Ghana’s Blu pitches content as the show-stopper for its new LTE service

Top Story

Ghana’s mobile operators are in danger of being outmaneuvered by the new breed of LTE licencees. The newest kid on the block is Blu which is making content and VideoOnDemand a central part of its service offering. Russell Southwood spoke to its Chief Commercial Officer, Tara Squire.

Ghana’s regulator auctioned off three packages of LTE-usable spectrum and the winners were all independent, locally-owned ISPs: Blu, Surfline (which will also be launching shortly) and Gold Key. Blu’s key investor is local Ghanaian businessman J.K.Horgle (he runs a transport company) who has backed the “young Turks” who make up the company’s management team. The investment so far is “in the tens of millions of dollars” and the equipment has been supplied by Huawei. It will operate in 2.6 Ghz.

Squires says that:”Content is the cornerstone of what we’re going to do.” He doesn’t want to give too much away but says that they are looking at both local and international content:”We’re speaking to the biggest houses in Ghana and 1-2 international companies. There will also be a user-generated portion of the portal.”

It is not hard to guess that Ghanaian movies, music and sport will be high up on that list. They will also be supporting education initiatives that are supplying video material:”Entertainment and education are both very important to Ghanaians.”

When pressed, he made clear that they are setting out to be Ghana’s first fully functioning VoD portal:”In terms of content, there are areas that are pain points for Ghanaians: how to access the internet at the right speed and how to pay. We’re going to make both very easy whether online on a laptop or computer or mobile phone. There’s a number of existing payment channels that are close to the tipping point and we’re going to use those.” 

In terms of pricing, their philosophy is to match exactly the current 3G prices but to provide a significantly faster service. The service will be sold both as bundled capacity and an unlimited monthly service. The current cheapest 3G data bundle is US$4-5.

It will guarantee a speed of 6 mbps:”This will revolutionalise the market as the current average speed is 512 kbps.” Coverage will be Accra and then rolling out nationally to other major centres. The terms of the licence say that once it has reached a near national level of coverage, it will be able to do voice:”It will be an add-on at some point. Customers will be able to use Skype as the licence requirement only covers interconnection…But we see ourselves as a mainstream telecom provider, meeting the full spectrum of telecoms needs.”

They are also pitching the service to the Small and Medium Sized Enterprise (SME) market:”We’ll be providing various value-adds for SMEs online in one space, simple things in Google’s pack of tools for business planning and web design.”

The potential mobile competitors have not made LTE announcements and all appear to be looking at HSDPA+ as their next upgrade. So they may not be direct competition for a while yet but Blu will have to contend with the other two LTE licencesees. So how many subscribers do they think they will have by the end of year one?:”100,000 would be a decent figure.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Digital Content Africa: Balancing Act’s web TV channel Smart Monkey TV launched a new e-letter called Digital Content Africa. On a fortnightly basis, it will cover online film, music, publishing and services and applications. We have already produced 5 pilot issues and these can be viewed on this link: http://www.smartmonkeytv.com/channel/newsletters Essential reading for those in mobile VAS to anyone just interested in what African and relevant international content they can now get online. If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to info@balancingact-africa.com with Digital Content Africa in the title line.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

New videos this week
Jeremy Gordon and Caine Kamau on Flashcast, a location aware ad tool for Nairobi's matatus
Indra de Lanerolle on what a 12 country survey says about Africa's new Internet users
Simbarashe Mabashe on South African online film platform Wabona.com and its expansion plans, including an alliance with a Fibre To The Home provider in Zimbabwe
Chike Maduegbuna, Afrinolly on its deal with MTN to distribute this mobile content platform
Francis Mugane and Peter Gakure-Mwangi on the low cost mobile money payment system Kopo Kopo
George Kimani on his new online film and TV platform Afriflix with low prices to beat pirates
Martin Nielsen on Mdundo, a mobile music platform for Kenya and East Africa

Everything You Wanted To Know About You Tube in Africa But Were Afraid To Ask
Brett St Clair, Google on what You Tube is doing in Africa and what content is successful
Brett St Clair, Google on what kind of revenues film-makers and broadcasters can get from You Tube
Brett St Clair on Google's different Internet access initiatives, including Project Loon

Start-up video briefings this week:

Kahenya Kamunyu, Able Wireless on his low-cost Kenyan video streaming service using a Raspberry Pi
John Paul Barreto talks about Tanzanian ICT co-creation space Kinu

New ICT4D Applications
Jessica Musila on a Kenyan online platform for holding MPs to account
Tarryn Anne Anderson on South African print on demand publisher Paperight delivering low cost education materials

For breaking news, follow us on Twitter: @BalancingActAfr