Friday, September 9, 2011

Airtel Enters Rwanda Market

Indian telecoms group Bharti Airtel has announced it has secured a licence to provide 2G and 3G cellular services in Rwanda, The New Times reports. 
The company plans to invest over USD100 million over the next three years, including USD30 million for the purchase of the operating licence. 
It aims to bring ‘affordable services and innovative products’ to the market, and plans to expand its wireless broadband network to all major towns across the country.
 In June 2010 Bharti Airtel acquired the African assets of Kuwait’s Zain Group, in a deal valued at USD10.7 billion. The company took over Zain’s operations in 15 countries, including Malawi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Bharti will join two other mobile operators in the market: South Africa-based MTN Rwanda, which had a total of 2.794 million mobile subscribers at the end of June 2011; and Millicom Rwanda (Tigo), which is majority-owned by Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular and had a subscriber base of over 812,000 at the same date. A third operator, Rwandatel, had its mobile licence revoked in April 2011, after the company failed to meet licence obligations, such as coverage, quality of service and planned investment targets. Rwandatel is 80% owned by Libyan government investment vehicle LAP Green Networks, although telecoms regulator RURA said the decision to cancel its mobile licence had nothing to do with enforcing a United Nations (UN) resolution to impose sanctions on Libya, including the freezing of its assets, following unrest in the North African nation.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Safaricom Apologizes Over Network Interruption

Kenyan operator Safaricom has apologised to its customers for a hitch that has affected its subscribers' ability to make calls or send SMSes since 01 September. 

The fault has meant that some subscribers' calls are going through only after several attempts, while SMSes are not reaching the intended recipients immediately but remaining pending for some time.

The incidence of these has been random and intermittent across the network. CEO Bob Collymore apologised for the inconvenience this has caused to customers and assured them that the situation is being closely monitored and prioritised to ensure services resume as soon as possible. 

Orange Is Only Bidder For Congo Telecom

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has confirmed that France Telecom (FT) is the only bidder for its 49% stake in Congo Chine Telecom (CCT). 

Already in talks with Chinese vendor ZTE for its 51% share of the company, FT is expected to pay around EUR300 million (USD) in total for the operator, a reflection of its level of debt, rather than its value. 

Reuters reports that, Elie Girard, FT’s executive director said that this is an ‘important step, but not the final step of the process of the withdrawal of the state from CCT and the acquisition’. 

The move is part of a broader strategy from FT to increase its presence in emerging markets to offset increasing competition and declining revenues in Europe.

New 4G Rules Favour Safaricom Over Other Networks

The government has changed the telecommunication licensing rules in a way that promises to lower the cost of acquiring high-speed delivery platforms and give one operator control of the market.

The new rules that among other things requires those bidding for the 4G spectrum licence is hinged on the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) model and are aimed at avoiding the battle over the pricing that dogged the issuance of the 3G licences.

Tender rules that were published on Tuesday indicate that unlike in the past when the licence was awarded to each operator, the 4G will be controlled by a consortium of players who must have at least 20 per cent local ownership.

The requirement locks out Airtel and Essar's Yu, leaving Safaricom and Telkom Kenya in the race for the tender.

The two are the only holders of the Network Facilities Provider Tier 1 category (the technical reference to mobile phone operators' licence) and with a 20 per cent local shareholding.

The government, through Treasury, has 49 per cent stake in Telkom Kenya while Safaricom is owned 40 per cent by the UK's Vodafone, 35 per cent by the Government of Kenya and 25 per cent by the public through the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

Airtel Kenya has a five per cent local ownership, after businessman Naushad Merali - the sole local partner -- sold 15 per cent of his stake in the firm last year.

Essar's Yu is 100 per cent owned by India's Essar Communications, which bought the 20 per cent stake that local firms Capital Africa, CrossLink and Startnet held last year for an undisclosed sum.

Rene Meza, the Airtel managing director, questioned the transparency of the tendering process and promised that his firm will be seeking clarification, especially on the 20 per cent rule as Airtel intends to fully participate in the tendering process.

"We will seek clarification on the requirement of 20 per cent ownership. We believe it is sufficient that an operator is licensed," said Mr Meza. "Because there is no structure for the tender proposal, evaluation of the bids by the Ministry of Information may be subjective to the extent that undermines transparency and fairness."

4G refers to the fourth generation of wireless telecommunication technology with a larger capacity to deliver data and facilitate high end of market services such as video conferencing and gaming.

Kenya's telecom operators see ownership of the technology as critical to future revenue growth with the continued decline in earnings from the voice business.

Prospective bidders are also questioning the requirement that the government becomes part of the consortia that will be competing for the 4G licence while at the same time participate in evaluation of the tenders. [Read: State to withhold licence for 4G frequency rollout]

On Thursday, the government said it will not bend the 20 per cent local ownership rule, arguing that Yu and Airtel chose to sidestep the local shareholding requirement.

"The two don't meet the 20 per cent rule and do not have national infrastructure that can be upgraded to 4G," said Bitange Ndemo, the Information permanent secretary.

Dr Ndemo said the 20 per cent rule is a policy requirement that Airtel and Yu should make an effort to comply with.

People familiar with the policy position on the matter said the ultimate goal of the tendering is to open a window for the government to ride on operators with national coverage to reduce the cost and time of deploying the 4G network in readiness for use in e-voting in 2012.

"An individual firm will have to spend not less than $4 billion to roll out the infrastructure but the model we have proposed will cost an average of $100 million and take less time," said our source.

Telecoms sector ownership rules require foreign companies to have a 20 per cent local shareholding.

It, however, gives foreign investors three year grace period to look for suitable partners.

Econet Wirelesss International, which held the third mobile license was the first beneficiary of this rule that helped it survive a protracted court battle with its local partners, the Kenya National Federation of Farmers.

Econet ultimately sold its shares to Essar Communication, a subsidiary of India's Essar Global four years ago.

He acquired and immediately sold the Vivendi stake in 2004 at $250 million remaining with his 40 per cent.

Kuwait's MTC then bought Celtel out of 16 African countries in 2005 and three years later, Mr Merali sold half of his stake to Zain putting 80 per cent of the firm in foreign hands.

Last year, Mr Merali sought exemption and was allowed to sell an additional 15 per cent of his stake - a move that has now come back to Bharti Airtel, the current owners.

The tender specifications have also locked out infrastructure providers such as Kenya Data Networks, AccessKenya, Jamii and Wananchi Group who do not fall within the licence category specified on the tender notice.

Joshua Chepkwony, the chairman of the Telecommunication Network Operators said that while having an open access 4G network was positive, the manner in which the tender document has been structured shows that the government has a pre-determined candidate.

"There is need to call for a stakeholders meeting to explain the desired composition of the consortium because as it is the tender document locks out operators who are not in the tier 1 category but fall within the telecoms ecosystem," he said.

The LTE -- commonly known as 4G --offers subscribers access to mobile internet at much faster speeds, making it a cutting edge tool for companies offering their services on the medium.

The government says it will offer 4G license to a consortium of players that will implement and manage it to avert disputes encountered with the issuance of the 3G licences to the late entrants.

Safaricom paid $25 million for the 3G license fee, only for the government to lower the fee to $10 million for Airtel and Telkom Kenya or 60 per cent less than Safaricom.

Under the new model, the consortium members will be composed of government (the owner of the national spectrum), equipment suppliers such as Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel Lucent and Ericsson who must team up with telecommunication firms such as Safaricom, Telkom Kenya for expertise and equipment needed for the rollout.

The move comes as mobile operators shift their focus to data, with competition in the voice segments getting stiff and revenue starting to decline with deep tariff cuts that have since August last year lowered the cost of voice calls by 50 per cent.

Airtel Uganda Increases Tariffs Amid Rising Inflation

Airtel yesterday became the second communications company in Uganda to up call tariffs with new rates starting Monday next week.

The increase has been occasioned by the higher costs of doing business in Uganda, according to Mr V.G. Somasekhar, the managing director of Airtel Uganda.

Customers will pay Shs4 per second, an increase from Shs3 per second or Shs240 per minute instead of Shs180 per minute.

The new rates will apply to all calls on the Airtel network and other networks, according to a statement from the company.

“The telecom business is trapped in a cycle of rising business costs, which is significantly threatening the level of service delivery in the industry,” Mr Somasekhar said yesterday. “The upward adjustment in tariffs will ensure the company continues to meet its operational costs and maintain its unequalled level of service delivery in the market.”

Airtel’s announcement came just a day after MTN Uganda doubled its calling tariffs from Shs2 per second to Shs4 per second, also citing the increasing cost of doing business.

The economy is struggling with the depreciating Shilling, the rising cost of fuel and persistent power blackouts.  This week, inflation hit a record 20% mark.

Safaricom Plans Exchanging Fake Phones at a Discount

Safaricom is considering offering discounted phones to its subscribers who own counterfeit phones ahead of a deadline to switch them off mobile networks.

In a bid to stifle the thriving counterfeit phones trade in the country, the Communications Commission of Kenya has ordered mobile phone operators to switch off all subscribers who are using fake phones from their networks.

Safaricom now says it may offer those subscribers a chance to own genuine handsets at affordable prices. "Switching off is not the solution," Safaricom Head of Consumer Business, Peter Arina, told The Star. The company has admitted to having about 800,000 subscribers using unidentifiable or unverifiable phones.

Typically, a network operator is able to see a phone's IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number and its unique 10-digit Mobile Identification number. "The first thing is we are going to go to our network and identify them, then we are going to communicate with them," Arina said "We have to let them know, by the way, that phone you have is not genuine or valid for this network."

Safaricom will then offer the subscribers the opportunity to acquire genuine handsets at an affordable price. The company is the also the country's largest retailer of mobile phones. "We will tell them, you can come to the [Safaricom] shop with that particular number and we will give you a discount on a phone," Arina added. "But you have to come with that number that we contacted you with."

By offering to migrate counterfeit phone owners to genuine handsets, the company may strike a crippling blow to the fake phone industry as the majority of subscribers are on its network. Arina said however that Safaricom could not do it alone and would go ahead to meet with the regulator on September 9.

CCK has reiterated that by the end of September operators will have to implement solutions to remove fake phone users from their networks.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Telkom SA "Planning Major Africa Transaction" Says Minister

South African communications minister Roy Padayachie has said that Telkom South Africa is ‘considering a major transaction in Africa’, Bloomberg Business Week reports.

Speaking at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Johannesburg, Padayachie commented: ‘The board is busy with a major deal. Telkom will make an announcement soon. You have to be patient, Telkom will make the announcement when the time is right, but the board is busy with a deal’.

The minister was responding to questions regarding whether Telkom intended to make a new acquisition in Africa after selling its ill-fated investment in Nigeria’s Multilinks. Telkom bought its initial 75% stake in Multilinks for USD280 million in May 2007 and purchased the remaining 25% in January 2009 for USD130 million.

However, the telco cut its losses in June 2011 when it disposed of the loss-making unit for just USD10 million, to an affiliate of Helios Towers Nigeria (HTN).

Speaking at the meeting, Telkom chairman Lazarus Zim cautioned that the company needed to build a sustainable business in Africa, saying: ‘There were expensive and important lessons that we learnt in Nigeria’.

However, company spokesman Pynee Chetty distanced Telkom from the acquisition speculation, saying that the company has ‘not identified attractive acquisition targets in Africa at this juncture’ and that the group’s focus ‘is currently to improve the performance of existing businesses’.

Airtel Could Launch 4G Earlier Than Planned

Bharti Airtel Ltd., a leading global telecommunications company with operations in 19 countries across Asia and Africa, may launch 4G technology for mobiles in India sooner than expected. 
Sources claim that Sanjay Kapoor, CEO, India and South Asia, Bharti Airtel, believes that the launch of 4G services in India will happen in close vicinity with the launch in other countries. 
4G is expected to take the mobile industry by storm, with every network operator eyeing it as a means of acquiring more customers and increasing their market share.
Airtel is a dominant player in the Indian telecom market with around 170 million subscribers. 
Reportedly Mr. Kapoor has mentioned the low penetration of 3G devices as an obstacle for mobile operators providing 3G services.  He further adds that the language of the content used in the country is not very conducive.

Uganda Moves To Stop Airtel, UTL Cut-off

The Ugandan government moved to stop Airtel Uganda from deactivating calls to the Uganda Telecom network over a UGX 10 billion dispute.

According to local paper the Daily Monitor, ICT Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said the government was talking to both sides in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission, also confirmed that talks were underway to resolve the matter but it was unclear if an understanding had been reached.

Airtel had announced that its customers would no longer be able to make or receive calls to UTL numbers from 1 September. This followed the termination of the interconnect agreement between the two operators on 15 August, after UTL failed to pay up to UGX 10 billion in outstanding interconnect fees and legal fines to Airtel.

Joseph Kanyamunyu, Airtel's spokesman said the operator would not lift the ban on calls until UTL clears the debt.

Visafone Introduces Low-Cost Packages

Nigerian CDMA network operator Visafone has introduced a range of value packages dubbed "Fantastic Visa Bundles". 

Head of Corporate Communications Joseph Ushigiale said customers will be able to make on-net calls at less than NGN 0.1 per second or NGN 0.50 per minute. 

There are three packages. The Weekly Bundle Package can be obtained by dialling *450*610# to get 50 minutes of on-net calls for NGN 100 valid for five days. The Monthly Bundle Package can be obtained by dialling *450*611# for 300 minutes' worth of calls valid for 30 days at NGN 300. The third package is the Mega Bundle Package, obtainable by dialling *450*612# to secure 2,000 minutes of call time for NGN 1,000 with a validity period of 30 days.

SyncTV Partners With African Movie Channel

US-based television platform provider SyncTV has announced a partnership with UK-based video-on-demand (VOD) service African Movie Channel (AMC), to deliver hundreds of classic and new Africa-origin films to global audiences through Roku Streaming Media Players and Samsung Connected TVs.

Launched in 2006, AMC is the first and only channel dedicated to top-quality African films from the popular Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, and other major African studios.

Lola Onigbogi, co-director and founder of AMC, said the digital platform is emerging as a top content distribution channel, and AMC recognises SyncTV as an extremely valuable asset in enabling the broader exposure of Africa-origin films.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wananchi Launches Wi-Fi In Nairobi

Wananchi Group in collaboration with Google and Aptilo Networks announced the launch of the Wazi Wi-Fi service in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The network already delivers high-speed internet access at Nairobi's Junction Shopping Mall area. The service is free for the first ten minutes of use per day on each device. 

Users can then purchase a single day pass for KES 50 per device or a monthly pass for KES 500. Customers can pay for the service online using credit cards or via local mobile money services including M-Pesa, Airtel Money and PesaPal. Wazi Wi-Fi uses the Aptilo Service Management Platform for service management and policy control and is delivered via Aptilo Cloud Services, a hosted platform.

Wananchi said it's in talks with local businesses on expansion plans, and the company sees opportunities to use Wi-Fi technology for mobile data offloading and providing high-speed unmetered access away from home.

Uganda Has Largest Number of Fake Nokia Phones in East Africa

Uganda has the highest number of substandard mobile phone devices in East Africa, The Daily Monitor reported.

Analysts blamed the delayed enactment of the anti-counterfeit law by the county's parliament.

Kenneth Oyolla, Nokia general manager for East and Southern Africa, said 30 percent of all mobile phones sold in Uganda are counterfeits, compared with 10 percent in Kenya.

Nokia loses about USD 15 million monthly in the Kenyan market while the figures are higher in Uganda and Tanzania, he said.

The Kenyan government passed an anti-counterfeit law in June 2010 that provides for anyone caught selling counterfeits to pay three times the retail value of the device and up to five years in jail if implicated again.

Oyolla said the law has reduced trade in counterfeits in Kenya and should be replicated in all EAC countries as it is a common market.

Traders dealing in counterfeits can easily cross to other countries in the region where there is no deterrent law, he said. A genuine E71 costs USD 230 while the fake one goes for about USD 50.

Uganda's anti-counterfeit bill was not passed into law after the eighth Parliament closed before the bill's second reading.

Oyolla, who was speaking at the launch of the Nokia 101 and Nokia 100 mobile handsets in Nairobi, said the firm has partnered with retailers in the sale of genuine devices as one of the ways to reduce revenue loss.

Airtel To Terminate UTL Calls

Airtel Uganda has announced that starting 5th September 2011 its subscribers will not be able to receive calls from or make calls to Uganda Telecom (UTL) lines.

In a statement published on Wednesday Airtel states that the decision follows the expiry on 15th August 2011 of the interconnection agreement between itself and UTL.

Earlier reports had indicated that UTL owes Airtel over 8 billion shillings in interconnection fees.

UTL has been battling a court case in which MTN Uganda is demanding over 20 billion Uganda shillings. Last week a court in Kampala ruled in favour of MTN but UTL has appealed against the decision .

69% of UTL is owned by the Libyan government through its investment vehicle, Libyan Africa Portfolio (LAP), with the remaining 31% owned by the Ugandan government.

UN sanctions in March required the freezing of Libya’s assets for the duration of its on-going civil war, but in order to prevent the loss of jobs, the Ugandan government took over complete control of the company.

Early this year Uganda’s Media Owners Association reportedly ceased any advertising for UTL, citing unpaid fees of 3 billion Uganda shillings.

Airtel Kenya Launches Quiz Cash Give Away

Airtel Kenya has launched a promotion that will see one customer win KES 100,000 daily for 90 days.

Under the name Airtel Cashmania, customers can answer questions and be entered into a daily draw for a chance to win the cash prize.

For every correct answer a customer sends, the customer will receive 20 chances or more. For every incorrect answer the customer will receive 10 chances.

To participate in the promotion customers need to send a SMS with their first name to the short code 888. Every SMS is charged at KES 25.

A similar competition was launched by Airtel Uganda last month dub be "Kyaba Too Good!

Orange Extends Closing Date For Africa Social Award

Orange has extended the deadline for submitting projects for the Orange African Social Venture Prize by two weeks until 30 September.

The prize will be awarded to three entrepreneurs or start-ups that offer solutions based on mobile networks or IT systems that are designed to address various social and welfare issues faced by Africans across the continent.
Projects may range from banking or payment services to applications in essential areas such as healthcare, education and agriculture. In addition to the prestige of winning the award, Orange is committed to financially supporting and offering expert assistance to the winning entrepreneurs or start-ups.

The three prize winners will receive an endowment of between EUR 10,000 and 25,000, and will benefit from six months of support from management and ICT experts at Orange. 

The operator has also announced that the award will be part of the AfricaCom awards, with the prize giving to take place in Cape Town, South Africa, on 9 November.

Glo Partners With UBA's Afripay For Mobile Money Service

Nigerian operator Glo Mobile has signed a memorandum of understanding with mobile payment specialist Afripay paving the way for the nationwide launch of a mobile money service.

Afripay is part of UBA Group, which earlier obtained a mobile money licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The MoU will allow Glo Mobile's mobile subscribers to open a mobile money account to store electronic money on their mobile phones and to use their mobile number as account number.

It will also allow users to transfer money to any mobile number, spend money directly from their mobile money account, and buy airtime for themselves and others. Afripay's mobile money product, which is branded as U-Mo, has been successfully test-run through select agents.

CCK Gives KES 2.5 Million Towards Famine Relief

The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) has contributed KES 2.5million towards the Kenyans for Kenya famine relief kitty.

CCK's Director of Finance and Accounts Peris Nkonge said CCK was happy to join other corporate organizations in assisting fellow countrymen who are in dire need of food aid in Northern Kenya.

Kenyans for Kenyans is an initiative of the Kenya Red Cross in conjunction with the Kenya Commercial Bank, Safaricom Foundation and the Media Owners Association aimed at raising funds to feed Kenyans in the north of the country.

The initiative, which wound up on 27 August, raised more than KES 600 million through contributions from corporate Kenya, civil society and Kenyans of all walks of life.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

79% of SIM's In Kenya Get Registered

The Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) announced that 79 percent of SIM cards have been registered since this was made a requirement last year to curb mobile phone crime. 

Acting Director General Francis Wangusi said this was an achievement, especially as there is no law in place to enforce it. He said the regulator believes m-transactions are going to help a lot, because unless customers register, they will not be able to carry out m-transactions on any of network.

Nigeria Working on New NITEL Privatisation Bid

Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the agency tasked with overseeing the privatisation of fixed line incumbent Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL), is finalising the process for a negotiated sale of the telco, after the latest attempt to privatise the ailing company was cancelled earlier this year.

Nigerian newspaper The Punch cites a spokesman for the BPE, Mr. Chukwuma Nwoko, as saying that the bureau is working out the details for the sale of NITEL and its mobile arm M-Tel. He also confirmed that a number of potential core investors had shown interest in the exercise but declined to disclose the identity of the firms.

In the last month, initial bidder Brymedia Consortium, local firm Syntel and Microfone Telecom Nigeria, an initiative of the Nigerian Capital Development Fund, have all reportedly expressed an interest in acquiring NITEL and M-Tel.

Meanwhile, Mike Adenuga, executive chairman of Nigeria’s second national telecoms operator Globacom, allegedly approached the government to purchase a stake in NITEL via a vehicle established especially for the deal.

Earlier this month that the BPE was given government approval to embark on a negotiated sale of NITEL, after the latest attempt to privatise the firm was cancelled in June 2011 when the reserve bidder, British Virgin Islands-based Omen International, failed to meet the deadline to pay a bid security. Omen was invited to re-register its interest in buying NITEL in March 2011, as preferred buyer New Generation Telecommunications repeatedly missed the payment deadlines for its bid of USD2.5 billion.

Omen offered USD956.9 million during the latest attempt to privatise the company, held in February 2010. The government began seeking a buyer for a minimum 75% of NITEL and 100% of M-Tel in July 2009 after previous majority shareholder Transcorp divested its stake earlier in the year.

KDN Appeals Court Verdict Over YU Interconnectivity

Kenya Data Networks (KDN) has taken steps to overturn a May 2011 court order which prevented it from switching off mobile phone operator Essar Telecom Kenya’s backhaul transmission connectivity.

KDN has argued that the order made on 25 May by Justice Muga Apondi is injurious, as it forces the wholesale operator to continue providing the cellco – which operates under the ‘Yu’ brand name – services which are no longer being paid for.

The debt owed to KDN currently stands at around KES133 million (USD1.4 million), and is increasing on a monthly basis. In legal papers filed last week, KDN stated: ‘Yu has been unable to even pay the undisputed amount as required under the agreement showing their unwillingness to meet their part of the bargain’.

Nairobi-based KDN has claimed that, as a result of Yu’s non-payment, it is currently operating at a loss.

Starcomms Announces Growth Startegy

Nigerian CDMA network operator Starcomms is working on two business models in order to enhance the value of investment of its existing shareholders, local newspaper THIS DAY reports, citing a statement from Starcomms’ newly appointed chief executive officer Logan Pather. 

According to the executive, the company is looking to acquire more spectrum to facilitate a complete nationwide rollout of its network and to make it fully ready for Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. 

To achieve a nationwide rollout, Pather said that Starcomms would require investment of around USD60 million.

Fortis Mobile Money Hires Fundamo For Nigeria Deal

Nigeria's microfinance bank Fortis Mobile Money, which has been granted a licence to roll out mobile money services, has engaged Fundamo, a Visa company, to help deploy its mobile money offerings throughout the country. 

 CEO of Fortis Money Henry Nwawuba said the company would leverage Fundamo's understanding of 'bottom of the pyramid' mobile money services to provide low-value and high-volume mobile financial services to Nigeria's huge underserved population.

 With a population of over 140 million people, only 28 million bank accounts and over 70 million mobile subscribers, Nigeria offers a platform for growth in mobile money. 

Fundamo's platform will enable the company to deliver secure, convenient and easily accessible financial services to consumers, such as mobile money transfers, remittances, mobile bill payments, micro savings and prepaid phone top-up services.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Orange Launches 3G Network In Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa

Telkom Kenya (Orange) has announced that its long-awaited 3G network has launched commercially in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, with plans for additional regional deployments as demand for data-related services increases.

The KES4 billion (USD42.6 million) network deployment will offer subscribers theoretical download speeds of 21Mbps, and CEO Mickael Ghossein has described it as Kenya’s ‘best-in-class network’. 

Meanwhile, residential users will also be able to benefit from 3G connectivity, as Telkom has unveiled a new version of its ‘Internet Everywhere’ modem which supports the higher speeds; the new modem will retail for KES6,999. A shared Wi-Fi router for business users has been introduced simultaneously, allowing between six and ten users to connect to Telkom’s 3G network at any one time.

Mascom Unaware of MTN Take Over Plans

Botswana’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, Mascom Wireless, has denied having any knowledge of alleged plans by South African telecoms group MTN to fully acquire the company. 

An industry insider told Botswana newspaper Gazette Business that takeover discussions between the two parties were at an advanced stage, with a full takeover and rebranding likely to take place in the next two years. 

MTN already indirectly holds a 53% stake in Mascom.

 Responding to the claims, Mascom’s communications and public relations manager, Tebogo Lebotse said in a written statement that ‘Mascom can, however, confirm it is not aware of any plans or developments of a takeover and therefore cannot comment on the consequent impact on the operational structure of Mascom.’

Airtel Connects Western Zambia

Mobile network operator Airtel Zambia has reportedly started rolling out infrastructure in the more remote parts of Zambia’s Western Province, as it looks to fend off competition and maintain its market share. 

Airtel Zambia managing director Fayaz King was quoted as saying that  contractors are already at work on extending the cellco’s coverage with a view to attracting increased numbers of rural subscribers. 

‘We are now going in areas like Mutomena, Lukena, Liuwa, Libonda Palace and Mishulundu in Western Zambia. Some of these areas can only be accessed by water. This is our commitment to addressing Zambia’s telecommunications needs,’ the executive noted.

 Further, Mr King said that the network expansion formed part of an initiative that his company had undertaken over the previous ten months aimed at bringing services to some of the country’s most rural regions. 

According to the report Airtel has connected 88 isolated rural areas and communities in Zambia as part of the project, in provinces including Luapula, Northern, North-Western, Eastern, Southern and Central as well as in some rural parts of the Copperbelt like Lufwanyama, Masaiti, and Mpongwe districts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Libyan Owned Uganda Telecom in Finacial Crisis

THE financial sustainability of Uganda Telecom (utl) remains uncertain following several claims of unpaid dues in billions owed to the firm’s partners and service providers. 

Among the companies seeking payment is MTN, which for the second time this year, has sued utl claiming unpaid sh9.3b accrued from interconnection charges, indicating a further deepening rift and uncertainty in the telecom industry. 

According to sources, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is also demanding about sh6b from utl over non remitted contributions to the rural communication development funds. 

All telecom operators are required to remit 1% of their gross revenue to the commission for the fund. 

Sources revealed that a fortnight ago, the Uganda Media Owners Association also suspended any form of advertising from utl because of about sh3b unpaid dues accruing from advertising. 

The association comprises major media houses, including Monitor Publications, Vision Group, NTV, WBS, UBC, Capital FM, Simba and Sanyu FM. 

Airtel Uganda public relations officer Joseph Kanyamunyu said utl also owes them about sh8b from “interconnect and related charges.” 

MTN is also demanding another sh744m in interests accrued from May 31, 2011. 

“The actions of the defendant amount to breach of the interconnection agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant,” read the suit. 

“They have continuously disputed figures, but in this case they signed and acknowledged the debt, but we are half way the year and they have still failed to pay,” said an MTN official. 

The MTN suit filed on June 15 says the interconnect fees are for the period from January 2010 to December 2010. 

But utl chief Donald Nyakairu said there was nothing new in the law suit. “The only difference is in the figures, they are just causing anxiety within the public,” said Nyakairu. The suit follows an earlier one, filed about three months ago, over MTN’s claims of unpaid sh20b in interconnection charges that the telecom giant says was accumulated over a three-year period. 

The interconnection fee is the amount an operator pays another for routing traffic through their networks. 

David Ogong, the UCC director of competition and corporate affairs, said they had been mediating over this issue and the two players agreed to keep their networks connected until June 26, 2011. “We are advising the Government that we could have a big problem in our hands, we have tried our best to see that utl pays,” said Ogong. 

The Libyan government owns about 69% of utl under its investment arm, Libya Africa Investment Portfolio. The Government owns the rest. But a few months ago, government took over full control of utl partly complying with UN sanctions against Libyan assets in the wake of the political turmoil in the North African state.

Essar Denies It Is Selling Off Yu

Indian conglomerate the Essar Group has denied international media reports suggesting that it is looking to sell off its 70% stake in Kenyan mobile operator Essar Telecom Kenya (ETK), which operates under the ‘Yu’ brand.

The Essar Group hit back at the claims – which originated with India’s Economic Times earlier this week – commenting: ‘Essar remains committed to the African market and is satisfied with its operations in Kenya. It is not evaluating any sell off options’.

The original report coincided with the Essar Group’s admission that it has pulled out of a long-standing agreement to acquire telecoms assets in Uganda and the Republic of Congo. An unnamed source, with knowledge of the matter, suggested that the Indian firm no longer viewed telecoms as a core strategic interest.

Speculation was rife that South African telecoms giant MTN – a company with a long-held interest in securing a foothold the Kenyan wireless sector – was interested in buying out ETK. MTN is now believed to have distanced itself from the rumours.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Orascom Reports Losses of US$170 Million

Egypt’s Orascom Telecom has posted a net loss of USD169.53 million in the last three months of 2010 on the back of both the depreciation of the local currency against the US dollar and increased pressure in foreign markets.

The company noted that as its primary accounts are held in Egyptian pounds the appreciation of the US dollar against the local currency had ‘had a significant effect on the mark to market value of the US dollar denominated debt at Orascom Telecom Holding of approximately USD3.5 billion.’ 

For the twelve months ended 31 December 2010 Orascom posted a net profit of USD781.45 million, more than double the USD378.63 million reported for 2009, which the company attributed predominantly to gains recognised as a result of its revised agreements with France Telecom regarding the ownership of Egyptian cellco MobiNil.

In terms of turnover, in 4Q 2010 Orascom reported revenues of USD980 million, while full-year revenues totalled USD3.825 billion, up 2% year-on-year; Orascom noted that it was not including results from Orascom Telecom Tunisia, which the company agreed to sell in January 2011.

All of the group’s subsidiaries reported revenue growth bar Algerian operator Djezzy, which Orascom noted had endured ‘the persistence of an adverse operating environment.’ Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) in 4Q10 stood at USD402.24 million, while in FY2010 it was USD1.584 billion, up 4% y-o-y. 

At end-December 2010 Orascom’s consolidated subscriber base was 101.683 million, with its Pakistani unit, Mobilink, accounting for the largest number of those, some 31.794 million, up 3.2% against end-2009. MobiNil reported a wireless subscriber base of 30.225 million at the end of the year, up almost 20% against end-2009, while the largest percentage increase was reported at Telecel Globe – which comprises the group’s operations in Namibia, Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Burundi – where customer numbers increased by 77.8% to 3.242 million.

Bangladeshi unit Banglalink meanwhile reported a subscriber base of 19.3327 million at 31 December 2010, up almost 40% compared to the same date a year earlier, which Orascom said was the result of aggressive acquisition and strong customer retention strategies.

Commenting on the results Khaled Bichara, Orascom’s Group CEO, said: ‘The year 2010 has proven to be a year of significant milestones aiding the growth of Orascom Telecom Holding on an operational and strategic level.’

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vodacom Announces 43.2Mbps HSPA+ Deployment

Mobile operator Vodacom South Africa has confirmed that it has exceeded 1,000 active 43.2Mbps HSPA+ sites on its network, the South African media reports.

Although the deployment has taken place over time, Vodacom stressed that it did not want to publicise the improved speeds until they had achieved ‘significant’ HSPA+ coverage.

CEO Pieter Uys commented: ‘We have actually had the technology up and running for some time, but we wanted to have a critical mass of at least 1,000 base stations before flipping the switch to allow consumers access at up to double the speed. We wanted to make sure that we had the service available in more than just one city’.

According to Vodacom currently has over 4,300 3G base stations in South Africa, of which 2,650 are 21Mbps enabled, with the remainder supporting transmission speeds of 14.4Mbps.

Further, Vodacom chief technical officer Andries Delport has disclosed that Vodacom plans to have a total of 2,000 HSPA+ towers upgraded to support transmission speeds of 43.2Mbps by May 2011. Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys had previously indicated that Vodacom intends to roll out an additional 1,000 3G base stations during 2011. Despite the increase in peak speeds Vodacom has said that it is focusing on increasing the average performance of its overall network, and will connect 2,000 mobile sites to fibre by the end of the current financial year. 

However, Delport tempered the announcement by conceding that speeds of up to 43.2Mbps are strictly theoretical, and depend on how many people are using the towers, and their proximity to the base stations; in a live HSPA+ test staged on Friday Vodacom demonstrated peak download speeds of around 37Mbps. There will be no increase in costs to existing subscribers, and compatible 43.2Mbps HSPA+ dongles are now available in Vodacom retail stores. Although precise rollout details are unknown, it is believed that most major metropolitan areas will be covered from the outset. 

Vodacom’s announcement came just days before rival Cell C was set to officially inaugurate its own 43.2Mbps HSPA+ network, in Port Elizabeth, on 19 April.

WACS Arrives Near Cape Town

Submarine communications cable the West Africa Cable System (WACS) has landed in Yzerfontein, near Cape Town. The 14,000km cable, which is expected to dock at 14 different landing points along the Western coast of Africa, before linking to the Canary Islands, Portugal and the UK, is set to commence commercial service in 1Q12. The total capacity of the system is 5.12Tbps, and at least 500Gbps will be lit at launch.

Investors in the WACS cable include South African telcos MTN, Vodacom, Telkom South Africa, Broadband Infraco and Neotel.

Angus Hay, head of strategic business development at Neotel, commented: ‘This is the dawn of a new era in the South African telecommunications industry. 

Since the launch of SEACOM and later EASSy, international bandwidth to South Africa has increased. The landing of WACS sets Neotel ahead of its competitors, as it is the only telecommunications operator that has direct access to all five undersea cables landing in South Africa: WACS, SEACOM, EASSy, SAT-3 and SAFE. 

For Neotel this means that our customers are highly unlikely to experience downtime since the traffic can be moved from one cable to another in case of any cable failure. The level of redundancy, reliability and security will now increase’.

Mauritius Telecom Reports 17% Growth In Profits

Mauritius Telecom (MT) said pre-tax profits rose 17% year-on-year to MUR2.4 billion (USD89.1 million) in 2010, driven by strong growth at its mobile division. MT added that net profits rose 16% from MUR1.4 billion to MUR1.7 billion, and revenue climbed 5.6% from MUR7.1 billion to MUR7.5 billion. The company’s chief executive officer Sarat Lallah said the mobile segment grew by 10.4% in FY2010 compared with 6.7% in FY2009, while the internet segment also grew strongly. 

MT, which is 40% owned by France Telecom and is the country’s dominant fixed line and mobile operator, has revealed plans to invest as much as MUR4.3 billion, or 50% of its reserves, in international projects in the short term. It claims to have ‘sufficient reserves’ and that it is in talks with unnamed telecoms providers in Uganda and Vanuatu.

It is also looking to start trading its shares on the Indian Ocean island nation’s bourse, pending approval from the government, Chairman Appalsamy Thomas has said. ‘We are waiting for the decision from the Ministry of Finance,’ he added, ‘Once it’s obtained, it will take us four months before listing.’ Under the plan the government, the State Bank of Mauritius and the National Pension Fund will reduce their stakes in the company through the listing. About 10% to 15% of shares will be traded on the nation’s exchange, CFO Cyprien Mateos said.