Cameroon: Seemoh Networks launches a data and voice MVNO with former incumbent Camtel

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MVNOs have been slow to take off in Africa as mobile operators have been reluctant to let go of any income. They would argue that many markets have not matured to the point where the kind of segmentation MVNOs provide might work. Therefore what’s happening in Cameroon may yet set a precedent for the rest of the continent. This week sees the launch of SMS Mobility which is pitching itself as primarily a data MVNO and it joins voice MVNO Eto’o Telecom. Russell Southwood spoke to Manfred Tubman, CEO of SMS Mobility about the launch.

It’s been a long and winding road for Manfred Tubman to the launch of SMS Mobility. He started the company that runs the MVNO – Seemoh International Global Telecom Solutions – twelve years ago in the USA to provide VoiP and ring-back services to Camtel. It then started working as a contractor implementing network and opened a local company Seemoh Network Solutions.

All this led to discussions with Camtel about further areas of co-operation. It then provided terminals for Camtel’s CDMA 2000 service. Two years later it proposed to sell phone contracts to companies on the American model where you get a free phone and pay a fixed monthly fee for calls. This reseller role meant it grew a client base of 300 with ARPUs of around US$20 per month.

So out of this came the proposal for the data MVNO SMS Mobility. According to Tubman:”The two mobile operators in Cameroon are doing a very poor job with data on 2G. We have a 100, 000 lines capacity on the Camtel network. We want people to be able to stay connected via their mobile phone or a smartphone and a tablet. We’re focused on the mobile Internet.”

“We will offer corporate customers maximum speeds of 2.4 mbps. No-one is currently offering above 1 mbps. We’re going to start with EVDO RevA and move to RevB. These speeds will blow things out of the ballpark. There is a pent-up demand for good quality Internet.”

Using various data, he argues that Internet users have grown 27% since 2010:”Infrastructure has improved and high speed Internet is now possible but the current price point is prohibitive. We think that there will be 15% growth per year. Next year we will have grown subscriber levels to 100,000, for both data and voice. We can do voice but we’re competing on data.” The licensing position is that they are a reseller licensed by the regulator ART.

Currently a tablet in Cameroon will cost a user around US$800:”This is way above what the middle class wage earner can afford”. It will be importing and selling tablets at half that price and offering smartphones for US$200. This may not sound as low as it can go but in the uncompetitive Cameroonian market with its duopoly of mobile operators, it’s bound to have an impact.

Tubman is also focused on the need to provide local content:”There’s a lot of internet content that’s not local. As one example, we intend to provide all users with a weather app to check local conditions and there are other product ideas in the pipeline.”

“There’s a need for tech support for data devices and we will be helping customers get answers to questions, either in person or online.”

There is already a voice MVNO called Eto’o Telecom which has been launched on the Orange network. It is run by Charles Gueret, who is captain of the Cameroon national football team who has some of the personal brand charisma of say Richard Branson in relation to Virgin Mobile.

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