Africa's Mobile operators turn to local content to boost internet usage


As the mobile voice market reaches maturity, companies in the region are focusing their strategies on the provision of data services With more than 500 million subscribers across the continent inching the mobile voice market towards saturation, mobile technology companies are increasingly looking to data services as a means of capturing new sales. Although mobile broadband uptake is certainly growing- traffic will increase thirty six-fold in the region between now and 2015- at a mere 4 percent, penetration is still very low. To get more Africans connected to the world wide web via their mobiles, businesses have started thinking local. Local content, that is.

To boost adoption rates, firms are turning to the development of more content specific to the region. The importance of this when it comes to enticing new web users is of central importance to those in the ICT space.: “Providing local content is a key aspect of any content-oriented service and many mobile operators and service providers understand this,” says Arun Tanksali, head mobile lifestyle solution at Comviva, an Indian based provider of value-added services to mobile phone operators in Africa. “Local content forms an important part of the content catalogue of every single service in most countries. This is obtained by tapping into the local traditions and artists of that region,” he adds.

Developing such content is of particular importance on the continent, argues Mr Tanskali.: “Content in general has very strong regional ties and nowhere more so than in Africa.”  Despite this, a severe dearth of local content aimed at African audiences to attract more users persists.

Changing this is fast becoming more of a priority for mobile operators such as South African based MTN, Africa's largest. “MTN believes that local content is critical, as it has a major role in content and digital strategies,” says a spokesperson for the firm.

Firms are adopting various strategies to stimulate the production of more local content for their users. One of the most popular approaches is the establishment of mobile application stores. Vodacom and Safaricom have already launched their stores and MTN's is due to go live later this year. The aim is to use the stores for the promotion of locally relevant mobile applications created by African developers.

Firms are also lending greater support to local application developers. Safaricom and Vodafone launched the Betavine Platform in 2011 to help local developers design and test their applications. Safaricom also recently established an academy in partnership with Vodafone and Strathmore University. The centre offers tailored Masters-level training in mobile software application development specifically for the African market.

Mobile operators are also increasingly seeking to promote local content through their own networks. A high profile multimedia platform, which has experienced formidable success over the last year is MTN Play, a portal with a variety of downloadable local content, including videos and music. In addition, MTN has brought in local providers to create more content for them. Last summer, it signed a deal with the music channel Trace to provide its younger customers with access to tailored local multimedia and news. Safaricom has also been heavily focused on developing local content through its web portal Safaricom Live, which offers content particularly aimed at its Kenyan audience.

While other factors, such as underdeveloped infrastructure and high user costs, also play an important role, local content development will play a crucial role in improving broadband uptake. The growing focus of mobile operators on driving this process will be an important trend to watch in the coming years.