Issue no 551 21st April 2011

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Top story

  • Facebook has become the single biggest non-mail client product in Africa. Over the last seven months user numbers have doubled in many countries and the smaller countries where it was barely visible, now have significant numbers of users. It is the number one or number two site in every African country. But as Christian Hernandez, Head of International Business Development, Facebook told Russell Southwood, this is really only the beginning of what the platform is setting out to do.

    Internet user number have always been Africa’s most unreliable data currency. Anyone who provides these figures usually does so by multiplying the number of subscribers in a country by somewhere between five to ten times. The multiplier was on the basis that a single account might be used by between 5-10 people: for example, if it was a cyber-café or an office account. The reality is that these figures provide only the broadest order of magnitude in terms of users. The Facebook users figures below provide a much more interesting data proxy for Internet users because they are significantly more accurate and they are more likely to be daily users.

    Amongst the 14 African countries analysed by Alexa.com, Facebook is listed as either number 1 or number 2 most used web site. And this is the pattern across the globe except in China and Russia.

    Since August last, the level of Facebook usage has doubled in many of the countries listed below. For example, Senegal went from 229,340 users to 477,840. In many of the smaller countries where Facebook users were in the thousands in August 2010, they are now in the tens of thousands. Take-up has not always happened at the same speed. For example, although Tanzania has a larger population and bigger economy than Uganda, it is the latter that has the larger number of Facebook users.

    Africa Total: 27.4 million

    The Million Plus Club

    Egypt              6.58 million
    South Africa    3.8 million
    Morocco          3.2 million
    Nigeria            2.9 million
    Tunisia            2.35 million
    Algeria            1.39 million
    Kenya             1.03 million
    Ghana            906,540*

    * It will soon pass into the million plus user zone.

    The mid-field (100,000-999,000)

    Senegal            447,840
    Cameroon        355,860
    Uganda            280,600
    Tanzania          259,120
    Mauritius          254,680
    Angola             184,660
    Madagascar      151,100
    Ethiopia           146,020
    Namibia           127,260
    Zambia            117,520
    Botswana         112,180
    Mozambique    105,820

    Lower tier (20,000-99,999)

    Benin             96,720
    Rwanda          84,800
    Malawi           79,040
    Burkina Faso  71,400
    Central
    Af Rep            66,500
    Gabon            64,000
    Gambia          63,120
    Mauritania      61,140
    Togo              61,120
    Cape Verde    54,220
    Djibouti         52,660
    Congo-B        49,320
    Sierra Leone   34,100
    Swaziland      28,960
    Niger            27,300
    Guinea         27,060
    Seychelles    25,280
    Somalia        21,580

    Not yet started (0-19,999)

    Lesotho       19,100
    Burundi       18,000
    Eritrea         16,000
    Chad           12,740
    Equatorial
    Guinea         10,860
    Comoros      9,080
    Sao Tome &
    Principe       2,640

    Facebook has three objectives for the platform and these cover its development in Africa. Firstly, it wants to acquire more users. Secondly, it wants to monetize this use by attracting advertising: for example, it already has agents in African countries selling its online advertising space to ad agencies and clients. Thirdly, it wants to have developers write more services for the platform. For example, the latter already includes what it calls Social Widgets like the Top articles shared by friends button on CNN.com. It wants African developers and entrepreneurs who will use tools like its social widgets and APIs to create local products and services based on Facebook.

    Currently Facebook has 500 million active monthly users, of which half use it from a mobile phone. Its research shows that the latter group of users are twice as engaged in terms of use as the PC users. As Christian Hernandez sees it:”We know mobile is an important tool to drive engagement and in developing countries we start with mobile.”

    Indeed Facebook has put a lot of effort into making sure that it can reach the widest number of users on a mobile and not just smartphone users. It has a WAP platform, a stepped down HTML version, a App, and Snaptu, which allows access to feature-rich phones using Java. The latter is a product we’ve highlighted before that creates a smartphone like interface for feature-rich phones. Facebook liked the company so much that it recently bought it. It has also worked with Gemalto to build Facebook into an SMS structure using SSID menus so that users with basic phones can receive status updates from friends even when they can’t access the full site. Anecdotally it seems that “Facebook-ready” has become one of the key factors in choosing secondhand phones in places like Kenya.

    One of the things about Facebook in Africa is that it provides an extremely fast route to getting a web page: you can have an online presence without needing to go through all the cost and hassle of having a web designer do it. For the individual, it becomes a combination of bulletin board and e-mail browser. It is probably one of the significant links between Africans on the continent and friends and family in the diaspora.

    For the corporate, it’s potentially a much softer way of engaging with your audiences. For example, Coca Cola is no longer creating topic or campaign-specific web sites but using Facebook as a platform to play this role. Small African companies are using Facebook to attract interested users to their product. For as Hernandez notes:”It’s a self-selecting eco-system.” Hernandez pointed out from his experience in Latin American that almost all the billboards in El Salvador now have a Facebook logo on them. SMEs in Africa have been less quick to catch this wave.

    Facebook also has location-based products like Places, which companies can use to offer individual users sales promotion coupons: for example, a user checks into a Place on Facebook like a Java Coffee Shop and as you open it up, the user is presented with a little yellow coupon giving a free cup of coffee.

     


    New video clips on Balancing Act’s Web TV channel

    Philip Sowah, Managing Director, Airtel Ghana on the importance of mobile data

    Mark Davies, CEO, Esoko on agricultural pricing systems

    Jonathan Tawiah, CEO, Ostec on providing managed services in West Africa

    Alhassan Umar, ITES Director
    , on Ghana’s plans to become a BPO hub

    Ben Coleman, ICT Adviser, West Africa Trade Hub
    on SME Exporters' use of ICT

    George Babafemi, COO, eTranzact Ghana, an e-Payments solutions provider in seven African countries

    Jacqui Moller Larsen, Country Director, Grameen Foundation Ghana on its
    Mobile Technology for Community Health initiative

telecoms

  • Part of the Libyan state-owned mobile phone network has been commandeered by the rebels in the country and isolated to build their own phone network. Set up by a team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive, it has enabled the two million Libyans living in rebel controlled areas to have their first contacts with the outside world after the government cut the telecoms links in rebel held territories.
    The Wall Street Journal reported that assistance in hijacking the network included diplomatic support from the UAE and Qatrar governments who also assisted in buying the network equipment needed for the technical takeover of the network infrastructure.

    It was also reported that China's Huawei, which was the main supplier of infrastructure to the government owned phone networks refused to assist the rebels in their efforts, so the UAE based Etisalat is reported to have stepped in by providing hardware from its own supplies.

    The takeover effort started on March 21st, and was completed by the beginning of April, although customs delays at the Egyptian border cost them a week of delays. The network, now called "Free Libyana" was opened to users on the 2nd April.

  • According to local press reports, mobile operator Vodacom South Africa has confirmed that it has exceeded 1,000 active 43.2Mbps HSPA+ sites on its network. Although the deployment has taken place over time, Vodacom stressed that it did not want to publicise the improved speeds until they had achieved ‘significant’ HSPA+ coverage. CEO Pieter Uys commented: ‘We have actually had the technology up and running for some time, but we wanted to have a critical mass of at least 1,000 base stations before flipping the switch to allow consumers access at up to double the speed. We wanted to make sure that we had the service available in more than just one city’.

    According to MyBroadband.co.za Vodacom currently has over 4,300 3G base stations in South Africa, of which 2,650 are 21Mbps enabled, with the remainder supporting transmission speeds of 14.4Mbps. Further, Vodacom chief technical officer Andries Delport has disclosed that Vodacom plans to have a total of 2,000 HSPA+ towers upgraded to support transmission speeds of 43.2Mbps by May 2011. Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys had previously indicated that Vodacom intends to roll out an additional 1,000 3G base stations during 2011. Despite the increase in peak speeds Vodacom has said that it is focusing on increasing the average performance of its overall network, and will connect 2,000 mobile sites to fibre by the end of the current financial year.

    However, Delport tempered the announcement by conceding that speeds of up to 43.2Mbps are strictly theoretical, and depend on how many people are using the towers, and their proximity to the base stations; in a live HSPA+ test staged on Friday Vodacom demonstrated peak download speeds of around 37Mbps. There will be no increase in costs to existing subscribers, and compatible 43.2Mbps HSPA+ dongles are now available in Vodacom retail stores. Although precise rollout details are unknown, it is believed that most major metropolitan areas will be covered from the outset.

  • The ongoing SIM Card Registration by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) may soon hit a brick wall due to apathy from telephone subscribers in Nigeria. The NCC had budgeted N6.1 billion for the exercise though a source in the Commission told the Leadership newspaper that only N2.1 billion had so far been released to it. The commission launched the programme in Abuja three weeks ago with the intention of registering all SIM card users in the country.

    Investigation by Leadership, however, has revealed that the exercise which is moving at a very slow pace due to poor turn-out by Nigerian subscribers. In a telephone interview with Leadership last week in Lagos, the Head, Media and Public Relations, NCC, Reuben Muoka, confirmed that although Nigerians had not shown enough enthusiasm towards the NCC appointed vendors, even as he stressed that preparations were in top gear to intensify public sensitisation on the project.

    He said, "We have given the job to vendors and we will pay them according to the number of subscribers they register. The vendors are getting updated weekly so it is not a stampede. We are not competing with operators. We are only interested in Nigerians registering their SIM cards.

    "We are aware of the slow pace, and the election has also contributed to this, which is why we intend to embark on a roadshow next week to make subscribers aware of the ongoing registration. We will be on radio and television stations. We implore Nigerians to be patient with us because we will reach out to all states."

    When Leadership spoke to one of the GSM network registration vendor, MTN, Okemini Micheal, he explained that people were more familiar with their network operators than NCC. He stated, "Some people do not listen to radio nor watch television neither do they read newspapers. So they are not aware of the SIM registration by the NCC."

    He confirmed that the major factor hampering the NCC registration was low publicity.
    "The vendors do not have a form of identification. There are no banners to attract people to their stand. Some of them wear apron and face cap which are not easily seen," he explained.

    One of the vendors at an NCC stand, Joseph Oladokun, said that he registered between 100-150 subscribers daily. "This is not a high figure but I think it is because we are surrounded by other network operators," he said.

  • The Communication Commission of Kenya is considering reviewing the Mobile Number Portability porting procedure to boost its uptake among mobile phone subscribers.

    Two weeks after MNP was launched, mobile phone users have raised issues on the process, describing it as too long and complicated. CCK Director General, Charles Njoroge last week said the regulator was willing to work with the operators to come up with an innovative and simpler way of taking consumers through the porting process. "We have noted that and we are exploring ways to minimize the pain by seeing whether we can reduce the critical path followed in terms of timelines and the amount of action required," he said.

    According to the current procedure a subscriber has to personally visit a retail center of the operator they want to port to, fill in a porting request form and submit their prerequisite ID. They then have to hold on as the operator verifies the information and gives him/her other legal documents to sign.

    They are then assisted to initiate the porting process by sending a 'Port' or 'Hama' sms to 1501 which takes a series of other technical processes as the customer await for the request to go through or be rejected. The wait can take anything between a few minutes to two days. The regulator said, "Even though the procedure is followed is the standard one, we are working with the operators' technical teams to improve the customer experience".
     
    It is not only the process that consumers find a problem but also lack of understanding of MNP. A recent qualitiative investigation by TNS RMS showed that while awareness is high, consumer comprehension remains generally low. Some thought that portability simply meant swapping provider others thought you could use the same number for multiple providers. By end of last week, around 8,000 porting requests had been made.

    The announcement also came in the wake of some mobile phone operators accusing others of misguiding subscribers on the process. Njoroge said this while confirming that the issues and counter-accusations raised by regulators last week had been ironed out. "Some systems were being done manually, which created a backlog but has already been cleared and everything is running smoothly now.

    However, Airtel Managing Director Rene Meza said the network still had many newly acquired customers still unable to receive calls or SMS from Safaricom.

internet

  • SEACOM recently launched a range of IP services, directly competing against companies like Telkom, Internet Solutions and MWEB Business SEACOM has unveiled a new suite of products, focusing heavily on Internet Protocol (IP) type products like IP VPN, Internet, IP transit, ethernet and IPL (International Private Line) offerings.

    SEACOM’s latest products move the company firmly into the wholesale IP services market, competing directly against players like Telkom Business, Internet Solutions, MTN Business, Vox Telecom, MWEB Business and Vodacom Business.

    This move was partly necessitated by the influx of international bandwidth into the country which has driven down prices and is starting to squeeze margins on the traditional International Private Leased Circuit (IPLC) market.

    SEACOM is under pressure to differentiate itself and ensure future income and sustainability, and with its new IP products they extend their relevance in the South African market. But at what cost?

    SEACOM’s Suveer Ramdhani conceded that they have to manage their relationships with their current wholesale customers (who purchased point-to-point STM 1 – 64 services from SEACOM) very carefully to avoid unhappiness. Ramdhani highlighted that they have not lost any customers because of their IP transit and related services, but not everyone is convinced SEACOM is doing the right thing.

    Neology CTO Roelf Diedericks, a SEACOM client through KDN, feels that SEACOM’s IP services would be in direct competition with many of SEACOM’s own IRU and larger customers. “It is my belief that SEACOM is cutting its own throat and that of its larger carrier customers with the offering of direct IP transit on the SEACOM cable,” said Diedericks.

    “Essentially with this offering SEACOM has morphed from a Layer 2 undersea cable owner to a global IP transit provider. If they wanted to do this correctly, the division offering Layer3/IP services should have been incubated as a new entity that is effectively a customer of SEACOM and is bound by the same terms and conditions as its wholesale customers.”

    Diedericks added that SEACOM’s decision to offer IP transit services opens the door for anti-competitive behavior as has been seen in similar situations locally. “I'm not saying this will be the case but it does create the opportunity,” said Diedericks.

    Altech Technology Concepts (ATC) CEO Wayne De Nobrega, agrees with Diedericks that it is not desirable for SEACOM to compete against its own wholesale customers.
    De Nobrega is skeptical as to whether SEACOM will actually attract customers from providers like ATC as they are looking for a full IT solution rather than standalone international connectivity, but the risk is there that SEACOM’s pricing may simply be used as a negotiation tool by customers to reduce costs.

    De Nobrega and Diedericks agree that SEACOM should not have offered IP services directly to the market. “SEACOM should have formed a new legal entity that is a customer of SEACOM (and even other cable systems), and hence bound by the same terms and conditions as SEACOM’s other wholesale customers - leveling the playing field,” said De Nobrega.

    Vox Telecom CEO Douglas Reed says that SEACOM will have to do a clever balancing act not to alienate their existing customers, but feels that it is possible. “A lot of companies in this country are forced to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares so it is possible,” says Reed. Reed agrees with Diedericks and De Nobrega that SEACOM may not find it easy to gain new customers with their new product portfolio.

    “The biggest mistakes I have seen in the telecoms market are made by the new entrants with a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy.  What is grossly under estimated is the cost of acquiring customers and when they resort to ‘buying’ customers which ends up exasperating the situation and delays the time to break even,” said Reed.

    MWEB ISP MD Derek Hershaw  is less concerned about SEACOM’s new IP products. “From our perspective we were aware that they were extending their product offering, they have been transparent about it and we don’t have any problem with it.” Hershaw is also not worried that SEACOM will squeeze their wholesale customers on pricing instead arguing that their wholesale customers are simply too important to them to try this.

    Hershaw further welcomes more competition in the market. “If it brings in more competition, which will ultimately continue to drive down pricing and stimulate growth, then it has to be a good thing for the market as a whole”.

  • Rwandatel is the country's leading Internet Service Provider (ISP) despite its recent troubles, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) said in the latest statistics, which contradict earlier figures that suggested the telecom operator had lost its position to MTN Rwanda. The report from the regulator indicates that fixed broadband internet market is dominated by Rwandatel, which has 1,359 users or 52 percent of the market share.

    MTN Rwanda is the second with 932 users, which represent 35 percent of the market shares. This means that the two operators hold 87 percent of the total broadband internet in the country.

    Rwandatel in which Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio (LAP Green) hold 80 percent shares and government of Rwanda 20 percent lost its cell phone operating license after RURA accused it of failure to implement its license obligations. Industry analysts say the decision by RURA will have a huge bearing on the entire internet segment, especially mobile internet.

    The Director General of RURA, Regis Gatarayiha, told Business Times on, Wednesday, that he does not expect a slow down in internet penetration. "Internet users still have options from MTN and TIGO modems and cell-phone internet, so don't think it will cause a big impact on the market," Gatarayiha explained. He added that since his institution revoked Rwandatel's mobile operating licence, mobile internet users have switched to TIGO and MTN.

    With 731,027 users representing 59 percent of the market share, Rwandatel was still the market leader in terms of mobile internet as of December 2010. MTN and TIGO had 471,381 (38 percent) and 31,014 (3 percent) respectively.
     
    Last year, the regulator announced that MTN Rwanda had overtaken Rwandatel to become the market leading provider of data and Internet services. Statistics from the regulator as of June indicated that MTN had 431,209 Internet and data subscribers, while Rwandatel had 40, 262 subscribers, representing only 17.60 percent market share.

    The report further indicates that, New Artel has 169 users representing six percent of the market share while ISPA and Altech Stream Rwanda hold two and 178 users respectively.

    While government revoked Rwandatel's mobile phone license and is seeking liquidation of the company, Gatarayiha said that the data segment will not be transferable to the new owner in case government wins the case.

  • Twitter and facebook services have been suspended by major telecoms in the country.
    Internet subscribers of UTL, Warid, MTN - some of the major ISPs (internet service providers) - are greeted by the "server not found" error message on trying to access these particular social media URLs (web pages).

    A Warid telecom official at the call centre denied knowledge of such a move, saying the problem could perhaps be with facebook itself.

    "Our internet is working just fine and we don't have any problems", she said. But the social media services availability via the Orange service deflates her argument.

    In fact, when a Warid engineer was asked why they are denying their clients this particular service while other web pages are accessible, he said: "No, no, it is not us; it seems it is the government that has blocked the service. Even us we are crying like you".

    However, the telecommunications regulatory body, UCC (Uganda Communications Commission) has denied it is behind the social media outage. UCC's public relations officer, Isaac Kalembe, said: "We have not instructed anyone to block any social network," before adding: "Maybe it's the ministry of ICT."
     
    If, as suspected, government is behind the move, it will be the second time in a few months that it has forced ISPs and telecoms to deny its citizens access to social media to reduce micro-blogging that it believes incites the population, especially as the "walk to work" protests pick momentum and even spread to Jinja, Masaka, Gulu and other upcountry areas.

    Earlier in February this year, the government asked the telecoms to block and regulate the use of some keywords such as "bullet", "Mubarak", "Ben Ali" in the SMS services. This was at the height of the North African protests that ousted both the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents.

    Meanwhile Daily Monitor reported last week that government has blocked live radio and television broadcasts of the "walk to work" protests.

computing

  • The Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) is formalizing a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement to develop an ICT park in Dar es Salaam.

    A statement issued by Costech last week said the park will be developed jointly with Seacom Ltd (Seacom) and a consortium of private national as well as global investors. It will facilitate innovation, create quality jobs for Tanzanians and modernise the region's ICT landscape.

    "The park will be the first 'smart village' geographic cluster of its kind in East Africa. It will be enabled by international high speed broadband access and global calibre end-to-end ICT infrastructure," reads part of the statement. However, it will compete with a similar project being planned in Nairobi.

    The smart village has been named Rhapta City, a reference to the ancient trading city thought to have been located where Dar es Salaam is today. Rhapta City will be based in a marquee location and is scheduled to break ground mid-this year, according to Costech.

    The statement said the village will host ICT small and medium enterprises (SMEs), established multinationals and IT services. It will also have business process outsourcing (BPO) call centres, online education, community public space and an incubation centre for innovation hosted by Costech.

    Further, it will facilitate knowledge dissemination and technology transfer by providing a key linkage between ICT-SMEs and multinationals. A model for the entire African continent, the smart village's infrastructure will include a world-class data centre providing co-location services.

    It will also provide full facility management, communication, data storage and value added services to major carriers and users. The smart village's PPP backers are excited to stand behind this unique project, the statement said.

    SEACOM's broadband capacity will ensure that every desk and building in Rhapta City's "smart village campus" is truly IT-enabled, according to the statement. It said on completion, the smart village will cement Dar es Salaam's connectivity to its geographic neighbours in the global and digital economy. Thus it will build on the legacy of its historical predecessor as a trading and logistics hub.

  • A few weeks ago, a truck driver got the shock of his life when his employer called from South Africa asking why he had siphoned fuel from his vehicle while awaiting clearance at the Kasumbalesa Border Post between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
    The driver's attempts to deny the incident were futile as video footage taken at the border post showed him draining the fuel and handing it to people.

    The installation of high tech monitoring equipment means it is no longer business as usual at Kasumbalesa, a border post along one of the busiest trade routes in Africa. As a truck enters the yard, powerful cameras capture all its details and relay these to different offices, including immigration and customs. Among others, the cameras capture the truck's company name, the number of axles it has and type of cargo it carries.

    When the drivers finally enter the offices, they are expected and the money to be paid for various immigration and customs procedures is already calculated. This means the driver now spends less time on border processes compared to previously, when all processes were manual.

    Engineer Avishay Dvir, chief executive of Baran Trade and Investment, a Swiss-based Israeli-owned company contracted to build the new border post, said the new structure "would help improve the speed and volume of trade between countries" in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).

    Negotiations are already underway to install more such technology at other border posts in COMESA. Poor border infrastructure is among the factors that make regional trade more difficult and costly, especially as most goods have to be moved by road.

    A 2009 World Bank report on Africa's infrastructure says long delays at border posts cost hauliers more than 300 dollars per day. For example, a journey of 2,500 km from Lusaka, Zambia, to the port city of Durban in South Africa takes an average of eight days - four days of travel time and four days spent at border crossings, costing about 2,400 dollars.

    Some truck drivers have reported spending a month travelling from Durban to the DRC, with the longest delays being at Kasumbalesa. Reduced trucking turnaround time means more cargo is transported as a driver can now make several trips in a month, instead of spending the whole month on one. "If such facilities are put across the region, trade will flow at an increased speed as goods cross borders at an increased rate," said Dvir.

    The company has an ambitious dream for an in-transit cargo (ITC) stamp given at one border post and then electronically communicated to the next border post and all others to speed up the clearance processes.

    This could mean a truck would only need one ITC stamp identifying its cargo and its final destination, which will reduce the time spent at the border to as little as 10 minutes. Currently, cargo examinations are done manually at Kasumbalesa, but an X-ray machine for trucks is being installed for cargo to be checked as the truck passes.

    Explained Dvir: "Our idea is to construct modern border facilities equipped with information and communication technologies across the region. The Zambian government has given us a contract to facelift all the border posts in the country.

    "We are also in discussions with governments from other countries, including the DRC, Tanzania and Angola. We are interested in improving conditions at borders in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, especially the Beitbridge Border post which is infamous due to its poor conditions and delays."

    "Work here has become so much easier," Mushota Bukankala, a shift manager, enthused. "I just stand in the control room where I have a good view of everything happening around."

    Winfred Shawa, a Zambian truck driver, considered retirement due to strenuous working conditions but changed his mind following the installation of the new system. "I would spend 30 days on the road between South Africa and the DRC, with delays especially at this border, but I no longer spend even a single day here. I cannot wait for this system to be adopted at other borders, which will mean that I can make the trip in less than five days, allowing for one or two roadside rests," said Shawa.

    The new look border post has increased employment opportunities for the nearby community. Since January 2011, 250 employees have been recruited. All of them had to first undergo training in IT systems, as most did not have such skills.

    The border post company has also committed to provide cash worth 120,000 dollars annually for the neighbouring community's development. A school is under construction and the plan also includes a clinic and a market.

    Various forms of trade at the port have also been affected. In the past, truck drivers would use the long waiting times to sell some of their fuel to locals and fuel dealers. The time to do that is no longer there and, besides, the cameras are always watching from every angle in the yard. Truck drivers also do not have much time to engage in commercial sex.

    The new border post was built over 10 months at a total cost of 25 million dollars through a "build, operate and transfer" agreement between the Zambian government and the company, which got a 20- year concession to manage the border to recover its investments.

    The government did not commit any money towards the construction. A crossing fee of 19 dollars per axle of any vehicle which passes through the border post has been introduced and negotiations to charge the travelling public are underway. Government retains the duty and immigration fees.

  • Kenya Bankers Association has awarded Safaricom a five year contract to provide data services in implementing the recently launched cheque truncation system. The service provider will connect all 42 commercial banks participating in the project and the Central Bank with high capacity Wide Area Network links to facilitate the transmission of cheque images and data."Telecommunication is the backbone on which the cheque truncation project rides, the choice of a networks communication supplier was a key project consideration and rigorous selection criteria was put in place," said Habil Olaka, CEO of KBA during the signing ceremony last week.

    Cheque truncation involves a process where physical cheques presented for payment in a bank by individuals or companies are converted to electronic form and the image is then transmitted electronically to the clearing house for processing and eventual payment by the paying bank.

    Safaricom through its Enterprise Business Unit has already done the interconnection and banks have started implementing the new system. The deadline for the old cheque clearing system is May 31.

    Cheque truncation is expected to result in faster clearing time, reduced charges for customers and reduce avenues of fraud emanating from cheque substitution."The aim is to have cheques cleared in at most 2 days in the urban areas and four days for up-country consumers, which calls for a reliable ,wide reaching network," said Olaka.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Mauritius Telecom (MT) said pre-tax profits rose 17% year-on-year to MUR2.4 billion (USD89.1 million) in 2010, driven by strong growth at its mobile division. MT added that net profits rose 16% from MUR1.4 billion to MUR1.7 billion, and revenue climbed 5.6% from MUR7.1 billion to MUR7.5 billion. The company’s chief executive officer Sarat Lallah said the mobile segment grew by 10.4% in FY2010 compared with 6.7% in FY2009, while the internet segment also grew strongly.

    MT, which is 40% owned by France Telecom and is the country’s dominant fixed line and mobile operator, has revealed plans to invest as much as MUR4.3 billion, or 50% of its reserves, in international projects in the short term. It claims to have ‘sufficient reserves’ and that it is in talks with unnamed telecoms providers in Uganda and Vanuatu.

    It is also looking to start trading its shares on the Indian Ocean island nation’s bourse, pending approval from the government, Chairman Appalsamy Thomas has said. ‘We are waiting for the decision from the Ministry of Finance,’ he added, ‘Once it’s obtained, it will take us four months before listing.’ Under the plan the government, the State Bank of Mauritius and the National Pension Fund will reduce their stakes in the company through the listing. About 10% to 15% of shares will be traded on the nation’s exchange, CFO Cyprien Mateos said.

  • The Chairman of Egypt's Orascom Telecom has expressed doubts about Vimpelcom's chances in settling the ongoing and lengthy dispute over Orascom's Algerian subsidiary with the Algerian government.

    Orascom Telecom is currently in the process of a merger with Vimpelcom, but the terms were changed to reflect the uncertainly of the Algerian situation. Orascom's Algerian subsidiary, Djezzy, is the parent company's biggest single source of revenue, but has been mired in tax disputes for several years and the Algerian government has blocked profit transfers back to the parent company.

    Now the Algerian government is trying to nationalize the company in order to block its sale by Orascom to other companies.

    "I do not think Vimpelcom will succeed in negotiations in Algeria," Orascom Telecom Chairman Naguib Sawiris said at a shareholders meeting on Thursday, as cited by the Reuters news agency. The company is currently mulling whether it should seek international arbitration in its dispute.

  • Vox Telecom released it’s results for the six months to the end of February 2011, claiming that although their financials are under pressure, the Group’s strategy is “on track.” The key financial results for the past six months, when compared to the six months ended 28 February 2010, are:

    - Gross profit up 9% to R257 million on H1 of 2010
    - Cash on hand increased by 15% to R122 million
    - Profit before taxation and exceptional items down 4% to R34 million
    - Headline earnings per share (“HEPS”) down 7% to 2.14 cents per share

    Faced with the impending end-of-life of cellular Least Cost Routing (LCR) and dial-up internet units, the company has to prove in the forthcoming period that it can retain these customer bases and convert them to alternate services on the Vox Telecom network.

    The conversion of LCR customers to Vox Telecom’s Cristal Vox voice service is going well. “Ironically,” says Group MD, Douglas Reed, “both the LCR and dial-up services remain highly cash-generative, which is giving us the time we require to transfer these valuable customers to our platforms. Targeting a brand new customer base is a far more time consuming and expensive exercise.”

    Despite an 11% drop in revenue, and Earnings per Share (EPS) being down by 6%, the Group achieved R257m in Gross Profit, up 9% when compared to the 6 months ended 28 February 2010. In addition, cash on hand increased by 15% to R122 million. The Group invested a further R32m into its network and fixed assets.

    “We remain in a deflationary environment in terms of voice and data,” says Reed. “Under these circumstances, we are pleased with our ability to increase gross profits and look forward to next year when our growth will return to historical levels.”

  • Use of plastic cards to purchase goods and services in East Africa is on the rise, as consumers shift from cash and cheques, latest statistics show. However, the value of the transactions is way below that of leading economies in Africa.

    For example, Botswana has 700,000 Visa cards but transactions are valued at $650 million annually, compared with Kenya's three million plastic cards with transactions worth $350 million over the same period. The increased adoption of plastic cards has seen Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc - the world's largest credit card networks - turn to East Africa as a key engine for growth.

    Visa and MasterCard are set to open offices in Nairobi in the second half of 2011 to tap into the regional market. Kenya leads the region in the use of plastic cards, with over three million cards in use. Rwanda and Burundi have about 5,000 cards in use, said Gerald Hawkins, Visa group manager, Africa. He added that Tanzania and Uganda have 300,000 and 700,000 cards, respectively.

    Analysts said besides the safety and convenience of cards, their uptake has also been helped by reward schemes, such as discounts that card providers offer to push up their use. Demand for cards has been on the rise as consumers seek to avoid the inconveniences and risks of cash-based transactions - including fraud, robbery and violence. Visa officials hope that setting up shop in Kenya, the region's biggest market, will enable them to consolidate their business.

    "The Kenyan hub is two-hour flight from many surrounding markets. We will work directly with partner banks and the government on a daily basis within this time zone," said Hawkins.

    Global Payments Solutions firm MasterCard also intends to set up base in the country, denoting stiff competition ahead in the plastic cards business, according to the Central Bank.

    "Master Card has also applied to set up base in Kenya; there is a growing demand for the cards market," said Stephen Mwaura, CBK's head of national payment system.

    He added that the market was growing at a slower pace than that of other solutions like mobile money transfer, introduced in 2007 - long after plastic cards were introduced to Kenya in the 1990s.

    "There are 500,000 transactions through Visa cards every day, compared with a million mobile money transactions a day," he said.

    The CBK said that in Kenya, total credit and debit cards stood at 55,235 and 7.1 million, respectively, in October last year, up from 61,050 and 6.2 million in the same period the previous year.

    The total value of transactions made using plastic cards -- including credit, debit, and pre-paid cards (voucher cards) -- stood at Ksh115.1 billion (about $1.4 billion) in the three months to September 2010, compared with Ksh76.6 billion ($950 million) in a similar period a year earlier.

    Cash, however, remains the main method of payment in East Africa, a fact attributed to a strong aversion for debt and an inadequate point of sale network.

    While automated teller machines in Kenya have increased from 1,756 in 2009 to 2,037 in 2010, ATM cards have almost tripled, from 422,785 to 1.3 million over the same period, according to the CBK survey. Point-of-sale (POS) machines over the same period increased from 16,619 to 19,279. "The terminals should be increased by a factor of two or three," Hawkins said.

    Kenya has 9,000-Visa POS machines; Tanzania and Uganda have 450 each, while Rwanda and Burundi have 100 and five outlets, respectively, the officials said. Meanwhile, financial institutions hope to increase their cards' customer base in the country.

    NIC Bank, one of Visa's partners, says uptake of plastic cards will rise with increased exposure to technology and cashless cultures dawn. "We hope to double our credit card customers in two years," says James Wainaina, director of personal banking, during the launch of the bank's Visa Gold Credit Card in Nairobi.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - South Africa’s third mobile operator, Cell C has officially launched its 42 Mbps HSPA+ network in Port Elizabeth, boosting capacity and increasing speeds. Port Elizabeth was the launch city of Cell C's 900MHz HSPA+ services in September 2010, and is now also the first city to receive the upgrade to 42 Mbps HSPA+ capable base stations.

    - The three biggest players in South African mobile marketing are hosting the first ever Mobile Media Mindblast on 3 June 2011 in Cape Town. The conference, hosted by Vodacom Mobile Media and MXit, in association with Google will discuss how brands can effectively use mobile media to engage with consumers. Mobile usage in South Africa is amongst the highest in the world, with almost 90% usage. This presents advertisers with a great opportunity to start conversations with their consumers in a space and time that they are most receptive.

Digital Content

  • Kenyans replace their mobile phone handsets more often than their counterparts in Uganda and Tanzania, a new survey by TNS International shows, signalling that East Africa's biggest economy could be more savvy to emerging trends in the ICT industry.

    Kenyans expect to pay less ($53) for their next mobile handset compared with Tanzanians ($58) while Ugandans expect to pay the least amount of money ($45) for their next mobile device purchase.

    "In Kenya, mobile phone upgrades happen quicker and although the price point is lower, the phones purchased seem to have better capabilities and features due to the country's comparatively higher smartphone penetration," said Melissa Baker, TNS East Africa chief executive.

    In terms of the strength of the specific mobile handset brands, Nokia still dominates the market in East Africa, "but while the brand remains aspirational, there are quite a few fakes around," noted Ms Baker.

    But even though Nokia has maintained its position as the strongest brand in the region, China's ZTE is gaining ground. "In Uganda, ZTE has significant market share, demonstrating that value-for-money Chinese brands are increasingly making inroads into the regional market," stated Baker, adding that despite the hype created around them, tablets (or small devices that have both mobile handset and PC features) are not widely desired as about one per cent of subscribers possess tablets with only an additional five per cent of mobile phone users planning on getting one in the future.

    The research further found that the SMS is currently "the channel that touches everyone," as around 90 per cent use SMS, with another 25 per cent using their devices to access the Internet while less than 10 per cent use applications available or downloaded to their devices.

    The study further looked at what people tend to do with their handsets and at which times of the days. "We looked at what time of day consumers tend to use their phones for different things and interesting differences emerged.

    In Kenya, commuting time sees peak mobile music use, probably due to the huge traffic jams in most of Kenya's urban centres," stated Baker, adding that Kenyans consume more music in the morning than Ugandans.
     
    On regional user trends and behaviour, the study, which was conducted in both urban and rural areas found that most users get their mobile applications via sharing from other people's PCs or phones, a practice that is twice as popular among phone users than the actual downloading of applications, even though sharing of applications was also found to be more prevalent among Kenyans than Tanzanians who took part in the study.

    The study further found that mobile telephony has become the primary communications channel, replacing fixed Internet via PCs, with about 52 per cent of messages sent via mobile globally with the remaining 48 per cent being over other traditional channels of communication.

  • A growing number of Algerian youths are mobilising online to call for political change. In reality, however, these outspoken cyber-activists are acting in a far more reticent manner.

    The outcome of a March 19th protest in Algiers was telling: of the 4,700 people who confirmed their attendance via Facebook, only a dozen showed up. Police officers and journalists seemed to outnumber the protesters by a large margin, which suggested to many an internet revolution is unlikely to take place.

    "It’s all pointless if people don’t show up," commented young internet user Zaid. "If we call on people to attend an event such as a sit-in and people remain at their screens, nothing will change."

    Campaigner Mourad Bouaziz, however, said that Facebook and Twitter had given impetus to a group known as "LMG – Libérez Mohamed Gharbi" (Free Mohamed Gharbi), named after the Algerian Legitimate Defence Group (GLD) member who received a life sentence in 2004 for killing a terrorist who had been harassing him. Under the pressure of internet activists, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika pardoned the "Patriot" in December 2010.

    Long before the Arab rebellions broke out, Facebook group "Bezzef!" (Enough!) was created by writers Kamel Daoud, Chawki Amari and Mustapha Benfodil. According to the founders, the goal is to muster "the anger of everyone before unleashing it on the street in the hope that one day it will catch the fire and spell out the letters, 'r, e, v, o, l, u, t, i, o, n'".

    "The streets are the only place that really unites all Algerians", according to group members. Despite their efforts, however, the movement struggled to mobilise young people.  What could account for this lack of enthusiasm?

    Online activists say that the number of internet users in Algeria is lower than in Tunisia, which has a much smaller population. According to independent web agency "Agence 84", only 827,960 Algerians were registered on Facebook in April 2010, as compared with 1,666,860 Moroccans and 1,464,480 Tunisians.  Others, however, think that the collective memory of struggle and conflict informs Algerians' tepid attitude.

    Unlike Egyptians and Tunisians, Algerians are "traumatised by the chaos that was caused by the fight for freedom after 1988", according to Sofiane Baroudi, a member of Movement of Independent Youths for Change (MJIC).  He added that Algerian young people had "lived under a state of emergency, amid violence" and "in a climate of closeness and marginalisation".

    "What if Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and so on had existed during the rebellion of October 1988?" members of Facebook group "Special Algerian Envoys" wondered. "Yes, that was 23 years ago. Twenty-three years during which we lived differently from the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. "The Algerian nation has lived through more than a decade of civil war, perhaps it is weary of conflict and aspires to peace," they said.

More

  • - Arthur Kouassi Alloko has been appointed at the head of  the Agence des télécommunications de Côte d'Ivoire (Atci). In Guinea, Mr Moustapha Mamy Diaby will head the Autorité de régulation des postes et télécommunications (ARPT).

  • 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 more information visit 

  • Logistics/ ICT infastructure Sales Manager – Ghana
    Skills required:

    Be a Senior Sales Person in Telecom Infrastructure Material (preferably towers)
    Have worked in the Telecom industry, and be familiar with the equipments/materials
    Have knowledge & experience in Logistics
    Given he will be a sales person, he should have good people skills, presentation skills and negotiation skills
    Organizational skills is a must
    The candidate will be based in Ghana, traveling a lot to other African countries to sell the products
    The candidate will also be traveling to China (country of origin of the materials)
    For further information or to apply click here

    Chief Executive - ExplainerDC - Ghana

    ExplainerDC  is Ghana’s leading web development, internet marketing and web hosting company. We service more than 100 clients in Ghana and abroad such as Vodafone, The UN and SGS. Our projects range from corporate websites to information portals and marketing campaigns. We also operate e-ventures such as YellowPages, and have recently set up a state-of-the-art Data Centre to view visit here. This year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary.

    We wish to strengthen our management team with a Chief Executive. We are looking for a successful entrepreneur and business manager to provide strategic direction and daily management to the company and its employees. We’re looking for a 'people person' with extensive people management experience. You will recruit employees, manage performance and develop team spirit. You will manage all financial and administrative aspects of the company. You will strengthen client relationships and initiate new business opportunities to ensure long-term profitability.

    Required:

    §  Successful entrepreneur and business manager.

    §  A 'people person' with extensive people management experience.

    §  Ghanaian national/resident or strong ties with Ghana.

    §  Strong written and verbal language skills.

    §  Networker, open-minded, flexible.

    §  Independent; self-motivated; resilient.

    §  Precise, consistent, reliable, organised.

    §  Dynamic with a 'can-do' attitude and averse to bureaucracy.

    Preferred:

    §  Experience with new media, web development, internet marketing and/or web hosting.

    §  10 years of business experience.

    It is an exciting time for the Internet in Africa. We offer you the opportunity to be part of a leading African internet company, providing African solutions to the African and international market, created by Africans according to the highest quality standards.

    We will reward you with a competitive salary, health insurance, a performance bonus and the opportunity to share in the success of the company by owning shares.

  • Tunisiana and Alcatel-Lucent - Tunisia
    Alcatel-Lucent has announced that it has signed a deal with Tunisiana to upgrade the cellco’s network to IP as it prepares for 3G and LTE. The operator says migrating to an all-IP infrastructure will allow it to offer a full range of converged services, along with increased reliability, scalability and speed. No financial details have been disclosed. Tunisiana, formerly part of Orascom Telecom, became a subsidiary of Qatar Telecom in January 2011.