Demand for Mobile Phone Skills Surges in Kenya
The growing mobile communications industry is pushing demand for the training of specialised skills as the sector moves to the next level of value added services. eMobilis, for instance, is a new college offering technical courses that seek to empower students with skills which they can use to secure employment in the sector or start their own businesses by creating and selling mobile content and services.
Dadiaus Misiari, operations manager at eMobilis, says that the rising demand for third party mobile applications has created an opportunity to develop the requisite technical skills. Such applications include games, advertising tools, mobile car tracking systems, and short message services (SMS).
Short code SMS is one of the most widespread services, used by businesses, government agencies and the media for marketing, and managing relationships with customers. Misiari reckons that specialised training in mobile technologies is a new phenomenon in the country that has a chance to grow, riding on the back of increased sophistication of mobile communications.
Africa Information Technology Initiative (AITI) offers short courses (about a fortnight) on mobile application development at various local universities using its own curriculum. International ICT associations like W3C are working on standards and best practices for mobile content development.
Players in premium rate (value-added mobile services) who spoke to Business Daily said that they develop their human resources internally, signaling the gap in mobile skills training.
Stephen Kariuki, general manager at Bernsoft, said the firm looks for people with a background in computer programming who are then trained to create solutions on the mobile platform. Similar sentiments were echoed by Interactive Media Services and Leopard Communications. Kariuki said students receiving quality training from emerging colleges could be hired. "There is room for them, given the fast growth of mobile applications," he said.
A three-month course at eMobilis costs between Sh35,000 and Sh40,000. The areas covered include content development, and technologies supporting the global systems for mobile (GSM) platform, the dominant mobile technology in Kenya.
Misiari says that students graduating from eMobilis have two options. "The students can develop products which can be sold to mobile subscribers in the region through our agreements with network operators."
Alternatively, he said, students can pursue a career with mobile operators or premium rate service (PRS) players. Mobile content development received a boost when a top-level domain -- .mobi -- was approved by the internet regulator ICANN in 2005. The domain name is used by mobile devices accessing internet resources through the mobile web. The new domain name has been praised for enhancing access to mobile internet.
Observers say that demand for content and value added services are set to increase as the usage of mobile communications increase. The number of PRS companies has grown to over 20. The firms have been credited with creating pioneering products now seen by telecoms as a key sources of future revenue. For instance, the firms have developed applications that allow people to pay and book for travels by air or bus. Small and medium sized enterprises are also now able to pay salaries through bulk money transfer services.
Last year, Nokia launched a contest to spur the development of mobile applications across Africa. Though no local innovators won any of the top five awards at the close of the competition last month, the firm says that the second highest number of entries overall, after those received from South African developers, came from Kenya. Most of the over 125 submissions in the competition came from Africa. The best was a health application which clinched a cash prize of about Sh862,000.