Thursday, February 26, 2009

Safaricom Investigates M-Pesa Fraud in Uganda

Kenya’s leading mobile operator Safaricom is investigating an illegal use of its money transfer service M-Pesa in Uganda.
Mr Michael Joseph, the Safaricom chief executive officer said the company does not offer the money transfer services in Uganda.
A Safaricom card being scratched. M-Pesa services in Uganda are under scrutiny.
“M-pesa does not officially operate there. We are investigating. It’s quite strange,” said Mr Joseph.
The service has been running smoothly for the past year in the country without the knowledge of Safaricom, until a glitch in the system last week forced agents and users to enquire about the interruption.
Safaricom does not operate the M-pesa network in neighbouring countries; however it has entered into arrangement with telecommunication operators in Tanzania and Uganda to offer its Voice and Short Messages Services SMS in those countries.
It has entered into partnership with MTN in Uganda and Vodacom in Tanzania.
Officials from the Uganda Communication Commission and Bank of Uganda denied any knowledge of the M-pesa operations in Uganda.
UCC’s Corporate Affairs Manager Mr Fred Otunnu told Business Power that he was unaware of the existence of M-pesa agents or services in Uganda.
The agents have been cashing in on the number of Kenyan students in Uganda and business people who conduct cross-border businesses.
Students and business people have been paying heavily for the services. For example, the agents charge 4 per cent for every transaction on top of the normal Safaricom deductions. This means that to withdraw KShs10,000 (UShs240,000) one parts with kShs400 (UShs9,600).
However, M-pesa customers feel that even with these charges the service is still cheap compared to others like Western Union which charges 10 per cent for the same amount.
“I was very happy when M-pesa started operating in Uganda; besides being cheap it’s quick and convenient unlike buses which take days to deliver the parcel,” Ms Stella Kamau, a Kenyan communications student at Kampala International University, said.
She said she is now stranded due to the glitch as her money was trapped in her simcard.
“I don’t know what to do. I cannot pay rent and my pocket money has run out my only hope is for the service to resume soon,” she said.
However because of the technical glitch, M-pesa agents have started making weekly trips to the border towns of Busia and Malaba to transact business there.
Students who have money in their simcards give them to the agents including all the details like Personal Identification Number (PIN).
Afterwards the agents make the withdrawals on their behalf at an agreed payment rate.
The operation is said to be operated by Kenyan students at the universities and other Kenyans in Kampala with collaboration with registered M-pesa agents in Kenya.
A number of them who interviewed by Business Power requested anonymity saying that it would jeopardize their operations with Safaricom in Kenya. They said that the mobile provider was aware of the whole transactions but they were under instruction not to comment about it to journalists.
The M-pesa agents blamed MTN for the glitch saying that MTN had switched then off intentionally because it is expecting to launch a similar mobile money transfer service next week.
However MTN’s Marketing Manager Mr Isaac Nsereko refuted the claim saying that MTN does not have an agreement with Safaricom as far as M-pesa is concerned.
“We only have an agreement to offer voice calls and short messaging services (SMS) to Safaricom customers in Uganda,” Mr Nsereko said.
The interruption of the service comes at a time when MTN, whom Safaricom has signed a roaming service deal with, is piloting its money transfer project to be launched next week.
The investigation by Safaricom comes just weeks after the Central Bank of Kenya gave it a clean bill of health after conducting a forensic audit into its operations.
Concerns have been about the safety of subscribers’ money and the ability of the government to counter money laundering through the mobile money transfer.
Security risks, according to experts, are high if money is to be transacted over two networks.
Mr Raghavan Kunigahalli, chief technology officer with SBA technologies, a company offering intelligent Software solutions in Kenya says that other than one network provider being unable to trace the movement beyond its network it is also not possible to know the identity of users.
“Handsets were not designed for financial transactions and lack essential security features,” Mr Kunigahalli said.
He added that chances of the system being hacked into while using two operators and the PIN number being fraudulently obtained are higher than when using one operator.

MTN Launches Money Service In Uganda

MTN Uganda has finally started it’s cell phone-borne money transfer service, injecting a much needed dose of competition into the hitherto staid market and allowing richer urbanites across the country to send cash to their relatives and friends trapped in searing rural poverty.

At the launching ceremony in Kampala on Tuesday evening, BoU governor Mr Tumusiime Mutebile said MTN Mobile Money was a landmark product and “would place Uganda at the forefront of innovation” in using mobile communications technology to revolutionaries rural finance.

To transfer money, a customer will have to first open a mobile account with MTN at any of the company’s dealers. Customers are given a secret code when they send money and they are required to send that code to the recipient for presentation at a payments points. Mr Isaac Nsereko, MTN’s Chief Marketing Officer said they have over 600 transactions points across the country where money can be sent or received. The service will work across networks.

Although the money transfer market has been thriving in Uganda, activity there has largely remained spotty and growth has been tepid, stifled by usurious charges.

Some companies levy as high as 10 per cent of the amount being sent. Mr Nsereko didn’t specify what exactly MTN would charge for its service but signaled that they intended to keep tariffs as low as possible.

MTN’s entry into the market is expected to depress business for some of the key players like Post Bank that have been controlling a sizeable chuck of the marketshare. MTN wouldn’t disclose how much it invested in the product but put in millions of dollars.

Last week, Zain simultaneously launched their own mobile money transfer service in Kenya and Tanzania called Zap and it’s expected to be launched in Uganda soon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Econet Kenya Hits 200,000 Subscribers in Three Months

Econet Wireless's newest network, in Kenya is reported to have signed up 200,000 subscribers since it launched last November - and is aiming for one million customers by the middle of the year. Econet Wireless trades under the Yu brand in the country.

"Now we have close to 200 000 subscribers but the target is to have one-million by July," Econet Kenya's chief executive, Srinivasa Iyengar told Reuters. "In another two to three years, we should have four-million to five-million subscribers easily."

"We are the ... cheapest (network) in town today and we will be the cheapest forever," he said at a promotional road show.

The firm recently secured the Sh 35 billion (US$450 million) loan necessary to fund its network rollout. The deal had been delayed by two months after Econet reported difficulties finding credit during the current global economic downturn.

Last year, Econet Wireless International (EWI) sold a 49% stake in the company to India's Essar Communications Holdings (ECHL). The companies said that the move would significantly benefit Econet Wireless Kenya (EWK), which is 70% owned by EWI, from a rollout as well as product offering perspective.

Figures from the Mobile World database subscriber database reports that Safaricom is the market leader with a market share of 82.3% with Celtel coming in at 17.6%. Telkom Kenya (Orange) has just started a "mobile" type service. The country itself has a population penetration level of 36%.

The regulator has recently announced that it will make a second attempt at launching mobile number portability - which traditionally benefits new entrants into markets.

Orange Makes Top Management Changes

France Telecom-Orange has appointed Jean-Yves Larrouturou, Gervais Pellissier and Louis-Pierre Wenes as deputy CEOs. They are respectively responsible for operations in France, group transformation and group purcharsing.

These are part of a number of corporate appointments to become effective as of 2 March. CFO Gervais Pellissier also will take responsibility for group information systems. Group management committee member Georges Penalver will take responsibility for group strategy and development. Jean-Philippe Vanot will head group innovation and marketing, including Orange Labs and the Technocentre.

Olaf Swantee will take responsibility for operations in Spain in addition to his responsibilities for operations in Europe and Egypt. Raoul Roverato, currently in charge of new growth businesses, will take responsibility for the healthcare division, in addition to content & audience and online advertising. Vivek Badrinath will head networks and carriers, reporting directly to CEO Didier Lombard.

Marc Fossier will manage corporate social responsibility. Brigitte Bourgouin takes responsibility for the carriers in France activity, which integrates relations with MVNOs. She will report to Larrouturou. Anne Bouverot will manage the personal line of business, reporting to Swantee. Partick Roussel will head international business development, also reporting to Larrouturou.

The group management committee remains unchanged. Lombard said these appointments were focused on improving efficiency and innovation, and to reveal new talent within the management team.

Controversy As African Governments Sell Off Phone Companies

As African governments move to sell off incumbent telecommunications companies to save them from collapse, controversies that may scare away potential investors are clouding the privatization process.

Several African governments are privatizing incumbent telecom companies after failing to recapitalize them, hoping that new owners will roll out new plans and services including data, video conferencing and Internet backbone offerings in addition to voice services.

The financially troubled telecom companies need a quick cash injection to save them from collapsing, but deregulation is being marred by accusations of illegal activities in the privatization process and the selection of investors.

In Ghana, the sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone International of the U.K. has been taken to court, while in Zambia, the sale of the Zambia Telecommunications Company (Zamtel) by Minister of Communications and Transport Dora Siliya is also being challenged in the courts of law.

Members of the opposition Convention People's Party (CPP) in Ghana are challenging the constitutionality of the sale agreement, stressing that the process adopted by the government in selling Ghana Telecom contravened the company's code and the country's constitution.

Ghana Telecom was sold in July last year to Vodafone at an approximate value of US$1.3 billion plus a cash injection of $500 million to boost the company's operation, bringing the total to $1.8 billion.

In Zambia former Minister of Communications and Transport William Harrington is challenging the sale of Zamtel, claiming that Minister Siliya has not correctly followed the privatization process.

"Siliya's actions need to be investigated because it is allegedly a total breach of parliamentary and ministerial code of conduct," Harrington said.

In December last year, Siliya signed a memorandum of understanding with RP Capital of the U.K. on behalf of the Zambian government in connection with a $2 million contract to value Zamtel's assets and liabilities and find a buyer of a percentage of shares in the company to make it viable.

Zamtel is a government-run communications utility that provides mobile, fixed and internet services.

Last week, Siliya said time is of the essence, so that the Zambian government does not have to continue to subsidize Zamtel. At the same time, Siliya said the Zambian government does not want to just give away the company to an investor, which is why RP Capital was awarded a contract to value the company.

Siliya added that mobile costs in Zambia were the highest in the region due to Zamtel's monopoly of the international gateway and its inefficiencies.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zambian President Supports Probe Over ZAMTEL Sale

Zambian President Rupiah Banda on Friday said that he welcomed a decision by the country’s chief justice to set up a tribunal to probe Communications and Transport Minister Dora Siliya over her role in the partial sale of the giant state owned telecommunications firm ZAMTEL.

Acting Chief Justice Irene Mambilima said on Thursday that she would set up a tribunal in accordance with the law after public complaints about the conduct of the minister were lodged at the Supreme Court in Lusaka, the capital.

The Zambian Constitution stipulates that the Chief Justice must set up a tribunal to probe alleged misconduct by ministers and Members of Parliament, if a member of the public complains.

In this case, a member of the opposition Patriotic Front (PF) who is also a former minister of communication and transport, William Harrington wrote to the Chief Justice over the alleged misconduct of Siliya in the deal.

Siliya is alleged to have engaged a private consultancy firm based in the Cayman Islands to carry out an evaluation of the assets of ZAMTEL without following tender procedures and ignoring legal advice in the process.

President Banda and vice president George Kunda have both defended Siliya of any wrong doing and instead criticised those questioning the ZAMTEL sale.

But on Friday President Banda said he supported the decision made by Justice Mambilima and directed the Secretary to the Treasury to ensure that funds for the tribunal were made available.

He also urged members of the public to stop debating the ZAMTEL sale so that the tribunal could carry out a professional job and determine whether Siliya was in breach of acceptable procedure by her actions.

Should Siliya be found to have breached procedure, she risks losing her parliamentary seat, which will leave President Banda with no option but to sack her.

SIM Users IN Mauritius To Register

Users of Prepaid Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards in Seychelles will, in the future, have to register their telephones with their providers under a new law that will be passed soon, the Director General of Communications at the Department of Information, Communications and Technology (DICT), Dr George Ah-Thew announced Sunday in the Seychellois capital, Victoria.

Ah-Thew declared on Sunday that some operators already offer their clients the option of voluntarily registering their mobile telephones but added that it has now become imperative to introduce such regulations as people have been using prepaid mobile telephones to commit offences.

Also, Ah-Thew pointed out that the new law will make provision for those people who buy new prepaid starter packs to give their personal information, including their name and addresses. They will also have to bring their ID cards with them so that the providers can verify their details, he stated.

He further stated that all the information will be kept confidentially by the operators.

For his part, Jean Toussaint of the police force indicated that since last year there has been an increase in the number of malicious calls and texts sent by prepaid mobile telephones and that the new regulations will help cut the cost of tracking down unregistered mobile telephone users.

Toussaint further indicated that those persons who refuse to register their telephones by the given time will have them disconnected.

Such regulations are already in force in Mauritius and South Africa, Toussaint declared.

Bintel Awarded Gabon's Fourth Licence

Bahrain based mo­bile holding firm, Bintel has announced that it has been awarded a 15-year mobile operator license in Gabon - making it the fourth operator in the country. The company is expected to launch its network in the third quarter of 2009.

Bintel estimates its initial investment in 2009 in Gabon to be in excess of US$50 million. Bintel is targeting a 6 to 8% share of the Gabon market within its first 12 months and a 30% share within its first 10 years.

"Bintel is committed to redefining Gabon's telecommunications landscape by building a state-of-the-art mobile communications network and providing customers the most advanced mobile services," said Mr. Alawi Baroum, CEO of Bintel. "Bintel's entry into Gabon would further intensify competition in the highly liberalized domestic market, which would ultimately work to the advantage of end users who would have a wider portfolio of services to choose from and can also benefit from more competitive pricing."

According to figures from the Mobile World subscriber tracker, the country ended last September with an estimated 1.36 million mobile phone users - representing a population penetration level of 91%.

Gabon is more prosperous than most nearby countries, with a per capita income of four times the average for Sub-Saharan Africa. This is in large part due to offshore oil production.

MTN Expects 29-34% Rise in EPS

South Africa's MTN has issued a trading statement after it decided that it is likely to report a 29-34 percent rise in full-year adjusted headline earnings per share. The firm is finalising its full year financials for release on 12th March and is required to alert the stock exchange if the results differ by more than 20% from prior guidance.

Shareholders are also advised that the above earnings numbers are further enhanced by the unrealised foreign exchange gains on loans to certain operations and that the actual effective tax rate is expected to be higher than originally anticipated.

The trading statement has neither been reviewed nor reported on by MTN's external auditors. The share price jumped 3% on the news.

Mali Still Talking to Maroc Telecom Over Sotelma Sale

The government of Mali is still in talks to sell a majority stake in national operator Sotelma to Maroc Telecom, reports local daily L'Essor. Maroc Telecom presented its bid for a 51 percent stake in January.

The Moroccan operator, already active in several African countries, offered EUR 252 million, beating bids of EUR 111 million from Sudatel and EUR 80 million from Portugal Telecom, according to the paper.

The government has given itself three months to negotiate with Maroc Telecom, a communications ministry official told the paper. Two weeks ago a delegation from the Moroccan operator visited the country to continue the negotiations.

The ministry official said the government is hoping for an improvement in Maroc Telecom's offer, while also looking to secure certain guarantees on personnel and management after the privatisation. The government has already negotiated a social plan at Sotelma for 610 voluntary redundancies, out of total staff of 1,382. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Libya Invites International Bids for Telecom Licences

Libya invited bids by foreign companies to provide private mobile-phone and landline services, Agence France-Presse said yesterday, citing an unidentified spokesman for the state-owned General Telecommunication Authority.

The North African country, which is expected to grant a fixed-line license and mobile license to one operator, is opening to foreign operators for the first time as it aims to stimulate the Libyan telecom market, AFP reported. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Algerie Telecom Says There's No Need for Privatisation

Algerie Telecom CEO Moussa Benhamadi has announced in a national radio interview that the group had sufficient resources for its development and that it was no longer justified to open up its share capital.

In October last year the executive had said it was the government's decision to make, but that the group may be competitive regionally and internationally in two or three years. Algeria's government has been planning to partially privatise Algerie Telecom for four years. Benhamadi revealed yesterday that the operator would invest EUR 100 million by 2013 to expand the fibre-optic network and to make it accessible to most Algerians, notably in urban areas.

Algerie Telecom aims to have 6 million fixed network subscribers in 2013 and to increase the penetration rate of IPTV. It stood at 10.6 percent in 2008, compared to 5.02 percent in 2000. The operator generated a DZD 60 billion turnover in 2008, and invested DZD 80 billion between 2003-2008, a quarter of which went into upgrading the fixed network, said Benhamadi. He added that the group aimed to provide free local calls from 2013. 

Bintel Becomes Fourth Operator in Gabon

Bahrain-based Bintel has been awarded a 15-year mobile licence by Artel, the telecommunications regulatory authority of Gabon. The company, which becomes the fourth mobile operator in the country, is expected to roll out its services in the third quarter of 2009.

With this award, Bintel estimates its initial investment in 2009 in Gabon to be in excess of USD 50 million. Under the agreement, the company is licensed to provide the latest voice and data services to customers in Gabon, including high-speed data and video conferencing. Following the licence acquisition, Bintel has appointed Gilles Villenaut as general manager for its Gabon operations. 

Gabon has an estimated mobile penetration of about 90 percent, which is estimated to grow to 120 percent by 2011. According to Artel, Gabon currently has about 1.3 million mobile subscribers.

Zain's market share stands at about 58 percent, Gabon Telecom at 34 percent and Moov at 8 percent. Bintel is targeting a 6 to 8 percent share of the Gabon market within its first 12 months and a 30 percent share within its first 10 years. 

Zain Kicks Off Money Transfer Service With East Africa Launch

Leading mobile telecommunications provider Zain has announced plans to bring mobile banking to over 100 million people in East Africa with the launch of its new service, Zap.
Zap will be initially available in Kenya and Tanzania prior to launch in Uganda. Zap represents the most comprehensive mobile banking service ever launched and will provide millions of people with access to banking for the very first time.
Zain is partnering with leading international and regional banks including Citigroup and Standard Chartered to launch Zap, which will allow Zain customers in the three countries to use their mobile phone to:
o   Pay bills and pay for goods and services
o   Receive money and send money to friends and family
o   Send and receive money to the bank accounts
o   Withdraw cash
o   Top up their own airtime account or top up someone else's
o   Send airtime to Zain customers in East Africa
o   Manage their bank accounts
The Zap service will also be included as part of Zain’s pioneering One Network service, meaning that customers will be able to send airtime to other Zain customers across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. One Network allows travelling customers to move across geographic borders without roaming surcharges, recharge their mobile phones with locally purchased top up cards and receive calls for free.
Dr. Saad Al Barrak, Zain Group’s Chief Executive Officer said: "The launch of Zap represents the latest chapter in our work to push the boundaries of mobile communications. For any market in the world, the combination of services we are providing would be exciting; but when set in an African context, the implications are especially profound.”
He further added “With a potential customer base of over 100 million people in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, many of whom have never had access to formal financial services, we believe Zap will reshape the future of banking in Africa."
Zap will provide customers with increased security and flexibility, reducing the need to carry cash and ensuring payments between friends and family remain secure. A password is needed for each transaction and the service is protected through a state-of-the-art security application. Customers will also benefit from being able to access the service 24 hours a day, seven days a week through their handset, providing the convenience of accessing cash anytime, anywhere.
Zain customers can sign-up for free for the new Zap banking and payment services by completing an application form and handing it over to registered Zain agents in tens of thousands of villages, towns and cities across East Africa. Zain will then provide the customer with a mobile wallet, which will allow them to use their mobile phone in much the same way as a bank account debit card and manage their money through their handset. The service is supported on all handsets including ultra low cost handsets (ULCH) which Zain is successfully rolling out across the continent.
Zain and its partners are confident that Zap will increase access to banking services in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where formal banking services are largely restricted to urban populations. Eighty per cent of Kenya's and ninety-five per cent of Tanzania's and Uganda's populations do not have currently have access to banking services.

Zain, in partnership with Citigroup and Standard Chartered Bank, is ensuring that the services meet all the required in-country banking regulations as stipulated by the central banks for the launch of Zap services. In addition Zain’s banking partners will facilitate payments and settlement processes in accordance with the terms and conditions agreed with the in country banking regulations.

Zain plans to roll-out the enhanced Zap service to the rest of its African and Middle East network following the East Africa launch in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. During a three month trial phase the service was used by several international companies including Coca Cola who used it to pay their dealers in Tanzania.
By using Zap millions of customers will be able to pay their electricity bills in Kenya and Tanzania, while Zain also plans to increase the number of services that can be paid for using Zap as part of its aim to transform the use of money in the Africa.
As part of its corporate social responsibility programme Zain is funding communication in several remote rural areas which have been designated Millennium Villages across Africa. Using Zap, Zain customers and members of the public will be able to make donations to fund the Millennium Villages project. More than 400,000 people live in the Millennium Villages and the project is investing in them and their communities towards finding a sustainable end to extreme poverty. Members of the public around the world will be able to make donations using Causes on Facebook and Zap to the Millennium Villages. Causes leverages online social networking for offline social change. More than 30 million people around the world use Causes to have an impact on the issues that matter most to them, making it the world’s largest platform for philanthropy and civic engagement.

Angola's Unitel Launches New Single Platform

­Comverse has announced that Angola’s largest mobile operator, Unitel SA, has launched its Voice HUB, a single platform for all voice applications that introduces services and new revenue opportunities.

“The rapid expansion of our customer base requires new capabilities and services,” said CEO Amilcar Safeca of Unitel SA, which has more than 4.5 million subscribers. “Partnering with a results-oriented market leader like Comverse enables us to offer our users the best and most advanced services.”

The Comverse Voice HUB makes the most of voice traffic with a single-platform approach that views each call in totality, with revenue opportunities at three key points: the pre-call, call, and post-call periods.

For instance, Unitel SA users now will receive Visual Voicemail, which enhances the traditional voicemail experience. All voicemail messages are displayed in an in-box, whose email-like interface provides such key information as date, time, length of message, caller number and identity, when available. Users can scan the messages, click to hear new and previously heard messages in any order, and then reply, forward, or save messages.

Users also will receive text notification – known as Who Called – every time they miss a call while their phone is unreachable (turned off, out of service range) and can return those calls with a single click. In addition, callers trying to contact unreachable parties now will receive text notification – known as Notify Me – as soon as the party becomes available and can click to connect. This eliminates the need for repeat dialing. Who Called and Notify Me are key elements in Comverse’s Call Completion offering.

"Comverse Voice HUB is a single platform supporting multiple services, designed to increase revenues and reduce costs,” said Urban Gillstrom, President, Global Sales at Comverse, the world's leading supplier of software and systems enabling value-added messaging and content services, converged billing and active customer management, and IP communications.

Orange Deploys Ericsson Solar-Powered Base Sations in Guinea Conakry

Orange Guinea Conakry and Ericsson are deploying over 100 base stations fully powered by solar energy, connecting remote parts of rural Africa. Using Ericsson's energy-efficient base stations, a hybrid diesel-battery solution and solar panels, Orange is increasing mobile coverage in rural and urban areas.

Alassane Diene, CEO of Orange-Guinea Conakry, says: "We are reducing our energy bill. These base stations are also easier to install and require less maintenance than the traditional site. They also offer greater reliability and therefore considerably improved quality of service."

Ericsson's hybrid diesel-battery energy solution replaces one of a site's diesel generators with a bank of specially designed batteries that can handle a large amount of charging and discharging. This self-contained power solution can be set to meet the batteries' optimal charging and discharging levels, extending the lifetime of the battery and the generator, and reducing energy-related costs by about 50 percent.

The Ericsson BTS 2111 radio base station is a main-remote solution without any active moving parts such as cooling fans. It reduces energy consumption up to 50 percent, allowing the site to be fully powered by solar energy, supported by a battery bank for 24/7 operation.

Orange Group intends to have more than 1,000 wholly solar-powered base stations in its African operations by the end of 2009.

Orange Botswana Choses Alvarion for WiMAX Project

Alvarion says that it has won a contract from Orange Botswana for a turnkey WiMAX deployment, using its 4Motion end-to-end solution. The commercial network built at the 2.5 GHz frequency band enables Orange Botswana to provide advanced data services to businesses and homes in Gaborone and Francistown, Botswana’s two largest cities with a total population of over 330,000.

The first network was launched in June 2008 in Gaborone – Botswana’s capital and one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa. Following this successful deployment Orange Botswana increased the coverage in Gaborone and launched a second network in Francistown – an important center for industry and commerce, in November 2008. Future extensions of the networks are planned in other areas throughout the country.

“WiMAX enables a whole new wireless broadband experience for our customers,” said Wilfried Yver Head of Internet Service Provider of Orange Botswana. “We are confident that Alvarion’s proven global expertise in wireless broadband technologies and commitment to WiMAX will help us bring superior Internet service to our end-users, now and in the future. Alvarion’s innovative technology and complete offering enables us to answer the immediate need for high-quality, yet reasonably priced Internet access in the urban areas of the country. Our subscribers are already enjoying the benefits of the technology and we are very interested in the new opportunities 802.16e WiMAX could bring to this market.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Alvarion is also providing Orange Botswana with project management and implementation capabilities including network planning, network dimensioning, installation, technical support and professional services.

Botswana’s population is nearing two million with one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world of just above 4%.

Uganda Telecom Selects Redknee For Its Mobile Money Service

Redknee, a leading provider of mission-critical software and solutions for communications service providers, is pleased to announce that it has been selected by Uganda Telecom to provide Redknee's Mobile Money 2.0 solution, enabling Uganda Telecom subscribers to pay for goods and securely store and transfer funds with their mobile phones. Implementation will begin as soon as all requirements for launching the service have been approved.

It has been projected that almost 90 percent of the five million households in Uganda do not have a bank account. Redknee's Mobile Money services will enable Uganda Telecom to provide its subscribers the means to store funds easily and to send payments and transfers using a safe and inexpensive channel.

Redknee's newly introduced Mobile Money 2.0 solution enables subscribers to store and transfer funds through their mobile handset, providing an ideal service for developing countries that may have poor or limited banking resources in their rural communities.

Some of the rural regions of Uganda lack an easily accessible banking infrastructure, which has been a key barrier to providing financial services. Through increased mobile penetration in Uganda and the expected launch of Mobile Money, Uganda Telecom will be providing Ugandans with unparalleled access to a new generation of financial services.

"Uganda Telecom realizes that the benefits of Redknee's Mobile Money solution go beyond innovation and service excellence, but also have the potential to deliver socio-economic change. I believe this solution will put Uganda Telecom in good stead to truly elevate Uganda's citizens with easy access to financial services across the board," says Hans Paulsen, Chief Commercial Officer of Uganda Telecom.

The Mobile Money service is planned to be available initially for domestic payments and transfers, and Uganda Telecom has the potential to expand the service and other microfinance initiatives easily, quickly and cost effectively to international regions. Uganda Telecom serves over 1 million subscribers.

"The benefits of Mobile Money services for the high-growth markets translate into strong socio-economic benefits. This milestone that Uganda Telecom has committed to achieving helps to truly elevate Uganda's citizens by providing easy access to financial services," says Mark Yaphe, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at Redknee.

Redknee's Mobile Money portfolio includes Mobile Wallet, Mobile Money Transfer, Roaming Recharge and Airtime Reseller. Redknee's Mobile Money solution is easily integrated into any existing billing solution, reducing the expense and time-to-market for operators.

Tanzania Starts Laying US$600 million Undersea Cable

Tanzania's efforts to set up a communication system to connect international broadband networks started with the laying of a US$600 million undersea cable in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday.

An official from the Seacom Company, the private firm implementing the project, said that the undersea fibre optic cable has been laid down in the Indian Ocean water of commercial capital Dar es Salaam. The trials for the new communication system have been set for March 2009.

Speaking to reporters in Dar es Salaam, Seacom Tanzania managing director Anna Kahama said the project was expected to be complete by June this year. The new technology, which is alternative to the satellite system, is set to lower telecommunications costs by 95 percent, Kahama said.

"Currently, satellite costs about US$300 per megabyte per second while the use of fibre optic cables will cost US$100 per megabite per second," she said.

This is the first fibre optic cable of its kind in East Africa. The cable will be connected to the fibre optic centres in Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, India and Djibouti.

Four Tanzanians are currently undergoing training in India on how the system works. On returning they will assume the positions of station manager, engineer and cable station technical technicians at a centre in Dar es Salaam.

Seacom will be the system's service provider on the East Coast of Africa, linking Southern and East Africa, Europe and Southern Asia.

The company's construction manager, Chriss Albert, said the technology was now common in most parts of the world - except Africa.

"This is high-performance optical transmission equipment," he said. "It connects customers to inland terrestrial networks and other cable landing stations all over the world."

MTN Apologises to Ivory Coast's President

The MTN Group, one of Africa’s largest telecoms companies, has apologised to the President of Ivory Coast Mr Laurent Gbagbo after the Chief Executive Officer of the company’s subsidiary in that country, Mr Aimable Mpore, humiliated him.

Mr Mpore was subsequently expelled by the government of Ivory Coast. According to a Bloomberg news report, it was claimed that Mr Mpore had made a financial donation of $132,000 to a former secretary in President Gbagbo’s office to help build a clinic and buy an ambulance.

“The authorities are blaming Mr Mpore, a Rwandan-Canadian national, for failing to cross-check with the presidency before making the donation,” the report said.

The Secretary, Ms Bléhon Emilienne was subsequently arrested on charges of alleged fraud and bribery - although it may prove difficult to pursue a trial if Mr Mpore is barred from returning to the country.

In a statement released by MTN South Africa, the company offered an “apology to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Ivory Coast, the Minister of Interior and other affected officials who may have been the victims of this identify fraud incident.”

According to MTN, the incident was a case of an identity fraud against MTN Ivory Coast in which the culprit falsely used the names of high ranking government officials and not a deliberate attempt by Mr Mpore or MTN to bring shame to Mr Gbagbo and his government.

Mr Mpore worked in Uganda for years as the boss of MTN Uganda’s top rival, Uganda Telecom, before he quit and left the country. Under him, UTL staggered and was reinvigorated only when the Libyan investors came in.

“MTN is committed to playing a supportive role in the economic development of Ivory Coast, as demonstrated by its huge investments which are contributing to the rapid development of the telecommunications sector in the country,” said MTN Corporate Affairs Group Executive January Nozipho.

She also expressed MTN Group’s confidence in Mr Mpore, saying he was the victim - and not an accomplice - in the identify fraud incident.

“The CEO has always acted in good faith while carrying out his duties. It was never his intention - or that of MTN CI - to discredit the person or the position of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Ivory Coast,” she said. 

Safaricom Roaming Clients In Uganda Irked By SMS Charges

Although, it is the most profitable company, and also boasts the cheapest local rates in East Africa, Safaricom’s subscribers in Uganda are complaining about the newly introduced exorbitant calling and short message (sms) rates in Uganda.

Previously, the subscribers, most of whom are Kenyans, were being charged Kshs8 (Shs192) per minute on Ongea Tariff, and relatively the same charges on other tariffs like the belated Jibambie.

This has been increased by over 200 pc. The rates now stand at between Kshs25 (Shs600) to Kshs28 (Shs672) per minute and Ksh10 (Shs240) for a text message.

Safaricom is charging us expensively,” remarked Scola Kamau, a Kenyan student in Uganda.
This is affecting Safaricom’s subscriber base in Uganda as it is losing out most of them to Zain and MTN.

When contacted to explain the phenomenon, a Safaricom customer care personnel claimed the tariffs for Safaricom subscribers who go out of Kenyan borders will not be the same as was the case.

The roaming service is similar to the boarderless service that was pioneered by the Zain group.  In Uganda, Safaricom offers the service through MTN Uganda and Uganda Telecom.

The exorbitant taxation system in Kenya could be one of the reasons for the hike in tariffs that will mostly hurt subscribers outside of Kenya.

Currently, the Value Added Tax is as high as 26 per cent and it could be more, hurting investors, even though they rake in millions of shillings in profits each year.

However, what explains the new charges is a technical hitch the telecommunications Company experienced in late January this year.

For about two days, it was glee for Safaricom subscribers in Uganda whenever they would top up their accounts with MTN credit cards. A top up of Shs500 (approximately Kshs20) would recharge the subscriber’s account to Kshs2000 (more than Shs48,000).

Taking advantage of the technical hitch, some people would top up to as much as Kshs200,000 (approximately Shs48,000) and transfer as much as they wanted,” said Innocent Masaki, who works as a customer care agent with Zain-Uganda.

He personally topped up more than Kshs150,000 (approximately Shs3.6 million) though he wouldn’t transfer more than Kshs10,000 (about Shs240,000) per day. However, the lucrative loophole was short lived as all sim cards were blocked but activated with a credit-less account.

Safaricom must have made losses and they want to re-coup the money they lost during the technical error,” says one subscriber.

“We are all paying for the sins of a few people.”
“I have money but I fear to top up,” said Wycliff Mugun. He added, “Safaricom is for receiving only.”

And, indeed, Safaricom might also pay for the exodus of a few of its subscriber base to its local competitor or to its Ugandan counterparts MTN, Zain, Warid and Uganda Telecom.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

East Africa ICT Earnings Soar

Earnings in the ICT sector in East Africa will rise from $164 million in 2007 to a $788 million by 2014 due to a favourable business environment for Internet service providers and growth in broadband connections, according to a just released report by market analyst Frost & Sullivan.

According to the firm, the region’s lack of an undersea cable connection has meant that Internet services have been prohibitively expensive, limiting the number of people who could get hooked onto the net, since countries have had to rely on expensive satellite technology for international connectivity. This has had a negative effect on the earnings of players in the sector.

“Current deployment of undersea cable systems will provide much-needed broadband connectivity in the region, positively impacting on the cost of Internet services,” noted Frost & Sullivan research analyst Letticia Mulenga Nkumbula in a briefing statement Saturday.

“Both Kenya and Tanzania are going to have a landing point of their own, thus putting the region at an advantage,” she added.

According to Frost & Sullivan, governments’ support for the ICT sector in the region has seen the pace of liberalisation pick up, with the attendant enactment of the requisite regulatory and market legislation in the EAC’s five member states — Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

Rwanda has taken the lead in this aspect, with the regional powerhouse, Kenya, enacting the Kenya Communications Act, 2008, last December.

Elsewhere, the liberalisation of the telecoms sector and the introduction of converged licences in the region have spurred increased competition among Internet service providers (ISPs).

This has caused a reduction in telecom tariffs, resulting in a positive effect on the subscriber base, analysts say.

In the Internet market, mobility and the ability to provide faster data transfer rates are some of the key competitive factors,” said Mr Nkumbula.

Analysts say that the level of aggressiveness demonstrated by mobile telecom operators in the data space means that internet service providers (ISPs’) across East Africa will need to look beyond their traditional Internet services to include net solutions and content in order to expand their markets.

East Africa to Pilot SMS Browser on Nokia Phones

Mobile-XL, a USA based mobile technology company has announced a collaboration with Nokia to start embedding its SMS based browser in mobile phones for selected African markets. As early as March 2009, a select series of Nokia handsets shipping into Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania will be equipped with the firms XLBrowser software service.

Commenting on the pilot in East Africa, Agatha Gikunda, marketing manager for messaging and internet services, Sub-Saharan Africa said, "Outfitting Nokia handsets with the XLBrowser is a great opportunity to provide SMS based services through a graphical, easy-to-use interface,"

Guy Kamgaing-Kouam, CEO of Mobile-XL shared, "We are excited about our collaboration with Nokia, a company that shares the same commitment to quality, customer experience and empowerment of the bottom of the pyramid. We have been working on it for almost a year now and are pleased to finally see the service officially go live in these countries.

The reach and clout they provide, combined with the XLBrowser’s simple and affordable user access to global and local information, allows us to make an immense impact on real lives in underserved markets. With this collaboration, we are taking a gigantic step toward realizing our mission of bridging the digital divide."

Zambian Government Seeks Zamtel Partner

The Zambian government on Friday stated that it was seeking an equity partner to help run the Zambia Telecommunications Company (ZAMTEL) because government has no funds to revive the giant state-owned firm.

Communications and Transport Minister Dora Siliya said this in a ministerial statement to parliament on Friday. The minister’s comments come after days of controversy surrounding the sale of the cash strapped firm, prompting the Speaker of Parliament to order government to issue a statement on the matter.

The government has been accused of using corrupt methods to sell off the company, by engaging a consultancy firm based in the Cayman Islands to carry out the evaluation of the company without following proper procedures.

Government procedure forbids the engagement of a single consultant without first inviting bids from prospective consultants and then selecting the best bid.

In the case of the Cayman Islands firm, Siliya is alleged to have engaged the firm without inviting bids from other consultants.

But Siliya told parliament that the government’s urgent intention is to save ZAMTEL from total collapse, and an evaluation of its considerable assets have to be done first before bringing in a partner.

The firm is on the brink of collapse and owes former employees and others over 600 billion kwacha (115 million US dollars).

She said government recognised that ZAMTEL is a strategic institution, hence the decision to only partially sell it off and maintain an interest in it.

She dismissed reports that government would pay the Cayman Island consultant two million US dollars to evaluate the assets of the company, and said the company would only be paid 250 million kwacha (48,000 US dollars).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kenyan Village Gets Mobile Services Using Wind and Power Energy Thanks to Zain and Ericsson

As part of the Millennium Villages project, Ericsson and operator, Zain have built a green-powered site in the remote village of Dertu in northeastern Kenya. Using a combination of wind and solar power addresses the two key deterrents to building telecommunication infrastructure in remote areas: operating costs and power supply reliability.

Jan Embro, President of Ericsson in sub-Saharan Africa, says: "The ideal climate conditions mean we expect to see an 80 percent reduction in energy-related operational costs for the site, compared with using diesel generators. Green sites like this one have great potential for solving the power-grid challenge across Africa to bring mobile communication to the poorest of the poor so they can improve their lives and break the poverty cycle."

Chris Gabriel, CEO of Zain Africa, added: "With reliable and affordable mobile voice and data communication, Dertu's nomadic pastoral community of more than 5000 people has the chance to build on the economic and social gains it has made since Ericsson and Zain, partnering with the Earth Institute, first brought mobile communication to the region through a temporary network installed last year."

Since then, rather than making the 100km journey by dirt road to the larger city of Garissa, many people from nearby communities go to Dertu to make calls, access improved health services and take advantage of new businesses -­ making the village an economic hub for the region.

Ahmed Mohamed, the science coordinator for the Millennium Villages project in Dertu, says: "The people of Dertu say the arrival of the mobile network is the day when Dertu was reborn; reborn because of business development. Since the mobile network came, the pastoralists who earn their living from livestock just call the neighboring town for the price of cattle, and the moment they know they can easily take the animals to the market or, if the price is low, the animals continue grazing. It's wonderful, wonderful. There is no greater support you can give a community than that."

Pastoralists are also using their mobile phones to spread information about where to find good pasture and water, which is often hard to come by in the extremely arid region. Phones have also been used to find child herders who have become lost roaming over vast distances in search of feed.

The social impact has also been significant, bringing families closer to distant relatives, providing vital local connections for better health care and remote education, and a way to communicate quickly with government agencies to ensure timely relief in emergency situations, such as damage to the village bore, the only water supply.

The more than 3000 phone minutes logged daily have also created a market for items such as SIM cards, second-hand phones, scratch cards, charging and accessories, while local business people can slash transport costs through mobile ordering and invoicing.

Today, there are more than 4 billion mobile subscriptions globally. The Dertu experience demonstrates that connecting the next billion people, even those in the most remote parts of the world, can be achieved with a positive business case while ensuring services are affordable for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.