31 Jul 2013

Clickatell's take on the Nigerian and West African telecoms market...

Samson Isa, Is the Director of West Africa at Clickatell.

The Com World Series team caught up with Samson ahead of the NigeriaCom conference and exhibition, taking place at the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria, 17-18 September to find out a bit more about his experiences and focus at the event.

Com World Series: How is your company positioned in Nigeria and what are its future objectives?

Samson Isa: Clickatell has established 3 Data Centres in 3 major regional offices in Africa namely; South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya to help it leverage the various opportunities in Nigeria and Africa; those Data Centres offers Messaging, USSD and VAS (Virtual Airtime Top Up-VTU, bill payments, Remittances etc. etc..). In addition to the actual-actual configuration of the prepaid infrastructure in the Data Centres, the Data Centres act as failover sites for another so we are able to achieve 100% uptime in terms of providing services to our customers in Africa and most especially in Nigeria. Also, our Pan African footprint will enable us to provide services to many Financial institutions (most especially Banks) in Nigeria that have Pan African footprint OR Pan African ambition.

Com World Series: What do you think are the top 3 major trends that are affecting your business in the region in 2013?

Samson Isa: - I think the Telecoms/Financial institutions regulators are working in silos and therefore they have not be able to articulate policies that will enhance the financial inclusion of the government of Federal Republic of Nigeria, so it is fair to say that we do have regulatory challenges.
- Literacy; I think the Financial institutions and MNO’s have not adequately educated customers on the major mobile money bearer the USSD in Nigeria, consequently, adoption has been very low.. I am also not oblivious of the high cost of ussd transaction pricing by MNO’s which I consider it a barrier to adoption.
- I think the increasing number of fibre companies in Nigeria and the subsequent completion of last miles will improve Network stability and subscriber confidence in the use of various telecoms technologies.

Com World Series: What are the remaining challenges in terms of connectivity and quality of services in the region and which technologies are most likely to resolve these issues?

Samson Isa: - I think MNO’s Network quality has been a major issue; there are lots of downtimes due to principally fibre cuts and unstable broadband and that affects the confidence of the average subscriber who is not very conversant with the technology.
- I think Virtual Airtime Top Up (VTU) will be a great airtime distribution technology that will revolutionise the telecoms distribution space because of its ease of usage, security and availability.
- Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) will play a major role in enhancing mobile money transfers/transactions because of its latency however stakeholders in the mobile money ecosystem must tackle the challenges of awareness and cost of using the bearer.

Com World Series: How are smartphones/tablets and cloud services impacting mobile/internet service providers in Nigeria?

Samson Isa: Smartphones/tablets have tremendously increased the internet penetration and usage in Nigeria. The proliferation of Future Phones with basic features of smartphones too has enhance internet penetration and improve data consumption. As a matter of fact, the data part of mobile network operators business will define the profitability and sustainability of some of the mobile businesses as voice revenue continue to drop.
I think Operators must consciously and deliberately continue to invest and come up with strategies that will make them very competitive in driving data; smartphones/tablets distribution is crucial in enhancing adoption and brand equity.

Com World Series: In your opinion, which companies are spearheading innovation in the region and what can be learnt from them?

Samson Isa: GT Bank stands out clearly in the financial institutions by using Apps to drive mobile money instead of the popular USSD. I think they should be commended for driving this technology. They are actually making a success of it.

Com World Series: Who are you most looking forward to meeting/hearing from and what do you hope to achieve from taking part in NigeriaCom?

Samson Isa: I think the convergence of technologies that has brought Financial institutions and Telecoms together should trigger a synergy between the respective regulators i.e. NCC and CBN; I would like to see a parley that will bring them together and other stakeholders to examine the mobile money sector and define the way forward. I would also like to hear the Mobile Operators on their future strategies; what major data strategies do they have and technologies that they will be driving in the coming years (2 – 3 years).
I would to love to hear some independent mobile money players-how they are surviving and pushing their businesses.

Find out more at NigeriaCom. Samson Isa will be speaking on Day 2 at 9:40 in the Panel on “Keeping up with Changing Habits in how Content is Consumed”.

Register here

29 Jul 2013

Inmarsat, Orange, Total and Ubuntu all making waves in the MEA market in recent days...

>> Satellite operator Inmarsat has announced the successful launch of Alphasat, its largest bird to date, from a base at Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana.
The company claims Alphasat is “one of the most technically advanced telecommunications satellites ever constructed for civilian applications,” weighing in with a $350m investment from Inmarsat.
The project is the largest Public-Private-Partnership space project in Europe, between the European Space Agency and Inmarsat to create new services and jobs but was also an initiative to develop a new spacecraft platform (Alphabus) capable of carrying a large state of the art communications payload.
Satellites are relied on by the world’s shipping, oil exploration, defence, aviation and media industries and are becoming increasingly popular in both mature and developing markets as a means of backhauling small cell connections in remote or rural areas.
Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, said: “Alphasat will strengthen our existing I-4 series satellite constellation, providing coverage over Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The launch demonstrates Inmarsat’s long-term commitment to L-band services.”
The team will place the satellite into its final geostationary orbit position on Friday night, with the satellite set to be in operation on July 31.

>> Orange and oil and gas group Total have forged a partnership in Africa and the Middle East, providing access to Orange Money services at all Total service stations in the regions, spanning a total of 13 countries to date.
Orange said customers will benefit from the density of the Total distribution network, with its service stations open for extended hours seven days a week. Customers will be able to open anOrange Money account on site and perform withdrawals and deposits. The system enables users to transfer money from mobile to mobile, pay bills and withdraw and deposit money through a network of certified distributors.
This first stage of the partnership is already operational in Senegal and Cameroon, and will go live in over 1,300 service stations in the 11 other countries (Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Senegal and Uganda) where both groups are present in the second half of 2013. A second stage will follow, which should enable Orange Money customers to pay for purchases made in Total service stations using their mobile account.

>> Open source developer and Linux house Ubuntu has turned to crowdfunding to get its latest mobile project off the ground. Parent company Canonical is hoping to raise $32m by August 21 to kick start manufacture of a high end smartphone that doubles as a desktop PC.
The Ubuntu Edge will dual boot both Ubuntu’s forthcoming mobile OS as well as Android and while packaged as a smart phone, turns into a desktop PC when connected to a monitor. Telecoms.com is sure this has been tried before, perhaps by Palm?) in the days before tablets became popular.
But the Edge does have some power under the hood. Able to support the full fledged Ubuntu desktop interface, it sports a multi-core CPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB storage, putting it up there with some netbooks.
Android support was selected because of the significant developer community but there’s also a large Ubuntu Linux developer base to exploit as well. “On day one, you’ll be able to launch the Ubuntu desktop from within Android using our existing Ubuntu for Android app. That integration is fully functional today,” the company said.
Still, it’s a big ask for the Indiegogo crowdfunding site, which to date has seen $1.6m raised for its most popular project – a Star Trek style medical scanner. At the time of writing, the Edge had raised more than $3.2m but still needs to increase that tenfold within 30 days.
“All of the funding we receive goes directly towards producing the device for expected delivery in May 2014,” Canonical said.
Ubuntu parent Canonical is already trying to make waves in the mobile space with a mobile specific version of its OS, having established the Carrier Advisory Group last month. The group is led by David Wood, a former Psion engineer and one of the founder members of the original Symbian collaboration.
A number of large operators, including MTN, China Unicom, LG UPlus, SK Telecom and Korea Telecom from Asia Pacific and Deutsche Telekom, EE, Telecom Italia and Portugal Telecom from Europe have already signed. 

The above articles were first published in telecoms.com

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