Issue no 587 13th January 2012

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Top story

  • The reach of Africa’s fibre networks is extending relentlessly in ways that would have been barely imaginable ten years ago. The speed and the capacity of the new fibre networks have made the use of them more essential, both by businesses and individuals. Gone are the days when the like’s of Burkina Faso’s Onatel could shut the Internet down for three days with only a “sorry everyone” ad in the newspaper. New speed and capacity have encouraged Service Level Agreements that measure delivery. But this week’s news of the burning down of the SAT3 landing station in Benin raises serious questions. Russell Southwood looks at the root of the problems.

    This week we learned that the SAT3 landing station burnt down in Benin because of an electrical fault that started a fire. There seem to have been no security personnel at the landing station, neither was there a fire alarm to alert the staff of Benin Telecom. This is an accident that should not have happened: wiring needs maintaining.

    As a result of this accident, Niger has no direct access to its usual landing station and Togo will have to divert its traffic completely to Ghana. Benin itself will presumably have to use the Suburban Telecom link into Nigeria.

    However, this is not the first time Benin Telecom has shot itself in the foot through failure to maintain its networks. The Parakou fibre link to Niger has always been unreliable but Niger’s incumbent Sonitel relies on it for its international fibre connectivity. Benin Telecom’s failure to repair the link in a timely fashion has meant that Sonitel maintenance staff have crossed the border to effect the repairs.

    Last year’s trip to Nigeria revealed for us that there were several links to Nigerian cities (some with more than one fibre link) that had only 80% up-time. As we have observed before, that’s just over two months in every year when the link is down: this is not a fibre service but the equivalent of a motorway that is closed every 5 days of the year.

    This is not a problem that affects only Government-owned incumbents but they are disproportionately responsible for some of the worst failures as the news above demonstrates. The problem for customers and operators in Africa’s new and shiny fibre future is that unlike with roads, you cannot simply leave the potholes there for another day. Everybody on the network is affected by the weakest link on the network.

    The pragmatic solution is to ensure that there is redundancy. Niger is a country that despite being connected by international fibre, is still reliant on expensive satellite bandwidth for moments like these. The easiest thing to do would be to build another link across the border to Nigeria but there is not enough demand for any single carrier to make it happen. The operators need to get together as a JV consortium and make it happen. Because Sonitel’s link suffers from two problems: firstly, for reasons not of their making, it’s unreliable and secondly, it’s expensive because as the only international link operator, Sonitel is extracting every last cent from its part of the route to the border.

    The wider problem here is the remaining monopolies on international and cross-border traffic and the lack of competition to keep the incumbents up to the mark in terms of service and maintenance. In Togo and Benin, the Government owned incumbents enjoy a monopoly on national and international connectivity.

    To be fair, the Government in Benin has tried to sell Benin Telecom but failed because they were disappointed by the price. It is not hard to see that there is some connection between the attitude to its assets and the price potential buyers believe it is worth. In Burkina Faso, the privatized Onatel enjoys a monopoly on national and international connectivity which encourages the same behavior.

    If it is human to neglect long-term tasks like maintenance and up-keep, then Africa is more human than many other parts of the world. But if it is to succeed in becoming a different kind of continent, then it will need to pay more attention to these things in the future.

    Stop Press: Two stories seemed to be competing to be the Top Story this week: the arrest of Glo’s Mike Adenuga by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission  and Google’s allegedly contacting Mocality customers based on IP Address and User Agent information.

    The announcement of Mike Adenuga’s arrest (along with others) turned out to be the work of hackers as part of the protest movement against the removal of fuel subsidies. On Google, the company has made no public response as we were going to press so read Mocality’s side of events here:


    To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr

    An Agenda for 2012 – Part 1

    Videos from Balancing Act’s You Tube channel that will help you reflect on where your business is going this year:

    Low cost base stations to lower network costs

    Gerry Collins, Head of Business Development, Altobridge on its low cost, remote base station

    Scott Bain, Director of Sales, Range Networks on Open BTS and low cost BTS for Africa

    Content, content, content (and services)

    Nadeem, Juma, CEO, Mobipay on m-payments and social media in Tanzania

    Arvind Rao, CEO, OnMobile on comparisons between African and Indian mobile content

    Sami Leino, COO, Spinlet on the launch of an "iTunes" for Africa

    Widespread, low cost Internet access

    Riyaz Bachani, CTO, Wananchi on its Wazi hot-spots partnership with Google

    Making the Network cost-effective

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



  • Some farmers in the south of Namibia, especially those farming in the Kalahari, have been cut off from the rest of the world after Telecom Namibia is alleged to have disconnected their phone lines.

    The farmers complained to The Namibian that they have not been able to phone since the end of October last year. Farmers say the switch from the old manual system to the WiMaX network, providing voice services, broadband data and high-speed internet access, was given as the reason for their phone service disconnection. “To make matters worse, we were not even informed about the phone service disconnection,” one farmer fumed.

    The farmers claimed Telecom Namibia compelled them to subscribe to its new WiMAX phone packages or to be left without a phone service. A farmer who preferred anonymity said affordability is the main barrier, preventing some farmers to connect to the new Telecom broadband service.

    Telecom Namibia’s Head of Public Relations, Oiva Angula, said the company had to upgrade its network because the old system had become obsolete and was not financially viable. “We calculate our cost to the customers based on what we pay to provide services,” Angula reacted to the farmers’ affordability claims.

    He said Telecom had reviewed the rental fees following complaints about affordability, adding that customers can now subscribe to a special WiMax package offering voice services and Internet access for a monthly rental of N$199.  

    Customers can also sign up for the faster WiMaX broadband for a monthly fee of N$349.

    Initially, Telecom had offered the farmers a three-year contract at a monthly basic rental of N$1 755. The old system cost farmers N$91 a month. Angula said about 44 farmers were affected by the network switch. He could not say how many farmers have been connected to the WiMaX network, and remarked: “Only a few are resisting. Customers must understand the situation. The telecom industry is moving fast, and we must keep pace.”

    Angula said the WiMax networks will be deployed countrywide, adding that there are currently 64 WiMax base stations in the country. According to Angula, the construction of four WiMax base stations at Okuruso, Okondjatu, St. Elmo and Leonardville is still under consideration but is expected to be completed by mid-December.

  • Amid continued debate over the sale of Zambian fixed line incumbent of Zamtel to LAP Green Networks (LAP Green) of Libya, the latter is reported to be deeply concerned regarding suggestions that the Zambian government could reverse the sale. Zambia’s new president Michael Sata claimed that the sale of 75% stake to the Libyan company could be overturned after the USD257 million purchase was deemed illegal.

    In the most recent development allAfrica cites newly appointed chairman of LAP Green, Wafik Alshater, as saying: ‘LAP Green is now under new leadership as part of broader changes in Libya. The new management is determined to safeguard its legally acquired assets which ultimately belong to the Libyan people, who fought a bitter war of liberation in 2011”.

    “We will pursue all options and do everything possible to retain our stake in Zamtel – a highly prestigious part of our pan-African network … We hope these reports are untrue, as this situation will not only be damaging to the telecoms industry in Zambia but would also send the wrong signal to those looking to invest in this country. LAP Green looks forward to continuing to develop Zamtel into a leading telecoms company, working with its partner in this investment, the Zambian Government.”

    The executive also highlighted the success achieved by his company since taking charge of the operator, noting that Zamtel had attracted more than 400,000 new customers since LAP Green acquired it, while also adding that the Libyan investment company had committed to investing some USD129 million in Zamtel over two years.

  • Mozambique's third mobile phone operator Movitel has launched a test phase of its network one year after it was awarded an operating licence, the company said. “The Movitel network actually covers all the provinces and cities in the country with infrastructure implemented at a national level, comprising more than 1,000 stations with 2G and 3G technology and 5,500 kilometres (3,400 miles) of fibre-optic cable,” it said in a statement received Tuesday.

    The company is a joint venture between Viettel Group, a unit of Vietnam Military Telecommunications Corp, and SPI Gestao e Investimentos, the investment arm of Mozambique’s ruling party and a group of investors known as Invespark.

    Movitel is planning to invest $465 million over the next five years to build its own infrastructure, but will share equipment in some regions. The consortium was awarded a licence in November 2010, joining state-run mCel and South Africa's Vodacom, which is owned by Vodafone.

    Mozambique had 7.2 million mobile phone subscribers in 2010, out of a population of 23 million. The arrival of Movitel is expected to increase competition, with mCel currently enjoying the biggest subscriber base, nearly four million users, against three million for Vodacom. - Sapa-AFP

  • Libya’s transitional government said that it would review ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi-era investments across the country and in Africa. The National Transition Council said it would also be looking at telecommunications investments across the continent, which could see many Libyan investments withdrawn.

    The news has left many companies in Africa with Libyan backing worried that it could leave a shortfall in funding, but Cairo-based securities analyst Hossam Tariq told IT News Africa that “it should not be an issue.”

    He argued that Libyan-backed companies had for the past nine months been without investment and capital, “which means they have all survived without the money so I don’t envision much change to be had in the near future, but it could open up new opportunities for other investors in many locations, especially Sudan and South Sudan.”

    “We have a general view to review all investments in the Arab world, the African continent and elsewhere,” Mustafa Abdul Jalil said at news conference with visiting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

    “There are some countries where investment will increase and others where projects will stop.”

    “There are investments that are worthy of developing and there may be investments that would be better for the Libyan people for them to be closed,” Abdul Jalil said.

    Under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya invested its oil wealth mostly in Europe but it also made major investments in Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States.

    Some of Libya’s major investments in Africa are managed by the $65-billion Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) through a $5 billion fund known as Libyan African Investment Portfolio (LAP). The African fund investments includes LAP Green Network, a telecom company operating in six African countries, which officials said made losses due to U.N. sanctions.

  • To demonstrate its commitment to key regulatory and policy changes, the government of Sierra Leone has released a road map for activities leading to the revision of telecom laws and full liberalization of the country's international telecom gateway.

    The government stated that deregulation will safeguard open access to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable, which is expected to be operational before the end of the year.

    The ACE system is a 17,000-km cable that will serve 23 countries between France and South Africa and be the first submarine line to land in The Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Sao Tomé & Principe, and Sierra Leone. It will connect via terrestrial fiber networks the landlocked countries of Mali and Niger.

    "Towards this end, the GoSL [Government of Sierra Leone] intends to liberalize the international gateway before the cable is commercialized," the government announced in a statement. "The GoSL also intends to revise the existing Telecommunications Act to reverse the monopoly of Sierratel over the GoSL international telecommunications and internet gateway."

    To date, the gateway has been monopolized by the national carrier, Sierratel, giving it a strong financial footing as it provides services to other telcos such as Sierra Leone's three major GSM providers Airtel, Africell and Comium, as well as ISPs.

    According to the action plan and timeline released, legislation to amend the Telecommunications Act of 2006 by repealing applicable provisions and replacing them with those that end international gateway monopoly, would be introduced by Feb. 15.

    A consultant that would review and revise the Act "to bring it into conformity with international best practices" would be selected by April 15 and an initial draft of the revised Act would be submitted to the government and other stakeholders by July 15.

    There would be public consultations on the draft till July 30, final recommendation for the act would be submitted to the government by Aug. 5 and approval of the final recommendation would be obtained by Aug. 15. Finally, legislation to replace the Telecommunication Act of 2006 with the final revised act would be introduced by Sept. 15.

    For years, telcos have called for the liberalization of the international gateway in Sierra Leone. After they launched the Sierra Leone GSM Operators Association SLGSMOA in 2008, the telcos called for a transparent examination of its allocation.

    While commemorating the landing of the ACE fiber cable in Freetown last year, President Ernest Koroma cited the liberalization of the gateway as one of the challenges to complete the implementation of the fiber optic system in the country.

    With the current timeline, it is likely that the liberalization of Sierra Leone's gateway would be achieved this year, with the government divesting at least 50 percent of its interest in the ACE consortium to the private sector before commencement of commercial operations.

  • A back-up system to store data from a user's cellphone has been unveiled in Kenya, and is said to be the first such service in Africa. The system, known as M-Wingu, was developed by a team of six Kenyans, at a cost of Sh5 million, and has already attracted 3 000 subscribers since its inception in December.

    “It took us four months to develop and we are glad of the reception it is receiving,” says M-Wingu CEO Charles Musungu.

    Subscribers can log-in to the M-Wingu technology Web site to download the application, or alternatively send the word 'backup' to the short-code 5114. Currently, the service, which uses cloud technology, is limited to back-ups of contacts, diaries and “to do” lists, but it will shortly add back-up for SMS.

    “We are working together with Amazon and Google, which are the largest cloud service providers and are providing us with the infrastructure upon which M-Wingu is based,” says Musungu.

    The Kenyan mobile market has grown exponentially in recent years, to more than 25 million subscribers by June last year, from a population of just under 40 million. It has been driven further by local software development, such as M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer system developed by Kenyan telco, Safaricom, and now exported worldwide.

    However, handset and SIM card losses frequently leave users with serious problems. One of the leading Kenyan telcos is replacing an average of 10,000 SIM cards a month, according to Musungu, making data back-up a real need.

    M-Wingu is moving to target the whole of the East African region and other African countries with the new service. “We expect to roll out the project in the remaining East African countries by the end of January,” says Musungu.

    “In South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, talks are under way on the legal requirements. We expect to roll it out by February [in those countries]. Our target is to reach about 565 million mobile subscribers in Africa.”

    Kenyan software developers have embraced cloud technology with particular enthusiasm over the past year, with at least three local firms now providing cloud-based services in addition to the already established multinationals.

    This latest M-Wingu application enables users to create a profile in the cloud and store their phone data. In case of loss, they can simply retrieve the data by logging in to their profiles: the transfer is seamless to handsets.

    “M-Wingu gives you all the numbers together with the names as you saved them, with no limit to the number of contacts you can back up and retrieve,” says Musungu.

    The service is equally suitable for low-feature phones and smartphones. “We realised that the majority of mobile phone users do not have high-end phones, and if we locked them out, we would be operating at a great disadvantage to ourselves,” says Musungu.

    The system was developed at a cost of Sh5 million, but the company estimates the cost to expand to other countries will be slightly above the cost of the Kenyan launch.

    “Most of the costs have gone to setting up the infrastructure and also into acquiring permits and licences to set up operations in other African countries, but we are confident that this investment will pay off.”

  • The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) has imposed a fine of US$500,000 (Five hundred thousand United States dollars) on Lonestar GSM Company to be paid within a week, for negligence and omission on the part of the Lonestar management in preventing the outage that occurred on its network on November 7, 2011.

    The LTA has also ordered Lonestar to give all its subscribers throughout Liberia a free four-hour call time on a day to be determined by the LTA, as compensation to all its subscribers for the inconvenience they experienced during the four-hour Lonestar network outage on November 7.

    The LTA is requiring Lonestar to sufficiently publicize the date and timing for the free calls to enable as many of its subscribers as possible to benefit from it. The LTA will work closely with Lonestar to ensure the successful implementation of this order.

    Making the disclosure today, the Commissioner for Public and Consumer Affairs, Lamini Waritay, explained that the LTA has taken this long to come out with decision on the matter because its investigative team, headed by Commissioner of Engineering, Henry W. Benson and including another Commissioner, Abdullah Kamara and some technical staff, has been painstakingly gathering relevant technical and related information on the November 7 outage from Lonestar, and carrying out technical and expert analyses on information so obtained.

    He pointed out that the explanation provided by Lonestar on the circumstances surrounding the November 7, 2011 Lonestar network did not jive with the findings of the investigation committee set up by the LTA Board of Commissioners on the incident.

    Commissioner Waritay expressed the hope that this action against Lonestar will send an unmistakable message not only to Lonestar, but other network operators, that their licensing terms and conditions require them to at all time provide proper services to their subscribers, by having in place the appropriate technical mechanism to prevent such an occurrence as that which happened on November 7 on Lonestar’s network.

    The Lonestar network outage occurred at a critical security moment in Monrovia when a politically motivated riot was underway in the city.

    Earlier, the Board of Commissioners, under the Acting Chairmanship of Commissioner Harry T. Yuan, had met with representatives of Lonestar’s management to acquaint them with the LTA decision.

    The full report on the outage incident has been sent to Lonestar.


  • AfriConnect Zambia, an Internet Solutions Provider in the Vodacom Group of companies, has selected Airspan 4G equipment to deliver broadband services to the capital of Lusaka and several other major cities in Zambia.

    AfriConnect offers wireless-based Internet solutions throughout Zambia that are resilient to the environments in which they are deployed and quick and easy to install. Their solutions provide quality, high-speed communication for all key markets including residential, the rapidly expanding business community, and key sectors such as Healthcare, Government, Agriculture, and NGOs.

    The deployment, operating in the 2.5 GHz band, employs Airspan’s flagship Air4G compact, macro base station, suiting the AfriConnect deployment with technology that enables wide area coverage and extremely high capacity. The first phase of the project includes several thousand subscriber terminals to be deployed in the capital, Lusaka, and is expected to expand coverage into additional towns and cities.

    “AfriConnect focuses on delivering high quality products and service to our customers,” commented Mark Bennett, Managing Director of AfriConnect. “There is a lot of new international fibre optic capacity coming into Zambia at present, and we knew we needed a means to get this additional bandwidth out to our clients. We conducted extensive testing with several vendors and subsequently selected Airspan, whose products demonstrated superior technology and the best results in our environment. Airspan’s leadership in 4G technology will give us a competitive advantage in the field and will enable us to deploy the first 4G network in Zambia.

    Zambia had gained a reputation for having slow connectivity, but that is changing rapidly. AfriConnect is driven to bringing affordable and dependable broadband connectivity to the Zambian community.

    “Innovative service providers like AfriConnect are rapidly growing their businesses to expand connectivity throughout the typically underserved regions of Zambia,” commented Amit Ancikovsky, President of Products and Sales at Airspan. “AfriConnect uniquely leverages its local presence and the Airspan powered 4G network will help take its customer offering to the next level.”

    Airspan products provide 4G WiMAX and LTE solutions operating in the 700 MHz up to 5.9 GHz bands.

  • As Nigerians woke up to a third day of protests on Wednesday, the virtual world was waking up too: "Now, Nigeria controls its own media and Nigerians control their own anger... Nigerians are united."

    Follow #fuelsubsidy for just a couple of minutes and you'll see tweets coming in so fast at times, its impossible to keep up with the conversation. For days now #occupynigeria is trending on Twitter in Nigeria. Bloggers like Sahara Reporters, Gbenga Sesan, El-Rufai and many more have provided extensive coverage, commentaries and documents regarding the ongoing #OccupyNigeria protest on their websites.

    Social media, just as it was for people in Tunisia, Egypt or Syria is very important to protesters in Nigeria. Protesters use it to organise, inspire and inform each other. Here are some examples of events evolving.

    'Trigger happy police shot dead fellow Nigerian and made away with his body at Ibafo, SouthWest Nigeria' is the headline of a post by blogger Alashock. He shared some very disturbing photo showing policemen carrying away a corpse in an attempt to hide the fact (according to Channels TV), that they killed the 14-year-old boy by a random bullet.

    Blogger El-rufai (39,000 followers on twitter) released details of 2012 budget for Nigeria contained in over 50 documents to the general public and blogger Omojuwa (11,000 followers on twitter) shared a document called 'What every protester must know and what to say to the press.'

    On Wednesday morning @EiENigeria tweeted: 'FLASH: #OccupyNigeria. Please call people in #Minna for calm. Anger turned towards IBB and Governor owned properties. We don't need this.' Another tweet (by @ESSDonli): 'If you see a fellow protester going astray, it is your duty, your obligation to let him know. Peace is our foundation. #occupyNigeria'

    Other tweets are less serious: (by@occupynigeria): 'It is d official day to UNLIKE him on Facebook. Let's change d 685,015 number of Nigerians dat LIKE to 000000 within 2 days. (Pls RT).' This tweet was about unliking President Jonathan on Facebook.

    Hackers, united under @NaijaCyberHack brought down the ministry of agriculture website on Monday, leaving a message on the homepage behind:

    (...)"Nigerians are stirring and with it, revolution is brewing. Perhaps you see yourselves at the eye of the storm, luxuriating in peace and tranquility while all around is ripped apart and made anew. The recent cutting of the fuel subsidies by you is the last straw. Your horrendous actions have crossed the lines. Your crimes have united this great melting pot into a white hot alloy of rage."(...). The website is still not up and running after the attack.

    On Flickr Occupy Nigeria builds a database with photo's and same thing happens on YouTube.

    The international occupy movement is a motivator for many protesters. In Nigeria the occupy movement seems to be a loose coalition of activists, union workers, students and artists who unite many protesters.

    Naijablog's Jeremy Weate takes it a step further though: 'What we are witnessing with Occupy Nigeria is a generational transfer, as young, social-media enabled activists gradually take over the baton from unionist stalwarts. Nigeria's young population is increasingly letting go of the deferential attitude of their parent's generation. In the south at least, young Nigerians are beginning to ask questions of the religious leadership that has been complicit with the status quo. At long last, there is accountability pressure building up in the system.'

    And it must be a sign of the times: CNN's Nigeria Correspondent Christian Purefoy left CNN this December to start the Lagos based website Battabox, a citizen journalism website were people can upload their own content. A livestream -with quite some hiccups- during the protest was even possible. Live streams created by CNN, BBC or AlJazeera are nowhere to be found.


  • Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremye, together with visiting Chinese official, Li Yuanchao, yesterday launched a state of the art e-Learning facility at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).

    The laboratory was established at a cost of US$ 500,000 (approx. Rwf 300 million) donated by Chinese IT giant, Huawei. The facility enables students to follow lectures, communicate and see each other in several locations. One can also record the whole lesson and follow it afterwards.

    "When President Paul Kagame visited Huawei headquarters in 2007, its chairperson, Sun Yafang, donated the facility to improve the country's e-Education situation," said KIST Rector, Dr Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya.

    The system is expected to become a bridge for knowledge exchange, enhance communication between students of both countries and promote communication between KIST and other international universities. Mujawamariya, said the new technology would help students follow lectures conducted by one lecturer teaching a number of classes at the same time.

    "This system is one of the strategies that will help increase quality education by reducing the student: teacher ratio. It's also going to reduce costs, time and sharing learning resources among students at the same time. This wouldn't be possible with the classical method of one lecture per classroom at a given time,"Mujawamariya said.

    Yuanchao, a Member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese ruling party, Communist Party of China, said KIST is the future of Rwanda and hoped that students make good use of the e-Learning system and contribute to the progress of the country.

    Aimee Chantal, a third year Computer Engineering student at the institution, said the new system would be very helpful as they can have access to it anywhere as long as they are connected to the software.

    She added that it would also accommodate a larger number of students at the same time and help them interact with colleagues from other institutions of higher learning.

    Meanwhile, on the same day, Rwanda and China signed a bilateral Economic and Technical Cooperation of US$ 9 million interest free loan.

  • Varied reactions have greeted the recent release of the country's draft National Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policy, which seeks to harmonise all existing disparate ICT policies into a single ICT policy.

    The Ministry of Communications Technology had on Monday, released the draft National ICT policy on its website and called on stakeholders and the general public to study the document and make their inputs within two weeks.

    Reacting to the draft ICT policy, President of PiNet Informatics, a foremost Internet Service Provider (ISP), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who spoke with THISDAY on phone, hailed the Ministry for its prompt action in creating the process for the formulation of harmonised ICT policy in the country, explaining that the harmonised policy would address convergence, which he said was the best way forward for Nigeria.

    According to him, the role of the ministry was to formulate policies and measure the policy implementation process, while commending the ministry for its quick action in setting up the committee that put together, the draft document.

    He however insisted that the timeframe of six weeks given to the committee to complete its task and the two weeks given to the general public to make contributions were not enough to produce the type of policy that will address every segment of the ICT sector in specific and measurable terms. He suggested that the ICT policy be driven largely by specifics and measurable goals, with time frame to achieve the set goals.

    He frowned at a situation where the policy is silent in the area of identifiable measurable figures and strategies for implementation and accomplishment. "Our ICT policy must be focused and goal oriented," Ajayi said.

    He said he was still studying the draft document and would make his contributions as requested by the ministry.

    Immediate past President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, who also spoke with THISDAY, commended the ministry for its action, but advised the Ministry of Communications Technology to look closely at the Nigerian ICT policy that was launched in 2010 by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) during the eNigeria conference in Abuja, as well as the Telecommunications Policy of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator.

    According to him, the two policy frameworks must be critically looked into, while harmonising.

    Speaking on the importance of policy document, Ekuwem said it remained the driving spirit and the vehicle of transformation of any given sector. He suggested that success factors, success indicators, measurable milestones and appropriate timeframe must be considered in formulating the harmonised ICT policy for Nigeria.

    Ekuwem who has been a strong advocate of local content development, called on the Ministry of Communications Technology to also consider local content in the harmonised ICT policy.

    He said a situation whereby Nigerians depended heavily on importation of software and hardware, did not speak well of a country aspiring to be listed among the first 20 economies of the world in the year 2020.

    The objectives of the national ICT policy as contained in the draft policy include, reflecting convergence by de-emphasising the differences between Information Technology (IT), broadcasting, telecommunications and postal sectors; bringing all ICT related activities under a single ministry so as to give policy guidance to the converged industry, among others.

    The harmonised ICT policy, when implemented, is expected to address appropriate policies, legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks as well as a converged ICT regulatory agency.

  • Queries on council services will now be possible with a click of a button on your mobile phone. The City Council will this morning launch the phase one of its e-payment services, which town clerk Philip Kisia says will seal revenue loopholes, where it is anticipated that up to 40 per cent does not reach the council coffers due to extensive revenue leakages.

    The first phase of the programme will enable city residents to query how much they owe the council by dialling 3032 on their mobile phones. "City residents will be able to know how much land rates and rent they owe the council by sending their LR number to the 3032 on the mobile handsets. "The business community will also be able to validate their single business permits and above all, validate the authenticity of a council employee by sending their man numbers to 3032," Kisia said yesterday.

    Land rates, single business permits and parking fees are the highest earners used by the council to provide services to city residents. Last year, five council workers were suspended, 10 are under investigation while 12 were arraigned in court over the fake permits. Kisia noted that the council lost close to Sh2 billion in the fake permits racket.

    With the introduction of the new system this morning, Kisia says the business community will be able to authenticate the single business permits by texting their receipt number 3032. The second phase, to launched in March this year in partnership with mobile service provider Safaricom, will allow city residents to pay council services through the popular Mpesa.

    The World Bank has commended the council's effort to improve the investment climate in the city. Fred Zake who is coordinator of Investment Climate Advisory Services at the World Bank said the council's work has led to numerous milestones in improving the business regulatory environment in Nairobi. 'We take this opportunity to thank you personally and the City Council of Nairobi, for working tirelessly and giving support to the investment climate reform work in Nairobi,' the WB said in a letter to Kisia.

    Licensing committee chairman Jaffer Kassam said the council is set to start automated application process for permits and online submission and payment. Applicants can also monitor review process and download permit. Businesses could further update registration online. Mr Kassam said all businesses are required to possess the Single Business Permit. There are more than 250,000 businesses in Nairobi, with less than half having paid business permits to the council.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

  • Banking group Absa conducted South Africa's first live user trial of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology on mobile phones in December, with 500 of the bank's staff members using the technology in a commercial environment.

    The bank partnered with global financial services provider Mastercard to embed the Paypass Tap and Go payment chip on cellular handsets for the trial, enabling participants to load funds onto their phones through the Absa website or ATMs.

    They can then pay for goods or services by merely holding their phone in front of a NFC-enabled pay point, with the value of the transaction being instantly debited from their stored value.

    The trial enabled participants to pay for goods at coffee shops, canteens, and later, at other service providers that are located at Absa's head office buildings in central Johannesburg.

    "Absa is the first institution in South Africa to bring Near Field Communication capabilities with an EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) card payment application to a handset," said Absa retail markets head Arrie Rautenbach in a statement last month.

  • Gambia’s National Assembly has approved the annual reports and financial statements of state-run PSTN operator Gambia Telecommunications Company (Gamtel) and its cellular network operating subsidiary Gambia Telecommunications Cellular Company (Gamcel) for the year ended 31 December 2010.

    Delivering the activity report, Baboucarr J. Sanyang, the managing director of Gamtel said his institution was established as a public enterprise in 1984 by an Act of Parliament with the mandate to provide efficient and affordable telecommunications and related service to the nation at large.

    According to him, the challenge for Gamtel during this period was exacerbated by its aging network infrastructure and near obsolete equipment. He said as a result, Gamtel embarked on some capital intensive projects with the aim of upgrading, expanding and introducing new telecoms services in response to the growing challenges posed by the competition with the increasing demand of customers for more efficient service delivery.

    He added that during the year under review, the cross river Gambia project jointly funded by Gamtel and Sonatel of Senegal was commissioned whilst this project provided a fibre link from Dakar through the sea at Barra via Banjul to Southern Casamance to provide wider internet capacity bandwidth for the carrying of increased traffic.

    MD Sanyang noted that Gamtel reported total revenue of D1.4 billion as at 31st December 2010  compared to D1.3 billion in 2009 and this represents an increase of D0.1 billion representing 8% increase with a gross profit margin of 37% while the increase in revenue is attributed to increase in international and interconnection revenues by D90 and D22 million respectively.

     “The total cost of sales for the year amounted to D877 million and of this amount D432 million relates to payments of interconnection charges to GSM operators for calls terminated on to their network while D377 million relates to payments to foreign carriers for carrying and termination of international traffic into the country,” he concluded.  

    The National Assembly members and subject matter specialists also raised concerns, suggestions, questions and recommendations before adopting the Gamtel activity report and financial statement for the year ended 31st December 2010.

    Similarly, the Joint Session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprises Select Committees also on Wednesday unanimously adopted and considered Gambia Telecommunications Cellular Company Limited (Gamcel) activity report and financial statement for the year ended 31st December 2010.

    Baboucarr J Sanyang, managing director for Gamtel said that Gamcel was established as a subsidiary of Gamtel in the year 2001 to build and operate cellular services. However, a study was conducted prior to the launch, which indicated a projection of a customer base of 15,000 to commence operations with.

    He disclosed that some of the challenges the company continues to face include network expansion, deployment of the value-added services, capacity building and financial constraints. He said that to overcome these challenges, management continues to ensure the sustainability, viability, and profitability of the company through investing in expansion projects, other value-added services and aggressive market activities.

    Sanyang revealed that the free bonus cost was D192.768 million in 2010; no amount was reported in 2009 and this cost represent 39% of the cost sales while the company incurred material cost of D86.946 million in 2010 compared to D94.733 million in 2009. He added that this reduction is mainly attributed to the drop in dealers commission because of the introduction of electronic voucher (NOPAL) sales.

  • Four in five new cell phone subscribers are signing up for money transfer services, the latest industry data shows.

    The new statistics indicate that the handset has become a key tool for financial inclusion.

    The Communications Commission of Kenya attributed the preference for mobile money transfer platforms to the ease of enlisting for the service.

    "Continued growth is an indication of subscribers' preference for mobile money transfer, which could be attributed to accessibility and affordability even to low-income earners," CCK said in an industry report for the third quarter of last year.

    The data released on Friday shows that 83.9 per cent of the customers who signed up for mobile phone services between July and September last year also signed up for money transfer services.

    There were 1.02 million new sign-ups for money services out of a total of 1.2 million new subscriptions in the third quarter of 2011.By the end of September, 26.5 million customers had mobile phones out of which 18.4 million -- or 69.5 per cent -- were using mobile money.

    Deposits made through phone services grew from Sh48 billion between April and June last year to Sh56 billion, representing an increase of 5.9 per cent.

    Compared to the previous year's third quarter, the amount that customers deposited grew by 58.6 per cent, indicating that the uptake of the money services by consumers had gathered pace between September 2010 and June 2011.

    The new data comes as an increasing number of financial services and telecommunication companies and commercial banks announce partnerships that are expected to help them tap into money transfer and plastic money payment systems.

    In September last year, Airtel announced a partnership with MasterCard Worldwide and Standard Chartered Bank that allows Airtel subscribers to make payments using the MasterCard network and shop online using a platform dubbed PayOnlineInKenya.

    A few weeks later, Orange Money launched the Orange Money Visa Card in partnership with Equity Bank and global payment systems provider Visa International that allows Orange subscribers to access over 22 million outlets that use the Visa payment system, allowing phones to work as debit cards.

    Safaricom and I&M Bank also have a service that allows M-Pesa customers to transfer money from their accounts to a Visa pre-paid card dubbed M-Pesa prepay Safari Card which can be used globally.In the third quarter of last year, the Central Bank of Kenya said that mobile money services had become the preferred mode of payment and transferring money, beating even plastic money.

    "For retail payment systems, mobile money transfers are today the most widely used mode of payment in Kenya followed by the use of plastic cards," said the CBK, showing that Sh560 million was moved using plastic money compared to Sh732 billion through mobile money transfer between January and December 2010.

    In the first nine months of last year, Sh428 billion was moved using 8.65 million plastic money cards that were in the market.

Telecoms, Rates, Offers and Coverage

  • -The release of a new Safmarine shipping application for all mobile devices using the Android operating system will allow Safmarine customers to access and download essential shipping information from these devices, anywhere and at any time of day. The launch of this new application follows the release in April 2011 of a similar e-Business application for iPhone, iPad and iPodTouch devices. The new application allows Safmarine customers to look up sailing schedules, track containers or consignments (using a booking or container number), find contact details for Safmarine offices and receive Safmarine news updates. An alert option has also been added, which 'pushes' the information directly to the users' device.

Digital Content

  • A Kenyan-based non-profit software development firm has teamed up with Al Jazeera media to use its technology to assess the impact of the conflict in Somalia on the citizens.

    Ushahidi and Al Jazeera English channel have partnered under a deal dubbed "Somalia Speaks".

    The project aims to record the experiences of Somalis, both within the country and in the diaspora, using text messages.

    Launched last month, the project will be the first informal citizen survey conducted on Somalia by any establishment since eruption of civil war in 1991.

    "The aim has been to spur citizen engagement and amplify the voice of the voiceless, as well as leverage on simple technology to increase engagement and get stories," said Soud Hyder, Web and social media manager at Al Jazeera. About 5,000 text messages were sent to phone numbers owned by ordinary citizens in all major regions in Somalia.

    They read: "Al Jazeera wants to know how the conflict of the past few months has affected your life? Please include the name of your hometown in your response. Thank you"

    So far, about 4,000 responses have been received from Somalia with several hundred from the diaspora through the Web.

    The messages sent to the site by Somali citizens act as intimate situational reports on the country's political, economic and social realities.

    "The response has been good," Linda Kamau, software developer at Ushahidi, told Smart Company.

    "This has started an important project that tries to bring people together and sets a conversation on what has been happening in Somalia all these years."

    Since most of the responses coming through the site are written in Somali, the developers opened up space for volunteers to help in translating them into English.

    Hyder says it is mostly Somalis in the diaspora who have been spearheading the translation process on a voluntary basis.

    "As we rolled out the project, which was initially targeted at Somalis in Somalia, we were getting a significant number of responses from the Somali diaspora," he said.

    Hyder said that this suggested that the Somalia conflict has global implications as residents living all over the world responded.

    "It is only fair and right for their voices to be heard as well," he said.

    The pilot project has, however, faced a number of challenges, including translation work flow, which had been problematic in the inception process.

    There were also security issues, where a sender's text message appeared with full names and geographic location, raising concerns that an individual's opinion might expose him or her to dangerous circumstances.

    Though the technical glitch was fixed, and text messages now appear with information on location and content only, managers at Al Jazeera say they are looking into opportunities in which they can co-create and solve problems with their audiences.


  • - Safaricom has appointed a new head for its technical division from rival France Telecom, completing the reorganisation plan that saw the firm trim its management to cut reporting layers and increase efficiency. The firm said it had appointed Thibaud Rerolle as the technical director from Orange Dominican, making him the third expatriate to be appointed by Safaricom since August

    - Professor Tim Unwin is the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), the body’s Council has confirmed after Dr. Ekwow Spio Garbrah of Ghana ended his term of office.

    - Telecel Zimbabwe's new managing director John Swaim says he will lead the mobile phone operator on an interim basis while the shareholders seek a Zimbabwean to take over.

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