative banking solution to our growing services to our customers in this market," he said in an interview last week.

    He added the innovation will lead to optimization of the Bank's Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) infrastructure by enabling cardholders to access services at any of their ATMs in Rwanda and in the region.

    Toroitich added that customers will be able to use the card to purchase goods and services at any Visa branded outlet like supermarkets, petrol stations, drug stores, hotels and air ticketing.

    "Ultimately this is about making the most effective use of existing infrastructure which not only benefits our customers but also builds towards a more integrated and efficient electronic payments system in the market," he added.

    KCB plans to set up one of the most successful and reliable ATM network in Rwanda and the region, he said.

    "In the coming months, we shall enhance further the ATM offering by increasing the number of ATM Machines and enhancing functionalities to be able to provide airtime top ups and prepaid cash power purchase as well as providing the ability to make third payments such as post paid telephone and Pay-TV bills." KCB Group has operations in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Southern Sudan.

More

  • - TechCentral editor Duncan McLeod has been named ICT Journalist of the Year at the second annual Telkom Classic Business journalism awards. McLeod won the award for a series of columns published on TechCentral and in weekly business magazine, the Financial Mail.

  • 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 here:

    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 more information visit here: http://www.mobile-money-transfer.com/africa

    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 here:

  • Group Systems Architect
    Kmed Recruitment, Cape Town

    Introduction:
    A vacancy exists for the above mentioned position. The successful candidate has the following:

    Requirements:
    3 Year qualification with IT related subjects.
    Minimum of 15 years relevant work experience.
    Systems analysis and design qualification is essential.
    Specialist knowledge of the System Development Process.
    Knowledge and understanding of the ICT processes and control objectives within the Cobit mode.
    Previous experience within the IBMi and .Net environments will be an added advantage.
    Knowledge and understanding of system integration techniques and standards.
    Detailed knowledge and understanding of multiple technology environments.
    Has been accountable for the successful delivery (development and maintenance) and support of multiple systems.
    Proven project delivery of a system spanning across a full business process.
    Sound judgment and decision-making ability.
    Ability to build and maintain relationships.
    Good communication skills.

    Outputs:

    All applications are continuously assessed for their business value, technical quality, complexity and cost of ownership.
    Application gaps are identified and business owners supported to review the feasibility of closing the gaps.
    Architect integrated solutions across all business disciplines.
    Guide individual system architects with specific solution designs to ensure conformance to a group design.
    Business requirements are consistently documented in accordance with standards and reflect the user's needs and other constraints such as cost and schedule.
    Functional specifications are consistently documented according to standards by all system architects.
    Technical specifications are consistently documented according to standards.
    Technical solutions conform to Technology Architecture.
    A Company SDLC is set and adhered to for all development work.
    Ensure healthy balance between system maintenance (business as usual) and functional change (transforming and innovation).
    System tests are performed consistently against functional and non functional requirements.
    Change Management tools are used to update the status of all development and maintenance work.

  • Gamcel/Gamtel Signed D10 Million Contract With Gambia for Goal
        
    Gamcel and Gamtel, operating under the brand names of 'Yaay Borom' and 'Creating a brighter future for Telecommunications' respectively, have extended their largesse to the Gambia for Goal, amounting to D10 million for a period of four years. This support was formalized at a signing ceremony held at the Gamtel House conference room in Banjul.

    Speaking at the ceremony, Mr. Sheriff Gomez, the Minister or Youth and Sports, noted that the signing as significant as it coincided with the 10 years anniversary of Gamcel. He expressed the appreciation of his Ministry and Gambia for Goal for receiving such support from Gamcel and Gamtel. He said the national is for Gambia to qualify to the Nation's cup and that they will continue to call on their partners like Gamcel/Gamtel to match along with them side by side to make sure this becomes a reality.

    The Youth and Sports Minister applauded the role that Gamcel/Gamtel in supporting national endeavours and noted that this is a demonstration of cooperate social responsibility.

    He challenged the Gambia for Goal to live up to expectation and ensure that the partnership is worth the while and has generated the expected results.

    For his part, the Managing Director of Gamcel, Mr Foday Ceesay said many Gambians are now displaying their football talents at the world stage unlike before when you have only few playing football outside the country. He said the country is appreciative of the his company's role in matters of national development.

    Mr. Baboucarr Sanyang, the Deputy Managing Director Gamtel, said Gamtel started sponsoring GFA since 1984. He explained how the support of his company accompanied the Gambian football beyond the country's borders citing the U.17 African Championship, Peru etc. He said the D10 million is just the beginning and that they will continue with their support until the cup is brought to The Gambia.

    In his brief remark, Mr. Tombong Saidy,. the Chairperson of Gambia for Goal described the day as a good day for them as they receive this huge sum of D10 million from their partner Gamcel/Gamtel. He promised that everything on contract will be honoured.

    The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Mr Jammeh also acknowledged the support.

    The ceremony was witnessed by officials of Gamcel/Gamtel, Ministry of Youth and Sports, the media and members of the football fraternity.

    Speaking earlier, Mrs Ramou Nyassi Hydara, Gamcel Senior Marketing Manager and chairperson of the ceremony, reminded that Gamcel/Gamtel have contributed a lot towards sport. She expressed hope that the objectives of the agreement will be realized as demonstrated by the enthusiasm and zeal of the Sports and Gamcel/Gamtel officials.

    In another development, Gamcel/Gamtel also donated a computer and printer to Dankunku Lower Basic School. Receiving the donation on behalf of the School Headmaster, Mr. Yankuba Yabo, a senior teacher, expressed appreciation and thanked the managements of the GSM and telecommunication outfits for what he described as a timely assistance. He said this is the first time his school is receiving a computer and promised that it will be put in good use. He added that in recognition of the importance of technology, the Ministry has introduced the subject of information technology in Grade 7 at secondary school.