Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Starcomms Loss for H1 Falls

Nigerian CDMA operator Starcomms has reported a pre-tax loss of NGN2.94 billion (USD19.1 million) for the first half of 2010, news agency Reuters reports. The figure represents a fall from a loss of NGN3.68 billion posted in the same period a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the fixed-wireless company’s revenue fell to NGN16.12 billion in the first six months of 2010 from turnover of NGN16.92 billion generated in 1H09.

Starcomms has approximately 3.2 million CDMA customers in Nigeria, with a network covering 31 major cities, 22 States and covering 175 towns.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Orange Joins Kenya Tariffs War

Telkom Kenya, which operates Kenya’s smallest cellco by subscribers Orange Kenya, has become the fourth and final operator to enter the ‘price war’ that has dominated the wireless sector since regulator the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) cut its interconnection rates by 50% last week.

Telkom has responded by reducing its own rates to KES2 (USD0.024) for calls within the Orange network, while calls to other networks will be charged at KES4 per minute, for both post- and pre-paid subscribers.

Meanwhile, when announcing the company’s new mobile tariffs, Telkom CEO Mickael Ghossein complained that the CCK had not consulted him before lowering the interconnection rates for fixed line services. Mr Ghossein commented: ‘We have taken issue with the CCK’s decision to set the interconnection rate for fixed lines with GSM at KES1.67, on the basis that it was too low to be sustainable and did not take into account running costs as well as network maintenance costs. We can easily close shop if we charge less than KES3 for off-net calls. The market is in a big mess. What other players are doing is not professional. My strategy is to sustain the company and grow revenues. Voice is dead, broadband is the future. At Telkom Kenya, with the enormous broadband resources we have, it is at our advantage as others fight.’

Telkom is the only operator licensed to provide fixed line services within the Kenyan wireline market

Econet to Introduce Per Second Billing

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the country’s largest mobile operator, will launch comprehensive per-second billing for all national and international calls, for all its pre- and post-paid users next month, its CEO Douglas Mboweni has announced. The GSM provider, which currently offers per-second billing on certain services, said the move applies for corporate and residential subscribers, at peak or off-peak times, and on calls to any mobile or fixed network. ‘The cost of making calls will be cheaper, so traffic volumes will increase. We had to first clear issues of capacity before [fully implementing] per second billing,’ Mboweni said, explaining the fact that the firm had delayed the implementation after announcing the move around a year ago. Zimbabwe's three mobile operators – Econet, Telecel and NetOne – were given until September to implement per-second billing by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ); NetOne was reportedly the first network to charge customers per-second but to date has not announced a comprehensive service covering cross-network calls; Telecel is also yet to confirm it will comply with the new billing system. The three cellcos are also facing a 31 August deadline set by POTRAZ to register the details of all pre-paid mobile SIM card users.

Telkom Resumes Talks With AT&T Over Partnership

South African telco Telkom has announced that it is looking to restart talks with US-based AT&T about its long-mooted African partnership, which has so far brought very little new business to South Africa.

In April 2009 Telkom signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with AT&T that would allow the US firm's African clients to use Telkom's internet network when expanding or conducting business on the continent.

In time, Telkom's network was due to be linked to AT&T's global network, boosting its business prospects further. It is thought that progress has been stunted by issues related to pricing and after-sales support.

Acting CEO Jeffrey Hedberg told Reuters: ‘I am going to re-ignite discussions with AT&T. The partnership has not progressed to an extent we would like to date.’ Hedberg also confirmed that Telkom’s ZAR6 billion (USD800 million) plan to enter South Africa's mobile phone market by the end of 2010 is still on course, adding: ‘We are working very hard and remain committed to launch our mobile before year-end’.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

MWEB to Finally Launch New ADSL Product

South African ISP MWEB has announced that its long-rumoured 10Mbps uncapped ADSL products will finally be available in September.

The company has explained that the delay is down to incumbent PSTN operator Telkom’s hesitant upgrades of MWEB’s IPC platform – the bandwidth that connects MWEB customers to Telkom’s last-mile network.

Although 4Mbps ADSL subscribers in certain areas have already been upgraded to 10Mbps, users in cities such as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth are only reporting speeds in the region of 6Mbps. As things currently stand, MWEB has to make use of additional capacity on its SAIX network in order to meet its total ADSL demand. It is reported that the additional SAIX capacity costs MWEB ‘a great deal of money’.

A spokesperson for MWEB commented: ‘Firstly, we want to satisfy ourselves that Telkom has addressed some of the congestion problems on its own network, to cater for this additional demand. Then, we are waiting for Telkom to finalise an upgrade to our own IPC platform.

These upgrades were put on hold during the World Cup, but work has now resumed and will hopefully be completed within the next three to four weeks. Until we have this additional capacity in place we are not comfortable of being able to offer a product that lives up to our own high standards, and meets your expectations in terms of performance and reliability.’

Uganda Gets New Mobile User's Watchdog

A new body has been set up to protect the interests of mobile phone users in Uganda.

A report from AllAfrica.com says that the Mobile Telephone Watchdog will help guard consumers against bad practice by the country’s cellular operators.

Uganda’s wireless sector was home to more than 4.4 million subscribers at the end of June 2010.  MTN Uganda controls around 46% of the market, with Zain Uganda claiming around 19%, and Uganda Telecom and Warid Telecom accounting for approximately 16% each. The remaining 3% is split between Orange Uganda and I-Tel.

CCK Consultants Indemnify Safaricom

Safaricom, Kenya’s largest cellco by subscribers, has been vindicated in its battle against stringent new regulations introduced by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK).

After Safaricom threatened the regulator with legal action, information minister Samuel Poghisio hired UK consultancy firm Frontier Economics to review the country’s new competition rules. 
According to documents viewed by Business Daily, Frontier Economics found key aspects of the contested rules to be out of line with international best practices, and recommended that they be revised or struck out altogether.

Citing the European Commission’s telecom sector competition rules – which stipulate that a player must have at least 40% to 50% of market control to be declared dominant, rather than the 25% figure used in Kenya - Frontier Economics has now placed a heavy burden of proof on the CCK if it intends to act against Safaricom’s dominance. Further, the British consultants have suggested that the CCK cut the 90 days notice clause regarding new tariffs to 30 days, reducing the chance of Safaricom being upstaged by its smaller rivals.

In addition, Frontier Economics suggests that the CCK should lose the power to adjust tariffs independently, recommending that the watchdog should advise the operator about proposed changes without being specific about the mooted tariffs.

Safaricom controls 81.5% of the Kenyan wireless market.

New Intra-network rates Could See Fall In Call Rates In Kenya

Cross-network end-user call rates in Kenya are expected to drop next week when new wholesale interconnection charges (mobile termination rates [MTRs]) are announced, reports the Daily Nation.

The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) appointed UK-based strategy consultants, Analysys Mason to study the country’s call rates last month, and the consultancy firm has recommended halving the current fees that cellcos charge one another for terminating calls. Analysys Mason advised the CCK that MTRs should be cut to KES4.42 (USD0.05) in September, and then decreased in phases before being scrapped altogether in January 2014. MTRs have decreased in recent years from KES6.4 in 2007 to KES5.6 (2008) and KES4.72 (2009). According to sources, the CCK will unveil the new rates within the next seven days.

Atul Chaturvedi, country manager of Essar Telecom Kenya, welcomed the move, complaining that the current termination charges make calls to other networks expensive, and lock mobile phone subscribers into networks with cheaper inter-network charges, curtailing market growth.

He commented: ‘We are happy with the recommendations, and hope that the benefits will be passed on to operators and enable us to reduce calling charges’.

Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph criticised the ‘price wars’ that have dominated the Kenyan wireless market in recent years, suggesting that the industry needs effective competition through product innovation and quality of service, adding: ‘We cannot sell minutes at a loss. Let them reduce rates, but it will only be for a short time. A business must make returns’.

G-Mobile Lays Out Its Plans

Malawi-based start-up cellular operator G-Mobile has announced that it will invest USD150 million in the next three years to become a realistic contender in the country’s GSM market.

CEO Peter Davies also told reporters that the South African-backed company had already injected USD25 million into the network, which is expected to be commercially launched by the end of the year.

On 20 May 2010 G-Mobile, registered as Global Advanced Integrated Networks (GAIN), was given 30 days to pay a USD6.9 million fine issued by regulator MACRA for failing to deploy its wireless network.

However, the cellco took the matter to the High Court in Mzuzu and gained an injunction against the penalty until a judicial review could be carried out. On 12 July Justice Lovemore Chikopa upheld the injunction and set 23 August 2010 as the date for the matter to be heard in court. G-Mobile has partnered Telkom Management Services of South Africa to help it plan and deploy a network and is using ZTE of China as an equipment supplier.

Mr Davies claimed that the newcomer aims to raise the level of quality in Malawi’s mobile services sector as well as bringing down the cost of calls in the country.

Vimpelcom 'About to Buy' Weather

Reuters reports that Russia’s Vimpelcom and Naguib Sawiris are ‘close’ to signing a term sheet for the sale of the Egyptian tycoon’s holding company Weather Investments, which owns 50%-plus-one-share of Egyptian-based mobile group Orascom Telecom and 100% of Italian telco Wind Telecomunicazioni as well as controlling Greek operator Wind Hellas.

The report, citing Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, said that Sawiris is looking at selling Weather to Vimpelcom with help from Lazard, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. Vimpelcom declined to comment on the Il Sole 24 Ore report today whilst Orascom was not immediately available for comment.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Zantel Introduces New Flat Rate Tariff

Tanzanian mobile services provider Zanzibar Telecom Limited (Zantel) has announced the launch of a new uniform call rate plan to other networks, marking a new wave of competition in the cut throat domestic sector.

The East African Business Week newspaper reports that Zantel’s offer called 'Twanga Kote Kote' (call anywhere) gives its subscribers freedom to make calls at any time to any network in Tanzania for only TZS1.99 (USD0.00133) per second, down from TZS5.50 per second previously - a 68% reduction.

The operator’s move is likely to be followed by other market players, while Peter Saluwati, the Executive Director for the national regulator, the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), welcomed the development, saying that lowering the across network charges was ‘good news’ for end users.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Russian Cellco in Orascom Bid

Reuters, quoting Russian newspaper Kommersant, reports that Russian cellco Vimpelcom is considering a potential deal to purchase 51% of Egyptian cellular group Orascom Telecom as well as take control of Italian full-service telco Wind Telecomunicazioni by buying out the two companies’ mutual holding company Weather Investments.

Weather Investments is controlled by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris.

The Kommersant report, which did not name its sources, said Vimpelcom could pay for the deal with cash and shares, with Sawiris and his partners getting approximately 20%-23% of voting rights in Vimpelcom, which currently has a market value of USD22.6 billion.

The potential deal, worth an estimated USD6.5 billion without debt, would reduce the stakes of Russia’s Alfa Group and Norway's Telenor in Vimpelcom to around 35% and 27% respectively, from 44.65% and 36.03% at present, following the Russian firm’s merger earlier in the year with Ukraine’s Kyivstar. Elsewhere, Wind’s Greek sister telco Wind Hellas is currently receiving offers from potential new investors as it aims to restructure its capital.

Zain Signs Deal To Enable Network Expansion

An unconfirmed report from the online journal Trade Finance states that Standard Chartered Bank has signed a telecoms equipment deal with Ghanaian cellco Zain Communications Ghana Limited (formerly WESTEL), backed by Sweden’s credit agency EKN. It is understood the value of the contract is USD77 million and will be used to provide telecoms equipment to support the cellco’s network expansion in the country.

Zain Ghana had approximately 1.375 million mobile users at 30 June 2010 up from 1.293 million at the start of the year, a market share of 8.4%. Its networks covered an estimated 53% of the population.

Econet gets Credit For Harare Expansion

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe says it will strengthen its mobile network in the capital Harare under a new USD60 million loan from Swedish export credit agency EKN, adding to existing credit lines with China and the Egyptian-based African Export-Import Bank. CEO of Econet, Douglas Mboweni, said the entire facility would be channelled into buying infrastructure for Harare to meet rising demand, adding that engineers from Swedish technology partner Ericsson had already arrived to install the equipment.

Wataniya Q3 Profits Down 69%

Wataniya, Kuwait's second largest mobile phone operator by subscribers has reported a 69% drop in net profit for the three months ending 30 June 2010.

The company made a net profit of KWD19.6 million (USD68.32 million) during Q2 2010, down from KWD63.5 million one year earlier. Net profit in 1H10 was reported at KWD35.8 million, down from KWD78.8 million in the first half of 2009.

Wataniya, itself a unit of Qatar Telecom (Qtel, which will publish its Q2 results on Sunday), operates in markets including Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the Maldives.

Orascom Atributes Q3 Loss to Forex

Egyptian telecoms group Orascom Telecom has revealed a net loss for the three-month period ended 30 June 2010 on the back of unrealised foreign exchange losses.

In the second quarter of its 2010 fiscal year the company posted a net loss after minority interests of USD66.1 million, reporting that forex losses in the three-month period were USD120 million; by comparison, in the same period a year earlier Orascom posted a net profit of USD111.8 million.

The Egyptian company also noted that impairment charges in Algeria and start-up losses attributed to its Canadian operations had both impacted on the bottom line.

Revenues however fared better, with Orascom generating turnover of USD1.058 billion in 2Q10 compared with USD990.6 million a year earlier, a 7% year-on-year increase, although monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) continued to decline across all regions of operation.

In the three-month period Orascom reported that global ARPU was USD5, down 16.7% y-o-y, with Lebanon-based Alfa ad Egyptian cellco MobiNil reporting the largest declines, of 25% and 22.9% respectively.

In operational terms, Orascom saw subscriber growth at every one of its subsidiaries in the quarter, with the group’s total wireless customer base standing at 99.079 million at end-June 2010. Mobilink, Orascom’s Pakistani unit, remains its largest by subscribers, with the subsidiary adding just over 630,000 customers in the three months to 30 June 2010 to bring its total to 32.302 million.

In its home country meanwhile MobiNil, which accounts for the second largest number of Orascom’s total customers, reported 26.147 million subscribers at the end of the first half of 2010, up just 0.1% y-o-y, with the slowing growth attributed to new regulations and the shortage of new numbers.

Neotel Launches Prepaid Broadband

South African telco Neotel has launched pre-paid broadband services on its network, it has reported.

Branded ‘NeoConnect Lite Pre-paid’, the service incorporates voice telephony, SMS and basic internet connectivity. The service will be delivered over Neotel’s fixed-wireless service. Utilising a NeoConnect Lite desktop phone, which doubles up as an internet access device, NeoConnect Lite Pre-paid supports peak data speeds of 156kbps, although Neotel have clarified that realistic speeds will be between 50kbps and 70kbps.

The company confirmed that it is currently developing pre-paid services for its NeoConnect Prime and NeoFlex products. Wandile Zote, head of corporate communication at Neotel commented: ‘For many South Africans, the ability to choose pre-paid as a payment method is not just a lifestyle option - it's an economic necessity’. Neotel first signified its intention to launch its pre-paid broadband service in March 2010.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Virgin Mobile To Use Cel C's HSPA+ Network

Virgin Mobile South Africa is planning to launch its own mobile broadband service using Cell C’s HSPA+ network, Cell C has confirmed. Since launch, Virgin Mobile South Africa has been piggybacking on Cell C’s network to provide voice and data services. 

Cell C expects to cover 34% of the South African population with its 900MHz HSPA+ network by end-2010 and aims for 67% population coverage by mid-2011.

Virgin Mobile has not yet announced a launch date for its HSPA+ services, but any time frame will be dependent on Cell C’s own commercial launch; it is currently trialling the network in six cities.

Virgin Mobile’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Jonathan Newman promised that consumers can expect ‘the best value for the cellular services that our subscribers use the most’. He added: ‘So expect simple, market challenging broadband offerings designed to meet the real needs of savvy South African consumers’.

Virgin Mobile South Africa is a joint-venture between Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Cell C. It launched in 2006.

Malawi's G-Mobile Starts Building Towers

Malawi’s third mobile operator licensee, G-Mobile, has started deploying infrastructure for a wireless network, reports local newspaper The Nation.

The news follows a move by the country’s regulator, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra), to fine the operator USD6.9 million in May in light of its failure to roll out a network.

G-Mobile's director of administration Harold Myaba said that the company is negotiating the fine with Macra. ‘A lot has been happening behind the scenes that people didn’t see. It’s now starting to show,’ said Myaba.

When G-Mobile does finally launch it will compete against Telekom Networks and Zain, who between them claimed 2.7 million subscribers at the end of March 2010, in a country whose population is more than 14 million.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Angola Telecom Goes Digital In Kwanza SUl Province

Angola Telecom has switched on a new section of its digital fixed line network with fibre-optic backbone in Angola’s central Kwanza Sul province, connecting the eight district headquarters in the region.

The EUR18 million (USD24 million) project was funded by the Italian government in participation with the Angolan state, and has so far increased the number of fixed telephone lines in usage in the province from 2,000 to 10,000, after connecting in a first phase the districts of Sumbe, Porto Amboim, Amboim, Conda, Cela, Seles, Kibala and Libolo.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wananchi Gears to Roll Out in Nine Countries With Cisco Deal

Kenyan ISP Wananchi Online has signed a contract with US technology solutions firm Cisco to rollout triple-play services across nine countries in East Africa. The deal is supported by East Africa Capital Partners and Viscous Capital, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cisco.

Wananchi Online, which claims to be the only triple-play operator in East Africa intends to tap into markets in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zambia. The contract will see Wananchi Online deploying Cisco's integrated end-to-end network technology solutions - encompassing its ‘Borderless Networks’ and collaboration and data centre virtualization solutions.

Wananchi intends to extend a backhaul and last-mile fibre network across Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It will also build a WiMAX wireless network to provide uncapped internet access in smaller urban centres in Kenya.

The company will supplement its WiMAX and fibre offerings with VSAT services for small and medium businesses, particularly in remote locations in East Africa. Its long-term plan is to take fibre to the smallest towns in the region. East Africa Capital Partners’ Richard Bell has admitted that Wananchi is keen to develop a network in South Africa too, but: ‘South Africa is still a very closed and regulated market. East Africa has leapfrogged ahead of South Africa. If we could get a licence to build a cable network in South Africa, we’d be there in a second.’

Mark Schneider, chairman of the Wananchi Group commented: ‘The entertainment market for both home and corporate customers in Africa as a whole continues to be reshaped in light of technological advancements and new industry partnerships. The Wananchi Group's key objective is to expand our portfolio and enhance our commercial proposition, revenues and reputation. Cisco will help us to continuously deliver the necessary technology enhancements to our infrastructure to serve our ever-growing customer needs and remain at the forefront of delivering new and innovative services to our customers.’

Executives at Wananchi and Cisco said that the cost of international bandwidth in the region is now as cheap as it is anywhere in the world - thanks to the recent launches of EASSY, SEACOM and TEAMS submarine cables – making this type of increased investment possible.

Asia Now Leads in 4G Users

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The Asia-Pacific region has overtaken North America as the home to the largest number 4G broadband wireless subscribers. According to figures from TeleGeography’s 4G Research Service, there were around 1.7 million pre-WiMAX and WiMAX customers in Asia at the end of March 2010 compared to 1.4 million in the US and Canada. With the global 4G subscriber total standing at more than 5.7 million, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 29% of the overall market, up from 22% a year earlier and just 6% at the end of 2006.

Although all areas are experiencing 4G subscriber growth, WiMAX technology is proving particularly attractive to operators in Asia. It is relatively cheap to deploy and can bypass the last-mile fixed access networks, which in many cases are still dominated by the incumbent operators. TeleGeography analyst Peter Bell commented, “There is massive potential for high speed internet access in Asia, and WiMAX broadband wireless networks are witnessing strong demand. Growth is coming not just in developing markets like India, but also in more developed markets such as Japan where broadband internet penetration is already relatively high.”

Eastern Europe is the third largest 4G market, with approximately 1.1 million subscribers at the end of March 2010. Growth in Eastern Europe has been driven by operators such as Yota in Russia. While Yota plans to convert their networks from WiMAX to Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular technology in the future, that migration is still some way off, giving WiMAX technology an opportunity to establish a strong market presence in the meantime.

The 4G Research Service is TeleGeography’s online database of the LTE and WiMAX industry. The service tracks LTE and WiMAX competition and deployments in more than 140 countries, and profiles more than 650 companies that operate or are planning 4G networks.

To find out more and to download detailed product samples, please visit http://www.telegeography.com/product-info/4g/index.php.

To speak with an analyst, please contact us at +1 202-741-0042, or email press@telegeography.com.
Source: TeleGeography's 4G Research Service

EASSy Formally Launched

Seven months after commencing cable installation, West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), the specially created African investment company jointly owned by 14 African telcos and additionally funded by a number of global development finance institutions, has formally announced the launch of its 1.4Tbps, 10,002km fibre-optic submarine cable system.

East African Submarine System (EASSy) runs along the east coast of Africa, from South Africa to Sudan, and boasts onward connection to global markets. Completed on time and on budget, EASSy promises to enable affordable, reliable delivery of fast internet access for African users and enhanced voice and data services for the international marketplace. EASSy will enhance global connectivity to and from 21 countries in eastern and southern Africa, landing at nine countries: South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comores, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan.

WIOCC CEO Chris Wood commented: ‘Not only does our cable system provide the lowest latency internet connections and best ever voice and data service reliability to this region of Africa, but our unique approach to contract capacity and duration also provides businesses with the crucial flexibility they desire’.

Cell C HSPA+ Tests Yielding "Positive Results"

Cell C, South Africa’s third largest cellco by subscribers has announced that tests for its new HSPA+ network are currently underway in six cities, and the results are ‘very promising’. More than 1,300 base stations, located in six major cities, have already been converted to HSPA+ using the 900MHz frequency band, and CEO Kelly Reichelt has promised that Cell C will launch its new network on a city-by-city basis, rectifying any potential problem areas as it goes along. Cell C will eventually upgrade 5,200 bases stations to the new platform. Cell C expects to cover 34% of the South African population with its HSPA+ network by end-2010 and aims for 67% population coverage by mid-2011.

Although MTN has already launched a commercial 21Mbps HSPA+ service, Cell C aims to be the first South African operator to rollout HSPA+ across its entire network. It took Vodacom almost five years to achieve 50% 3G population coverage using the 2100MHz band, whilst Cell C’s strategy to use the 900MHz frequency should make it easier for the cellco to reach rural customers. According to Reichelt a single HSPA+ 900MHz transmitter can cover a three to five times larger area than those using the higher band.

Burkina Launches Tender For Operators

Burkina Faso’s telecoms regulator, the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications (ARCE), has announced the launch of an international tender for a combined fixed and wireless concession which includes the provision of third-generation (3G) services.

The licence is valid for a period of ten years and covers the whole of the country. Interested parties can consult the tender document free of charge or obtain a copy from ARCE for a non-refundable fee of XOF300,000 (USD594).

Submissions must be made before 19 October 2010, at which date bids will be opened at the regulator’s headquarters in the country’s capital Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso is home to three wireless network operators: market leader Telmob, which launched in December 1996 as the wholly owned cellular arm of fixed line operator the Office National des Telecommunications (Onatel); Telecel Burkina Faso, which inaugurated its GSM-900 network in December 2000; and Zain Burkina Faso, which launched wireless services in January 2001.

Investor Celebrate's EASSy Launch

Seven months after commencing cable installation, West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), the specially created African investment company jointly owned by 14 African telcos and additionally funded by a number of global development finance institutions, has formally announced the launch of its 1.4Tbps, 10,002km fibre-optic submarine cable system.

East African Submarine System (EASSy) runs along the east coast of Africa, from South Africa to Sudan, and boasts onward connection to global markets. Completed on time and on budget, EASSy promises to enable affordable, reliable delivery of fast internet access for African users and enhanced voice and data services for the international marketplace.

EASSy will enhance global connectivity to and from 21 countries in eastern and southern Africa, landing at nine countries: South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan. WIOCC CEO Chris Wood commented: ‘Not only does our cable system provide the lowest latency internet connections and best ever voice and data service reliability to this region of Africa, but our unique approach to contract capacity and duration also provides businesses with the crucial flexibility they desire’.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kenya Extends SIM Registration Deadline

The Kenyan government has officially extended the deadline for SIM card registration to 31 August 2010, in order to give Kenyan mobile phone users more time to comply with the ruling.

The exercise, which began on 21 June, has so far seen 12.4 million subscribers register their details, equivalent to a 62% compliance rate. Dr Bitange Ndemo, Information and Communication Permanent Secretary, said that the extension was necessary because operators had expressed ‘dissatisfaction’ over the low compliance figures in rural areas. Dr Ndemo commented: ‘It was decided that because we have not been able to reach the rural interior, where most of our people have mobile phones, we would extend this by another 30 days’.

Dr Ndemo asserted that the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) would be intensifying its registration campaigns in such areas, warning that no further extensions would be issued. Subscribers who fail to register their SIM cards will have their lines disconnected.

As at the original deadline (30 July) 71% of Safaricom’s subscriber base (or 11.3 million) had registered, 54.2% of Zain Kenya customers (one million), 7% of Essar Telecommunications Kenya (ETK/Yu) subscribers (110,013) and 4% of Orange customers (36,907).

MTN Inks Broadband Deal With Intel

South Africa's MTN Group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with US communication giant Intel, which will see the two companies collaborating to accelerate the deployment and penetration of broadband access in Africa and the Middle East.

The collaboration covers a wide range of initiatives, including: increased WiMAX deployment, affordable PC bundles for ordinary African consumers and entrepreneurs and the introduction of cost-effective internet browsing devices.

The statement also pinpoints a joint effort by the MTN Foundation and Intel Education's corporate social responsibility department to equip students and teachers with technology skills. Further, Intel's venture capital division, Intel Capital, and the MTN Group will also invest in emerging technology companies that are innovative and demonstrate a potential for advancing the ICT sector by developing products that contribute to solving typically African business and social problems.

Intel sales and marketing Vice President Gordon Graylish commented: ‘Strategies developed by MTN and Intel to connect the next generation of broadband users in Africa and the Middle East were a perfect fit, which is why we went into discussions to collaborate. Both companies have expertise in different aspects of ICT deployment and together we can accelerate bridging the digital divide on the continent. In this way we can accelerate Africa's entry into the 21st century knowledge and digital economy which will give its citizens economic opportunities similar to those in developed countries’.

Ghana Says Glo Is Free To do Business

Ghana’s Business Day newspaper quotes the Minister of Trade and Industry, Hanna S Tetteh, as saying that Ghanaian start-up Glo Mobile Ghana is ‘free to do business in Ghana’, hopefully ending long running speculation on its Nigerian parent, Globacom’s, future in the country.

In May this year Nigeria-based Globacom which is itself majority owned by Nigerian petrochemical firm Conpetro, a venture of the entrepreneur Mike Adenuga, threatened to exit Ghana in the face of what it termed ‘interests’ seemingly hell-bent on sabotaging its nationwide launch plans.

At the time an unnamed source claimed that since Glo Mobile was awarded its GSM frequencies by the National Communications Authority (NCA), it has faced obstacles in terms of seeking approval for the swift deployment of its base stations, an encroachment on the frequencies it was awarded by the NCA and the repeated vandalism of its advertising billboards.

However, the minister has told Business Day that all obstacles to the telco’s operation in Ghana have now been removed. ‘To the best of my knowledge from the communications authorities, there were two issues with regards to Glo. The frequency that they were assigned to was not available because it was being partially used by the national security apparatus. But that frequency has been available to them since January, and so at the moment if they want to start their business it is possible for them to do so,’ she said.

Tetteh also went on to clarify the issue of Glo’s problems in securing permits to erect telecoms towers. ‘There was no ban on Glo,’ she said. ‘As at last year, we put a ban on the erection of new telephone masts. We did this because of the quality of the infrastructure and the hazardous way they were being put up in all sorts of locations.’ As such the minister claims the ban was on the industry as a whole and not designed to single out the would-be newcomer.

Starcomms In New Roaming Servive

Nigerian fixed-wireless operator Starcomms has announced the launch of an inter-standard roaming service allowing the company’s CDMA subscribers to roam on the networks of both CDMA and GSM companies in 221 countries across the world.

The new roaming service offers the operator’s customers seamless access to international mobile roaming on all wireless technology networks, greatly expanding Starcomms’ network coverage outside of Nigeria and simplifying the roaming experience of customers travelling abroad.

The launch was made possible through the signing of an agreement with hub-based mobile applications exchange solutions provider MACH, and inter-standard and converged solutions provider Accurius, earlier this year. The vendors’ solutions offer turnkey interoperability between wireless technologies, including CDMA, 1x EV-DO, GSM, GPRS/UMTS, WiFi, WiMAX and, in the near future, Long Term Evolution (LTE).

‘It has been our endeavour to provide our customers with the best services and our focus in providing international roaming opportunities is not just about the service but about the quality of the customer experience whilst roaming with their Starcomms service,’ Tushar Maheshwari, the CCO of Starcomms, commented, adding: ‘From now on we will ensure that our customers who have cause to travel outside Nigeria feel at home with all their contacts having access to them seamlessly.’

FT 'Planning to Buy Meditel'

Reuters reports that France Telecom (Orange) is in ‘advanced’ talks with the owners of Morocco's second largest mobile operator Medi Telecom (Meditel) to acquire a 40% share in the company.

Moroccan business weekly Acutel wrote over the weekend, ‘It is official. The negotiations between the owners of Meditel, CDG and Finance.com, and Orange are at an advanced stage,’ and went on to speculate that the stake could be priced at around EUR650 million (USD849 million). Spain's Telefonica and Portugal Telecom last year sold their respective stakes of 32.2% each in Meditel to the operator's other shareholders, Moroccan private investment group Finance.com and state investment vehicle Caisse de Depots et de Gestion (CDG) for USD1.15 billion in total.

Whilst the domestic owners have declared they can run the company alone, they have also indicated their openness to a range of options including a stock market listing and a partnership with a new, major player strategic investor. In March 2010 it was rumoured that the UAE’s Etisalat had ‘agreed’ to acquire a 45% interest in Meditel, which offers cellular, broadband and fixed line services, but a deal did not materialise.

TeleGeography's GlobalComms Database notes that France Telecom sold its Moroccan ISP Maroc Connect (Wanadoo) in August 2004 to the CDG and ONA groups, before ONA bought out CDG in 2005; Maroc Connect became Wana, which launched the successful fixed-wireless and cellular brands Bayn and Inwi, along the way attracting a new foreign investor, Kuwait-based Zain Group.

Vodacom Launches Mobile TV Service

South African cellular operator Vodacom has teamed up with On Demand Group to launch mobile TV subscription on-demand services to its 3G user base.

The companies claim that the ‘TV:On Demand’ service, including TV series, music videos and other content, is the first of its kind available in Africa, allowing mobile users to watch what they want on demand, at any time. A monthly subscription costs ZAR75 (USD10.33), or a week’s access can be obtained for ZAR20.