One for the money, two for the show…Cabo Verde Telecom launches IP-TV

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This week saw Cape Verdean incumbent telco Cabo Verde Telecom launch IP-TV ahead of the new competitor in its market. It also saw the introduction of what is probably the first African push-to-talk service by Maroc Telecom. But why is this happening? African markets are different from elsewhere comes the swelling chorus. Well maybe they are but maybe they aren’t. Russell Southwood looks at the two new services.

Cabo Verde Telecom has set up a new subsidiary CVMultimédia that will be offering 21 television channels, Internet and voice: in other words, a full “triple-play” offer. The move is seen as pre-emptive as a second licence was granted through international tender to Chinese-owned Cabo Verde Digital which will offer 30 channels using DVB-T.

Cabo Verde Digital is a subsidiary of Xiamen Sinonets Electronics, a Chinese company with experience of satellite television in China (see www.chinafujian.com). This licence does not give the operator the right to offer telecoms services.

CVMultimédia’s service will be branded Zap TV and cost CV escudos 2,100 (USD24) per month. This includes the equipment to receive the signal that costs CV escudos 28,000 (USD320) amortised over the period of a 24-month contract. For this the user will get 20 foreign channels and state broadcaster Televisão de Cabo Verde (TCV).

The 20 foreign channels will include: SIC Notícias, TV Record, Rai Uno, BBC World, TV5, TV Galicia, Infinito, Fox Life, Fashion TV, Euronews, Eurosport, Extreme Sport, TVE Internacional, CNBC, MCM, RTP-África, Lusomundo Premium, Lusomundo Gallery and Playboy SportTv, SIC, RTP1 and 2 and TVI.

The two operators will be fighting over a market where the overall population is just over 460,000 people. For Cabo Verde Telecom the full extent of its market is probably circumscribed by the 70,000 fixed lines through which it can deliver DSL services.

Early reports back on IP-TV delivered to African subscribers indicated that there are initial teething problems over stability of picture delivery. Also subscribers will probably take some time to get used to the slow response time on channel changing. Operators may also need to tip off users that it’s not a wise idea to run the TV service and allow another member of the family to use the phone service.

Meanwhile Maroc Telecom has launched what is probably the first push-to-talk service on the continent. Branded as MobiTalkie, it costs DH300 (USD34.50) for unlimited use. Users can create user groups of people they will allow to communicate with them in this way.

However the service is only available if you buy a Motorola L6 (described elsewhere as the “poor man’s RAZR”) or V360 but the company says other compatible handsets will be available shortly. The company has not announced what it’s charging for handsets but the V360 is available elsewhere for USD200 so it is not a low end handset.

Both the tariff and the handset cost inevitably make this a product probably only of interest to corporate buyers. Push-to-talk turns your mobile into a “walkie-talkie” so the greater mystery is who will find it useful to have asynchronous conversations in this way at this cost?

But whatever questions might be raised about these two new services, they both show that technical innovations pioneered elsewhere are going to find themselves coming to Africa. The open question is whether they find a market or whether as the sceptical chorus has it, African markets are simply different.