Great growth for Africa, but …
Africa’s communications market offers exceptional opportunities for growth thanks to increased demand for communications and broadband services, but operators must improve coverage and quality of service, and regulators must provide effective regulation to facilitate this growth.
These were the key messages from AfricaCom 2007, the continent’s leading communications event for mobile, fixed, wireless and satellite telecommunications professionals, which took place in Cape Town last week. More than 3000 attendees, 70 expert speakers and 150 exhibitors participated.
At the high-level strategic conference, some of the region’s thought-leaders discussed what they thought were the optimum strategies for growth in their sector.
The Big Change editor and World Wide Worx MD, Arthur Goldstuck, participated in a panel discussion on wireless broadband. Colleague Steven Ambrose, WWW Strategy head, took part in a panel on business needs.
The opening keynote session included interviews of senior representatives of two telecommunications groups investing in the continent whose size and position are very different. Marc Rennard, EVP for Africa, Middle East & Asia at France Telecom Group, discussed his group’s expansion strategy in Africa. He was particularly pleased to discuss the group’s successful bid for a 51% share in Telkom Kenya, announced by the Kenyan government the previous Friday. This will be France Telecom’s first operation in East Africa, and will be able to benefit from the group’s expertise in providing fixed and mobile services.
Dr Nizar Dalloul, Chairman & CEO of smaller player Comium, explained how his group went out of its original Middle-Eastern market to start new operations in Africa: “Africa,” he said, “is the last great frontier for investment and growth. Although we are most established in West Africa this is not the limit of our geographic ambitions. We have initiatives in place in other selected markets and hope to make significant announcements shortly”.
The interviews were followed by a presentation by Alieu Conteh, Chairman and founder of Vodacom Congo (DR) who showed how a telecoms operator can thrive in a country where economic conditions have been extremely challenging.
Throughout the morning’s discussions, the speakers agreed on the strategic importance of improving coverage and quality of service (QoS), particularly in order to address the growing market in rural areas. The audience of the conference, polled in a newly introduced SMS voting feature, agreed with them, as 92% of them voted coverage and QoS improvement as the most important drivers for the success of operators in the region.
Marc Rennard summed up the message by saying: “voice and SMS revenues still represent 95% of their revenues in Africa, therefore operators have to go back to basics”, by making sure networks can cope with the demand.”
The role of the regulator was also describe as a key element in delivering a strategy to improve coverage, particularly in light of sanctions imposed by some regulatory authorities on operators not complying with the coverage requirements set in their licences. However, it was suggested that voluntary measures from the operators, such as infrastructure sharing, would be crucial in solving the coverage issue.
On the second day of the conference, more keynote speakers discussed how Africa’s communications market is changing shape, with new players entering the market with innovative business models, and making the most of new technologies to deliver communications services.
Tim Lowry, VP for Southern and Eastern Africa, MTN Group, and Managing Director of MTN South Africa, explained how mobile operators must adapt to the specific requirements of the continent’s market. He said , “In Europe, operators are competing with multiple screens, while in Africa the mobile phone will remain the only screen.” He added that this opened huge opportunities for mobile operators, who would remain the main ISPs, therefore creating new revenue channels.
Lowry also joined a panel discussion in which Paul Edwards, Chairman of Starcomms (Nigeria) and Peter Boyle, Managing Director of Virgin Mobile South Africa, discussing the evolution of the continent’s communications value chain. They stressed again the opportunities for telecoms operators to provide much-needed services by entering new fields of business such as banking – a service that has been very successful for MTN in South Africa, and for Safaricom, as was showed by Michael Joseph, the Kenyan operator’s CEO.
Martin de Koening, Group Director of Communications and Investor Relations at Celtel International, answered questions on Zain’s re-branding from MTC and the commercial strategy of its subsidiary Celtel International in Africa. He took the opportunity to announce the extension of the group’s One Network roaming services to six additional countries, therefore covering an area twice the size of Europe.
Other operators sharing their experience of their markets included Celtel Kenya (CEO David Murray), MTN Rwanda (CTO Peter Schulze), Zantel Tanzania (Director General Noel Herrity), Orange Cameroon (CTO Jean Lebel Ngopnang), and Celtel Malawi (CEO Charles Zouzoua), as well as representatives from the ITU and major telecommunications solutions providers.
In addition to the conference, the event included an exhibition with 150 companies displaying their solutions, including infrastructure equipment vendors, international carriers, satellite operators, OSS/BSS solutions providers, value-added services enablers, interconnection service providers, and SIM card vendors.
Next year’s event will take place in Cape Town on 18 and 19 November.