Issue no 575 7th October 2011

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Top story

  • This week saw a workshop on TV White Spaces sponsored by APC, the Open Spectrum Alliance of South Africa, the Wireless Access Providers Association in South Africa and Google Africa take place in Johannesburg. White spaces technology promises what one regulatory contributor dubbed the nirvana of more efficient spectrum use and the possibility of significantly lower costs to deliver it to the customer. Russell Southwood seeks to explain what TV White Spaces are and how they can be used to deliver wider wireless access.

    As Steve Song, CEO, The Village Telco explained it, TV White Spaces exist because in the old days analog television transmitters needed to “shout” because TV’s were less good at picking up the signal. As a result, unused “guard bands” were created between transmission channels to ensure that there was no signal interference between different broadcasts.

    Until recently, spectrum had a finite capacity and like any finite resource, this both tended to both drive the price up and in many ways act against active competition. With the new TV White Spaces technology, the opportunity exists for additional spectrum to be bought into use and at what one participant suggested might be as much as “one tenth of the cost.”

    Now whether it’s actually that figure remains to be proven but Africa needs as many things that will lower local bandwidth delivery to enable the widest use to create a critical mass of users. And nowhere are these needs more pressing than in poorer urban and rural areas.

    In broad terms, there are two ways of delivering spectrum use in the TV White Spaces. Either you use cognitive radio that senses which radio bands are not in use and switches the signal when they start being used again. Or there is a central geo-location database against which the device checks for free spectrum. All of this is invisible to the user and will not require special customer equipment but takes advantage of the already considerable Wi-Fi user ecology. However, it will require some investment from operators. These delivery mechanisms are sometimes described as “Super Wi-Fi”.

    The example applications include: rural broadband, campus networks, cellular offloading, home networks and Smart Grid Applications. From this menu, Africa needs all the help it can get to deliver rural broadband and operators are already needing help in offloading data traffic from their congested networks.

    The technology is at the testing rather than roll-out stage. Cognitive radio has been tested in the USA and run into extensive opposition from broadcasters. In the UK, the approach, according to Professor H. Nwana (a Cameroonian by background) of Ofcom is to start with Geo-Location databases but to open up to cognitive radio when the technology is agreed. There are two pilots in the UK, one in Cambridge (which Microsoft is involved in) and the other in Scotland.

    The latter is run on the Isle of Bute by Malcolm Brew who used to run Bushnet in East Africa and was covered previously in Balancing Act: Microsoft recently demonstrated the geo-location database technology at the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi and Paul Mitchell from Microsoft who is involved in the pilot in Cambridge presented at the workshop..

    As Professor Nwana, Ofcom put it:”The nirvana of dynamic spectrum regulation should be something all regulators should aspire to..in order to drive up spectrum efficiciency.” This is probably something the Ghanaian Minister Minister of Communications Haruna Iddrisu and the regulator would say “amen” to (see Telecom News below) as they struggle like many policy-makers with unused spectrum issues.

    Neil Ahlsten, Business Development Manager – Sub-Saharan Africa, Google said it would be interested in piloting the introduction of TV White Spaces technology, particularly in South Africa. In the regulatory panel, with both current and former representatives from Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, all those present spoke of being interested in running pilots.

    As Chair of that session, I pressed them to say who would be responsible for then using the technology if it proved itself in the rural context: the existing operators or new, local operators? Everyone on the panel (which included the D-G of INCM, Americo Muchanga; Dumisana Ngwenya, ICASA, Ernest Ndukwe, formerly of NCC, and Alice Munyua, formerly of CCK) found it easy to envisage giving data licences.

    But I pressed them about voice as this was the current main need in uncovered rural areas. There was some hesitation but there was some discussion about creating an ecology of smaller operators who might interconnect with larger players. Steve Song also told us that the Village Telco had an American investor called Investor Development and that it would be focusing sales of its Wi-Fi mesh device (the mesh potato) on small operators like cyber-cafes.

    Google is particularly interested in lowering the current practical and market barriers to access and Ahlsten described a pilot it is conducting with Wananchi in Kenya at The Junction shopping mall branded Wazi. The aim is to create seamless, cheap roaming Wi-Fi so that the user can access bandwidth without needing to sign up to multiple providers. The hot-spot bandwidth can be delivered by all ISPs and mobile operators with a Wi-Fi roaming exchange that deals with the customer and wholesale billing.

    The broader backdrop for the discussion of using TV White Spaces is the digital transition in broadcasting which promises to lead to a “digital dividend.” But all too rarely do telcos and broadcasters sit in the same room so telco people tend to assume that whatever dividend will be generated will be their’s to do mobile broadband with. The broadcasting licensing cycle until this point has been relatively infrequent so African broadcasters have not yet got their heads around these issues.

    The majority of African countries have barely started on the transition process and even South Africa – which likes to see itself as a leader in these things – is already lagging badly behind its agreed timetable. So the digital dividend is unlikely to be around the corner for most countries until they start to pull their policy fingers out. The broadcasters’ main fear is loss of spectrum opportunities: the new digital compression offers multiple channels but there are few that have thought through in business terms what they would do with them.

    The lack of dialogue is often exacerbated by regulatory “silos”. Sometimes regulators are converged (covering both broadcast and telecoms) but often telecoms regulators handle spectrum management whilst a separate regulator issues broadcast licences. It is rare for broadcasters to sit in the same room as telcos to discuss these issues and although there were only a couple of broadcasters in the room at the workshop, this was one of those rare occasions where it happened.
    One of these broadcasters thought TV White Spaces was a “cool” idea but was concerned to see the technical problems fully worked through.

    Africa already has a track-record for policy and regulatory innovation: Celtel’s One Network roaming across borders; open access structures for international, cross-border and national fibre; the Kenya open access LTE consortium network; and last but not least, the light-touch regulation that made a success of M-Pesa. This is another opportunity for Africa to be at forefront of trialing a technology that innovates in policy and regulatory terms. It can assist rural-roll-out; it can lower the cost of local delivery; and provide a new route for data offset for mobile operators. What’s not to like?


    This week on the BalancingActAfrica You Tube channel:

     

    Richard Bell, CEO, Wananchi Group in Kenya on international fibre connectivity, local TV content for its Zuku bouquet and financing its vision:

    Kamal Budhabbatti, Craft Silicon on its banking products and m-money payment product ELMA

    Robert Aouad, CEO Isocel Benin on opening a carrier-neutral data centre in Benin

    Arun Nagar, CEO, Spice VAS Africa on launching its African platforms and live streaming

    Lance Dickerson, CEO, TIA Telecom on optimising African mobile networks

    And finally, one from the archive. Herman Heunis on social networking with MXit in Africa before he sold the company to Vodacom

    Want up-to-the-minute breaking news? Balancing Act's Twitter feed provides a combination of breaking news for telecoms, Internet and broadcast in Africa, direct tweets from countries visited and access to the occasional rumours circulating. You can follow us on:
    @BalancingActAfr

telecoms

  • The United Nations has launched a pilot programme that uses mobile telephone technology to facilitate cash transfers to help thousands of poor people that were badly affected by the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire to buy food.

    More than 10,000 vulnerable households in Abobo and Yopougon districts in the commercial capital, Abidjan, will receive a text message on their mobile phones alerting them to the transaction and allowing them to withdraw money from local cash points of the telecoms provider MTN, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), which launched the scheme.

    "This innovative method of payment is particularly suited to households with low purchasing power," said Alain Cordeil, WFP Country Director in Côte d'Ivoire. "WFP increasingly delivers assistance to the hungry in the form of cash transfers in urban areas where there is food in the markets, but the poorest people just cannot afford to buy it."

    The West African nation underwent months of political upheaval and violence after former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down when he lost the UN-certified election to Alassane Ouattara in November last year.

    The violence ended once Gbagbo surrendered in April and Ouattara was sworn in, but the country is still recovering from the impact of the crisis, in which an estimated one million Ivorians were displaced.

    A total of $1.6 million will be disbursed in the pilot project, with each household receiving $75 per month, equivalent to the food basket of an average family of five, WFP said. Beneficiaries have been given SIM cards that enabled them to receive their first transfer, and the second transfer will take place at the end of October.

    "This project is ground-breaking for WFP in West Africa, as it is the first time that we use a mobile service provider as a financial partner," said Cordeil. WFP also noted that its emergency operation in Côte d'Ivoire, which will cost around $44 million, faces a current funding shortfall of $10.2 million.

  • The Republic of Congo’s Regulatory Agency Post and Electronic Communications (ARPCE) has announced the closure of a campaign aimed at registering mobile subscriber data. According to the watchdog, at the end of the process the percentage of subscribers that had handed over their details had risen to 92% as at 30 September 2011, up from the 82% that the regulator had registered at 25 June. ARPCE director general Yves Castanou noted that the country’s mobile network operators will now be given seven days to integrate all of the subscriber data into their respective databases.

    From 7 October those subscribers that have not provided their information will no longer be able to make outgoing calls, although they will be able to receive incoming connections. Such a setup will not last long however, with APRCE also confirming that from 21 October those mobile users that have still not provided their personal data to their provider will have their access suspended.

    The Congolese mobile sector comprises four operators, according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, with those being MTN Congo, Airtel Congo, Warid Congo and Equateur Telecomo Group (Azur Congo). MTN is the market leader by subscribers, claiming around 43% of the market at end-2011 with a customer base of 1.731 million.

  • The International Telecommunication Union has to announced that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, has joined the ITU to become the Union’s 193rd Member State, effective from 3 October 2011.

    The country, which gained its independence on 9 July, 2011 has already been allocated the international dialling code +211 by ITU, following the country’s recognition by the UN General Assembly. The dialling code became active on 28 September 2011.

    “We are delighted to be able to welcome South Sudan as an ITU member state so soon after attaining full nationhood. The government of South Sudan clearly recognizes the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) as an engine of social and economic development. We will work alongside the national authorities to leverage the power of technology, to help lift the country to new levels and fulfill the national motto of ‘Justice, Liberty, Prosperity’,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré.

    The accession of South Sudan as an ITU Member State implies its adhesion to the Radio Regulations, the international treaty which governs the use of radiocommunications among the world’s nations, giving it full access rights to the frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources managed by ITU.

    A high-level ITU delegation led by Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, recently met with government ministers in South Sudan with the aim of acquiring first-hand information on the country’s needs and challenges in the area of ICT development. The first such visit by ITU, the mission paves the way for the delivery of focused assistance to the country as it embarks on its development path.

  • The Lagos State House of Assembly on Tuesday summoned the management of Airtel, a telecommunication company, to appear before it on October 11 to explain the alleged sack of about 1,000 Nigerians and their replacement with foreigners.

    The lawmakers made the call during their plenary session after Lanre Oshun, (ACN - Lagos Mainland II) had under a matter of urgent public importance, called the attention of the House to the mass sack.

    Oshun said that about 1,000 Nigerians were sacked and replaced with Indian nationals who were invited to the country. He said that the House should investigate the criteria used for the downsizing and recruitment.

    The lawmaker said that the Indians, who replaced the Nigerians, were placed on higher salaries and said there was a need to question why Nigerians were being downgraded.

    The lawmakers, while debating the issue, raised concerns about consumer protection and violation of workers rights, which they argued, foreign companies did not adhere to when dealing with Nigerian employees.

    They stressed the need for the Nigerian Communications Commission to regulate the activities of the telecommunication industry to ensure that the rights of Nigerian workers were not trampled.

    The lawmakers resolved to invite the company because it was operating in Lagos and residents of the state were involved.

    Ayinla Yusuf (ACN - Mushin I), who said he had worked as a cleaner in the UK, argued that immigration rules in other countries did not make it easy for other nationals to take jobs of their citizens. “Do not let us sell our birthright in Nigeria,” Yusuf said. Rotimi Olowo (ACN-Somolu I) said it was wrong to allow Nigerians play second fiddle in their own country.

    He stressed the need for both the federal government and the Nigerian Immigration Service to ensure Nigerians got fair treatment in recruitment agreements. Olowo stressed the need to look at the number of Nigerians who were employed in the company.

    The speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, ruled that there was a need for the Assembly to invite the company on “a fact finding mission.” He ruled, after a unanimous vote, that the company should appear before the Assembly on October 11.

  • The telecommunications industry in the sub-Sahara African region is said to growing at a faster pace with significant investment from the private sector. These investments are primarily focused on network expansion and infrastructure.

    A World Bank report, “Africa’s ICT Infrastructure: Building on the Mobile Revolution”, indicates that the rapid expansion of the telecommunications networks in Africa has required very high levels of investment.

    The report, co-authored by Mark D. J. Williams, Rebecca Mayer, and Michael Minges, says “Between 1998 and 2008, an average of $5 billion a year was invested in sub-Saharan Africa’s telecommunications sector.”

    These investments amount to about 1% of total gross domestic product (GDP) in the region during the period, it noted.

    Private companies are a major factor for the investment as the World Bank says “The private sector accounted for most of this investment, which primarily targeted mobile infrastructure development following the liberalization of mobile markets.”
    However, the report said, the investments has not been distributed evenly across the continent.

    “Nigeria and South Africa together account for more than 60% of the total network investment in sub-Saharan Africa, with the remainder being distributed among the other countries in the region. The uneven distribution of investment corresponds to the size and relative wealth of these countries,” the report says.

    It explains that “In the case of some countries— such as Nigeria—it also reflects policy decisions made by the governments over the past decade. Countries that have promoted competition within the sector by encouraging new operators to enter the market have received higher levels of investment than countries that have limited competition.”

    Majority of the investment has been financed through debt, in the form of either bank loans or issuance of bonds on local securities markets with a little capital invested in the sector being in the form of equity from shareholders.

    More than half of the financing originates in Europe and North America, and 20 percent originates in the Middle East and North Africa.

    “…the telecommunications sector in Africa has also successfully tapped local financial markets (to the extent that they exist) to fund investments. In some cases, telecommunications operators constitute a significant part of the total value of securities—both equity and debt—on exchanges. Local telecommunications borrowing has also been a big factor in the growth of loan syndication in African markets,” the report adds.

    Despite the dominance of the private sector in telecommunications investment, the report indicates that in many African countries the public sector continues to play a role through its ownership of one of the operators.

  • South Africa’s third largest mobile network, Cell C, has unveiled another new range of competitive data products, a development that would make millions access data on their mobile phones.

    The introduction of new data products is targeted at a lower rate for customers that are light Internet users consuming 1GB per month product, about 12GB over a year.

    Announcing the development on 4 October 2011 Cell C Head of Marketing, Simon Camerer, said customers with 24GB over a year cost them R2 999 (about US $369) with a speed stick capable of downloading speeds of up to 21.6Mbps included without a device.

    Camerer said Cell C had last year worked hard and invested heavily in the roll out of its HSPA+ 900 network, which boosted both cellphone and Internet network penetration. Among others, Cell C came up with promotional offers starting with prepaid and later contract versions.

    Camerer said the new range of products would be available on 1 November 2011 and would replace promotional offers. “Cell C fundamentally changed the mobile data market when we launched our initial data prices.

    “We have seen tremendous uptake of these packages and customers have endorsed our top class network speeds and prices.

    “While our promotions are at an end, we are proud to announce that our new data products are still exceptionally competitive,” said Camerer.

    Camerer said the new prepaid data products at Cell C would expand the selection of prepaid products available to its customers giving them far more choice and control over their data needs.

  • Haruna Iddrisu, Minister of Communications on Monday said government would continue to ensure that the frequency spectrum, which was a scarce national resource, was efficiently managed by the National Communications Authority (NCA) to ensure sanity.

    He said policy directive had, however, been given for the NCA to withdraw all frequency and spectrum allocations that had been assigned and had not been in use for the last three years to revert to the State for re-allocation.

    Iddrisu who was addressing the Ministry’s turn at the Meet-the- Press series in Accra, said the action to revoke licenses of unutilized frequencies was to re-allocate them for profitable services to cover underserved communities in the country.

    He explained that some individuals had applied for the frequencies and were not using them while a lot of applications were pending, saying “I am sure this will not be good news for those who are not using their frequencies but we have to take this hard decision for those who need them to benefit”.

    Iddrisu said an Inter-Ministerial Committee had finalized and promulgated new guidelines for setting up cell sites and base stations in response to growing public concern on related physical and health hazards of communication masts.

    On verification of International Inbound Telephone Traffic to Ghana, the Sector Minister said government had empowered the NCA to have capacity to undertake the exercise, which had helped to track and convicted some SIMBOX operators.

    He said figures released by the NCA revealed that between March 2010 and June 2011, a total of 102,689 fraud lines were detected on the networks of the telecom operators and that revenue contribution from the International Telephone Traffic Termination amounted to $45 million, which had already been paid into the Consolidated Fund.

    Iddrisu said the improvement of ICT infrastructure would help promote high speed internet and that government was in the process of launching the wide area network for e-Government in the nearest possible time.

    He said the Ministry in collaboration with the Chinese Government, was making an arrangement to build an enhanced e-Government Platform Project to be commenced by Huawei Technologies in November this year, to introduce advanced e-Applications.

    Iddrisu said to bridge the digital divide government remained committed to providing universal access to ICT and telecommunication services as a primary objective to benefit underserved communities.

    He said the Ministry remained committed to the implementation of Persons With Disability Act and was focusing on the development of short and medium term projects and programmes aimed at promoting access to ICT for persons with disability.

    Iddrisu said the Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Education was pursuing the plan of government to provide computers for basic schools and tertiary institutions, which the Ministry of Communications had sourced 1,500 computers for distribution to schools.

  • Telkom Kenya has emerged as the biggest gainer of the ongoing price war in the mobile telephony market that has seen operators freeze employment and cut investments by a third.

    Data from the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) indicated that Telkom Kenya was the only operator that gained subscribers in the six months to June with Airtel — which kicked off the price wars in August last year — being the biggest loser.

    Telkom’s market share grew to 10.7 per cent in June from 8.5 per cent in December having added 595, 555 subscribers as Airtel’s stake dropped to 14.2 per cent from 15.1 per cent after shedding 177, 000 subscribers.

    Essar, owners of the yu brand, lost 8,753 subscribers that pulled its market share from 6.3 per cent to 5.9 per cent in same period with Safaricom’s share having dropped to 68.6 per cent from 69.8 per cent as it lost 98,139.

    The change in market position was attributed to turf wars in the industry especially in the voice markets after Airtel halved it call rates to Sh3 that prompted its rivals to follow suit in a shift that has seen the operators cut jobs to 5, 827 employees in June from last year’s 5, 869, which had more than doubled from 2, 389 in 2009.

    “Our efforts during the period was mainly focused on increasing of distribution network there by bringing our products nearer to the consumer which we had identified as our major undoing before,” Mickael Ghossein, Telkom Kenya CEO told the Business Daily.

    He added that the firm’s pricing model, especially the flat rate, also helped Telkom Kenya to defend and grow its subscriber base. The firm was the first to introduce the fixed rate mobile charges that allowed subscribers to make free calls between 10am and 5pm for a monthly charge of Sh100—a tariff that allowed it to grow subscribers.

    It later in April upgraded its fixed rate to Sh600 per month for voice and Internet—a strategy that allowed it to price its products above the industry’s annual revenue per user (ARPU) —which stands at Sh348 down from Sh389 in 2009 and Sh425 in 2007.

    Airtel and Essar also introduced a flat rate for steady and predictable revenues in a business environment that has seen sales from the voice business fall in the wake of a vicious price war. Telkom also managed to keep calls within its networks at rock bottom prices compared to its rivals helping grow its subscriber base.

    Telkom charges Sh2 per minute for on-net calls and Sh4 for off-net. Rival Airtel charged Sh3 across all networks while Safaricom charged Sh3 for on-net calls and Sh4 for off-net before increasing the rates last Friday by Sh1 to boost its sales and profits.

    Kenya’s call rates came down by more than 50 per cent in August last year after Safaricom’s rival, Airtel, halved its call rates to Sh3 with the drop in Mobile Termination Rates — the fee that telecoms operators charge each other for calls terminated on their rivals network to Sh2.21 from Sh4.42.

  • An investor has taken Telkom Kenya to court over alleged breach of an agreement involving the sale of 79 acres of prime land in Karen, Nairobi for Sh1.52 billion.
    Aftraco Limited was on Wednesday granted interim orders restraining Telkom Kenya from selling, alienating or mortgaging the property until the dispute is determined.

    Commercial Court Judge Daniel Musinga also temporarily tied Telkom Kenya to the terms of the agreement for the sale of the prime land that was earmarked for housing development.

    Through lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi, Salim Sandru, the managing director of Aftraco, accuses Telkom of acting against the terms of the contract entered on July 5 for the sale of the land along Ng’ong Road.

    Sandru says he had paid Telkom Sh152 million being 10 per cent deposit of the purchase price and was in the process of paying the remaining Sh1.37 billion when Telkom cancelled the sale. Sandru said the commercial value that stands to be lost if the agreement is not effected could not be compensated through monetary damages or another piece of land.”

    Sandru said Telkom Kenya Chief Executive Michael Ghossein had unilaterally rescinded the binding agreement. Ghossein had informed Aftraco that since a third party by the name Exclusive Estates Ltd had obtained an injunction against the Registrar of Titles, the contract between Telkom and Sandru had been frustrated.

    But Abdullahi submits that the mere fact that a court has issued temporary stay or injunction in favour of a party that is not privy to the contract, “cannot in law frustrate the agreement between Telkom and Aftraco.”

    Ghossein further told Sandru that Telkom was willing to refund the Sh152 million already paid as deposit and cancel the deal. Aftraco contends that Telkom Kenya intends to sell the property to a third party at a higher price.

internet

  • Angola Communications Systems (ACS), a unit of Angolan telco MSTelcom, has chosen Alvarion’s BreezeMAX Extreme WiMAX solution to upgrade and expand its wireless broadband network, with a WiMAX 802.16e (mobile-ready) deployment, operating in the 4.9GHz frequency range.

    ACS’s new network will provide broadband services to Luanda business customers, to local municipalities and to various provincial towns and villages as last mile access. ‘Expanding beyond a traditional carrier model, service providers like ACS are enabling both rural and urban Africa to move forward at a rapid pace,’ said Eran Gorev, president and CEO of Alvarion. The contract is worth around USD2 million.

    MSTelcom, a subsidiary of national oil company Sonangol, launched its first WiMAX services in March 2008 – also in partnership with Alvarion amongst other vendors – and has deployed WiMAX networks in locations including Luanda, Cabinda, Benguela and Malanje. Headquartered in Luanda, ACS is a unit of MSTelcom providing private network solutions to corporate and government clients, data transmission and internet access via wireless broadband and satellite (VSAT) systems across Angola.

  • Intensive discussions between the government of Sierra Leone and the World Bank followed, leading to the approval of $31m for the Sierra Leone component of
    West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (WARCIP).

    The project began after a meeting between President Ernest Bai Koroma and World Bank President Robert Zoellick in 2009, and subsequently with World Bank Africa Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili in 2010. In response to the Sierra Leone government's request, the Bank offered to support and improve connectivity in the country.

    Mavis Ampah, the Bank Task Team Leader for the project recalls the effort put into the project. "We exerted the feverish efforts to meet the tight ACE consortium payment deadlines and the inordinate efforts of World Bank senior management to provide exceptional waivers to make the transaction happen."

    Kumba Gborie, a final year university student who frequently uses the Lee-Point internet kiosk on the way to Lumley, expressed her frustration over slow internet speeds associated with satellite systems telecommunications.

    "If you are lucky, you may eventually open your email inbox after waiting for over 15 minutes. The speeds are incredibly low," she said. "We spend several hours trying to download a simple document and the price for the usage is often Le10000 per hour - the exact amount for our daily lunch during a school day. We often sacrifice our lunch in order to be able to download a document needed for reference in our academic work without which we are most likely to fail the semester."

    This project is meant to help address this 'new poverty.' It is expected to do three things for Sierra Leone: (i) increase the access and affordability of broadband communication; (ii) improve the enabling environment for communications infrastructure investment; and (iii) contribute to improved government efficiency and transparency through better and cheaper access to connectivity and increased use of ICT.

    So what would the success in the project looks like? It should dramatically bring down communication costs, as connectivity costs in Sierra Leone are currently 10 times that in East Africa. Lower connectivity costs should lead to greater access to broadband and better quality services. Research shows that every 10 percentage-point increase in high-speed internet connections has led to increase in economic growth by 1.3 percentage points, so intensification of broadband network will also stimulate investment and growth, as businesses would be able to reduce transaction costs and increase productivity.

    In other countries, access to high-speed internet has produced tangible benefits for businesses, banks, hotels, educational institutions, hospitals, among others. Increased and cheaper bandwidth would also open up tremendous opportunities for e-government applications, improving governance and accountability to citizens; an exciting focus for Sierra Leone.

    But there is unfinished business in order to fully capture the benefits of the submarine cable.

    During the launch of the project on September 2, 2011, President Ernest Koroma reiterated the government's commitment to reform the regulatory environment in the telecommunication sector. The government has made clear its commitment to liberalize the international gateway, ideally before the cable is commercialized in 2012. Soon, the government will announce a timetable and also submit to Parliament legislation to replace the existing telecommunications law.

    Consumers would benefit most in the liberalizing of the gateway, which should help greater competition, and help move to a "low margin - high volume" environment. The dramatic increase in the number of mobile connections worldwide is a testament to the benefits of allowing greater competition in the telecom sector. The second priority is to have greater involvement of the private sector in the ICT sector, where the government plans to divest at least 50 percent of shares in Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB), which is currently fully owned by government and is the only shareholder representing the Sierra Leone government in ACE.

    Vijay Pillai, the World Bank Country Manager in Sierra Leone, underscores this point when he says that "a 21st century infrastructure like broadband should have 21st century business and regulatory practices to accompany it."

  • Google has updated its maps to include the newly independent nation of South Sudan. The move follows a campaign by a South Sudanese journalist, who posted an online petition calling for the new nation to be marked on web maps.

    He said his country was still missing from websites including Microsoft, Yahoo! and National Geographic. The country became independent in July following decades of conflict in which some two million people died.

    Journalist John Tanza Mabusu, who is South Sudanese but lives in Washington, launched a petition on the website Change.org. The petition, which got 1,600 backers, called on mapping services to include the new nation.

    "The inclusion of South Sudan will give the people of that new nation pride and a sense of belonging, as citizens of a sovereign nation on the map," said Mabusu.

    "I'm hoping that now that Google has officially recognised South Sudan on their maps, the other major online mapping services will quickly follow suit."

    National Geographic said its print maps and mobile apps had been updated, but its online mapping service was outsourced to the Bing maps website, which uses Microsoft maps.

    Bing's map of Sudan does not yet have the Sudanese border marked, although its information on the South's capital city of Juba clearly indicates it is part of South Sudan. It was unclear whether Google's amendment to the Sudan map came as a result of the online campaign.

computing

  • Toshiba has taken a focused approach to the East and West African markets, says Africa channel manager Nelo Neves. Hi-tech computing giant Toshiba is predicting “considerable growth” in sub-Saharan Africa, following increased focus on its channel partners.

    Toshiba's Africa channel manager, Nelo Neves, says the company's investment in its channel partners recently saw it take a focused approach to the East and West African market.

    The new focus entails an ongoing series of education programmes for Toshiba's distributors and their resellers, with the most recent monthly seminars having taken place in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Red Dot, Mitsumi and JSE-listed Mustek are currently Toshiba's only distributors in this region.

    “These seminars teach each stakeholder in the channel about Toshiba's product range and full service offering, giving them the knowledge they need to clearly differentiate our products from our competitors' offerings,” says Neves.

    He adds that support for the channel in the East and West African markets will be given more weight with the appointment of regional channel managers based in Nigeria and Kenya, scheduled to take place before the conclusion of the current financial quarter, ending in December.

    “This will mean more immediate support, up-to-date product knowledge on a one-on-one basis and a continuation of Toshiba growth in these regions.

    “[In addition] we will launch our P4P Programme shortly, which simply put is a rebate plan for loyal channel partners, and the regional managers will be integral in getting the dealers signed up.”

    Toshiba's new focused approach also served to bring the proliferation of grey imports to light, which Neves says pose a threat to the brand and its consumers alike. “Many of these products are not manufactured for the African market, and therefore manufacture guarantees and warranties cannot be fulfilled.”

    He says this issue is being tackled through the concerted efforts of Toshiba and dedicated distribution partners. “Toshiba has secured direct access to official stock that is air freighted from Germany and SA, which ensures the time between placing an order for stock and having it delivered to African resellers has been reduced dramatically.”

    Initiated around the middle of this year, the sub-Saharan Africa focus will be an ongoing agenda for Toshiba. “The plan is to drive this activity and approach for the unforeseeable period going forward.”

  • The global software giant, Microsoft has announced the winners of its annual Microsoft Partners in Learning Middle East and Africa forum, an event that recognises innovative teachers who creatively and effectively use technology in their curriculum to help improve the way students learn.

    This year’s winners included John Osigbemhe of Government Secondary School Garki, Abuja, Nigeria who won in the “Extending Learning Outside the Classroom” category, and Saeed Hakeem of Armed Forces Senior High Technical School, Kumasi, Ghana who won in the “Knowledge Building” category. The winners is expected to join two other winners from Mauritius to represent Microsoft West East Central Africa/ Indian Ocean Islands at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington DC, USA on 6th November 2011.

    Speaking shortly after the announcement, the excited John Osigbemhe said, “This win means so much to me! With the standard of work showcased by other competitors, I initially was intimidated. I am happy I did not disappoint my students and my country.”

    While thanking Microsoft, he said, “The forum afforded me the opportunity to network with other educators as well as learn new things in technology which I hope to pass on to my students.”

    The winners were awarded by an international jury of education experts and the projects evaluated in the following five categories: Knowledge Building, Beyond the Classroom, Collaboration, Cutting Edge Use of Technology and Innovation in Challenging Circumstances.

    In addition, the teachers will be submitting group projects from their time at the event. These will be judged and announced online.

    “At the Partners in Learning Middle East and Africa Forum, Microsoft celebrates significant educational achievements which showcase how technology can help young people thrive and grow, preparing them for jobs tomorrow. These amazing teachers are transforming education by using technology as a means to engage their students and to enhance the effectiveness of their teaching,” James Bernard, World Wide Director for Partners in Learning, said, adding that , “In a region like the Middle East and Africa, where a huge percent of the population are under 25, there is a real need to prioritise education to create a skilled and well-trained workforce, something that is essential for national economic growth. Equipping young people with the right tools, opportunities, knowledge and infrastructure will enable them to create a more bright and hopeful future.”

    This years’ annual Microsoft Partners in Learning Middle East and Africa Forum was held in Jordan with more than 200 teachers, school leaders, judges and other educational professionals from more than 25 regional countries in attendance.

    “Quality education is not only a basic right but a social imperative. It is the key to economic opportunity, not only for individuals, but for their communities,” Khalil Abdel Massih, Partners in Learning Manager, Microsoft Middle East and Africa, said, adding that , “Nowadays IT is essential for quality education. IT use is the best way to equip students for success in a competitive world. Microsoft is committed to developing innovative ways to use the power of technology to help transform education and we believe that by sharing the experiences of teachers around the world, we will improve the way we educate and learn.”

    Participants at the Partners in Learning Middle East and Africa Forum were selected from preceding competitions at a national level. This year, for the first time in Middle East and Africa, the Forum combined the Middle East and Africa countries.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Zambia's new president, Michael Sata, has formed a committee to investigate the controversial sale of the Zambia Telecommunications Company (Zamtel) to Libya's LAP Green Networks.

    The previous Zambia government sold Zamtel for $395 million, claiming the deal was done to save the company from closing after a plan to recapitalize it failed.

    However, Sata, who was elected president almost two weeks ago, has said the sale of the company was marred by corruption. The sale of the company led to the resignation of the former minister of Communications and Transport Dora Siliya following sustained criticism from the public and stakeholders. The report on the sale of the company by the committee is expected in the next 30 days.

    During his campaign, Sata promised he would reverse the sale of the company because its sale was marred by corruption as government officials sold it to benefit themselves. Sata said the 75 percent majority stake sold to LAP Green Networks should have been sold to Zambians in order to empower them and give them full ownership of the once public-owned company.

    "I want the report within 30 days because Zamtel is a public company owned by Zambians and we cannot let the company go just like that. Zambians must know how the company was sold," Sata said at the State House in Lusaka last week.

    The previous regime claims the sale of the company was done in a professional and transparent manner and within the guidelines of the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), the country's privatization agency.

    Zamtel Managing Director Hans Paulsen said the Zambian government's decision to investigate the privatization process of the company was welcome and that LAP Green Networks was willing to cooperate in the whole process.

    Paulsen said the investigation is focusing on the privatization of the 75 percent shares of the telecom company to LAP Green Networks, "but as new shareholders, we had nothing to do with the privatization process."

    Paulsen added, "We will cooperate and will be happy to communicate." The Zambian government still owns a 25 percent stake in the company, which the previous government said it planned to sell to the public.

    Since the takeover however, Zamtel has improved its services as the new owners have brought in new technologies, including a new-generation network allowing the company to compete with regional operators MTN and Bharti Airtel.

    In April this year, the Zambian government froze LAP Green's stake in Zamtel in order to enforce U.N.-backed sanctions following the unrest that engulfed Libya and ousted Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi from power. Since then, the Zambian government has been financing the operations of Zamtel until sanctions are lifted by the U.N.

    LAP Green has operations in six African countries including Niger, Uganda and Ivory Coast. LAP Green is a subsidiary of the Libyan Investment Portfolio, an investment arm of the previous Libyan regime.

  • Hitachi Data Systems' proposed purchase of Shoden is a “natural next step”, says Niels Svenningsen, senior VP and GM of Hitachi Data Systems in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Japanese-based Hitachi Data Systems is buying South African firm Shoden Data Systems in a bid to boost its presence on the continent.

    New York- and Tokyo-listed Hitachi yesterday said it was buying Shoden through its wholly-owned HDS subsidiary for an undisclosed amount. Shoden, HDS' only representation in SA, has partnered with the Japanese firm since its inception 11 years ago.

    Hitachi says in a statement that the proposed acquisition “will form a key element of the company's growth strategy throughout Africa”. Shoden provides data centre technology solutions in SA and across sub-Saharan Africa.

    Tony Reid, CTO of HDS in the UK, Ireland and sub-Saharan Africa, says buying Shoden will give HDS the footprint it needs in the region. He says Shoden was already expanding into Africa and this drive will continue.

    Shoden, which has about 140 staff members, is based in Johannesburg and has subsidiaries in the UK, as well as in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

    Reid says HDS wants to tap into Africa's growth potential. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, seven of the top 10 fastest growing economies from 2011 to 2015 will be in Africa.

  • A contract canned by trade and industry minister Rob Davies is at the heart of a legal wrangle between Valor IT and Blue Turtle.
    Valor IT has agreed to pay Blue Turtle R2.8 million in a last-ditch attempt to stave off liquidation.

    An urgent application for Valor IT's liquidation was filed in the North Gauteng High Court on 12 September, after it failed to pay $250 000 (currently about R2 million) a court had ordered it to settle. Blue Turtle went to court to request that the company be liquidated after it failed to pay the amount, which Blue Turtle claimed after Valor IT cut it out of a deal.

    Blue Turtle sued Valor IT after Valor IT circumvented it in a profit-sharing deal related to software for an enterprise content management (ECM) system installation at the now-defunct Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro).

    In January, judge RD Claassen ruled that Valor IT must pay up after cutting Blue Turtle out of the government deal to provide software for the Cipro ECM implementation, going straight to US-based company Vignette instead.

    Valor IT lost its bid to have the judgment overturned and then failed to pay up, instead offering to settle at R1.5 million, a deal that Blue Turtle rejected.

    The liquidation application was set to be heard last Friday, but on Thursday, Valor IT signed an acknowledgement of debt and agreed to pay a total of R2.8 million, says attorney Gert van der Merwe, of Van der Merwe and Associates, who acts on behalf of Blue Turtle.

    Valor IT has undertaken to pay R2.8 million by the end of this month, says Van der Merwe. If the company fails to stick to the court-sanctioned agreement, the attorney will proceed with liquidating it, he adds.

    In addition, chairman Josias Molele has signed surety for the debt. If the company fails to pay, he will be held personally liable, says Van der Merwe.

    This may see his personal assets being attached, or even Molele's sequestration, if the payment is not forthcoming, Van der Merwe says. However, Molele will be allowed a week to settle after the due date passes, he adds.

    Valor IT has agreed to pay R2.5 million as part of the settlement, and R300 000 in costs and interest. Molele says: “I agreed to pay because this is business that I still want to do.” He notes that the company recently won a “big” enterprise content management deal, but would not provide further details.

    Valor IT's R153 million contract, to install an ECM system at Cipro, was canned last year by trade and industry minister Rob Davies after irregularities were uncovered during the awarding of the contract.

    Blue Turtle argued in the initial case that Valor IT breached a contract based on a deal that Blue Turtle would assist the company in implementing the tender.

    The agreement between the two companies was that Blue Turtle would buy software from US-based Vignette for $1 million (R8 million), and the software would then be sold to Cipro for $1.4 million (R11.3 million), with the profit being shared by the two companies.

    The judgment found Valor IT cut Blue Turtle out of the deal, and went straight to Vignette, saving itself $100 000 (R807 000). Valor IT argued Blue Turtle misrepresented itself as being a Vignette distributor, when it is only a reseller.

    Cipro had already paid Valor IT about R95 million by the time Davies put an end to work on the ECM system. The implementation was meant to enhance Cipro's infrastructure to cut down on fraud.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • - MTN and Vodacom are looking at launching flat-rated data solutions for Android and iOS (iPhone and iPad) smartphones and tablet PC’s. BlackBerry’s success in South Africa is partly thanks to the affordable flat-rated Internet service accompanying BlackBerry devices.

    - Apple unveiled its latest mobile phone, the iPhone 4S, on Tuesday 4 October. It looks likely that the iPhone 4S will launch in SA before the end of 2011.

Digital Content

  • As the number and variety of exhibitors secured for the proposed DigitalLife Expo was not sufficient to guarantee a successful event, its organisers, ITWeb, have cancelled the show, scheduled for 2-4 December 2011 at the Coca-Cola Dome, Northgate.

    It has been cancelled well in advance, in order to minimise inconvenience to the confirmed exhibitors, the media and all other parties who have expressed interest in the show.

    "We are not confident that we would fulfil the promise we made to the market to create a platform for the ultimate digital lifestyle experience and the biggest digital lifestyle shop in the country," said CEO of ITWeb Jovan Regasek.

More

  • - Craige Fleischer, regional director for Southern Africa at Research In Motion (RIM), has officially jumped ship to Samsung Electronics as of 1 October. Fleischer follows closely in the footsteps of RIM's former regional director, Deon Liebenberg, who became MD of Samsung Electronics in SA in July. Fleischer had been with RIM since December 2008.According to Samsung, Fleischer will join the company's regional headquarters in a business development role within office automation and consumer electronics for Africa.

    - Bharti Airtel announced the appointment of Salia Gbane, as the new the New Managing Director for its Chad Office. He was formerly the Commercial Director at the Airtel Gabon office.

    - Dimension Data, announces a strategic executive appointment to drive its local operations in the next phase of the company's growth. Duncan Pie joins Dimension Data as general manager and will be working with the outgoing managing director Keith Marais who will be relinquishing his role in January 2012. In his new role, he will provide strategic leadership for the commercial and operations management of the Botswana office, leadership for the local go-to-market strategy, involvement with national planning and implementation strategies, and establishing and maintaining local-based partner and vend

  • - Mobile operator Cell C is searching for a CTO and a CIO, after splitting the function of the head of its technical group. Until the end of September, Ronald Reddick headed up the operator's Technical Group division. However, he has since left the company. Cell C would not comment on why Reddick decided to leave.