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Welcome to the Com World Series Blog. As producers of the leading telecoms, media and ICT events for developing markets, we focus on news & views that affect everyone operating in the telecoms ecosystem in Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia.

20 Oct 2014

Mobile money – time for a reality check?





The growth of mobile money in Africa over the last seven years has been phenomenal. Figures doing the rounds (and quoted by The Economist and Financial Times amongst others) include the calculation that 43% of Kenyan GDP is channelled through M-PESA each year, and that Kenyan mobile money is reported as having 26 million customers (Central Bank of Kenya website).

There’s a brilliant article by Susan Johnson, professor at the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Bath, in which she explores the big claims coming out about mobile money. I won’t go into the details here, but Susan found that the 43% of GDP figure is hugely misleading.  If you consider that only 9% of the value facilitated by the Central Bank’s real time gross settlement system are through M-PESA, its clear that this is a bogus statistic. Susan’s article, Kenyan mobile money and the hype of messy statistics, explains the premise and calculations in depth.

Subscriber numbers appear to have been overhyped too. The 26 million customer figure I referred to earlier (reported on the CBK website) is not a figure for unique customers. The data collected simply reports the total number of signups, without taking account of multiple registrations, hence it is not a figure for unique customers.

So, while M-PESA certainly has been a huge success, alternative figures provide more accurate, but less dramatic, comparisons.

My point here is that mobile money has not yet arrived, it has much further to go to meet its full potential. This rings true with what I have witnessed about the dominance of cash for the majority of consumers – not only in emerging markets, but also in first-world countries such as the US and UK where daily retail transactions are predominantly cash-based.

Back in emerging markets, the vast majority of prepaid airtime vouchers and scratch cards are still paid for in cash. This still the case for M-PESA’s parent mobile network, Safaricom. The same is true for other prepaid products like electricity vouchers, bus and train tickets and other micropayments. These kinds of transactions may be small in value but they are huge in volume.

Operators need to acknowledge the power and prevalence of cash even as they continue to build on the gains in digital money.

Vahid will be discussing solutions for the cash to digital convergence at AfricaCom. His presentation is at 12.40 pm on Day 2 of the conference (12 November) under the Mobile Money and M-commerce stream. You can view the full AfricaCom agenda here.

Meet Nomanini and investigate its rugged point of sale terminals and flexible cloud-based back-end at stand A21 in the exhibition hall, where you can pick up a free SIM and airtime - because we know that roaming is expensive! For more info: http://nomanini.com/africacom/

15 Oct 2014

Ahmad Farroukh, CEO MTN SA joins opening keynote panel at AfricaCom


Ahmad Farroukh, CEO of MTN SA
Ahmad Farroukh, Chief Executive Officer of MTN South Africa, confirmed this week he will join the opening keynote panel at AfricaCom, taking place in Cape Town on 11-13 November.
The panel will look at the complicated relations between telecom operators and OTT providers and how they can make their partnerships work. The panel will be composed of some of Africa's leading operators: Arthur Bastings, EVP Africa at emerging market specialist Millicom (better known under the brand Tigo), Christian de Faria, CEO of Airtel Africa (and former MTN Group executive), and Marc Rennard, EVP Africa, Middle East and Asia at Orange. They will be joined in the debate by representatives of two of the most significant OTT players in the world: Chris Daniels of Facebook and Katie Lampe of Twitter (participating for the first time at AfricaCom).
Panellists will look at the various partnership models for operators and OTT players and share their views on how the partnerships can benefit the customerswhile making commercial sense for all parties involved. It is a debate that has raged for the past few years and took a new turn earlier this year with the growth of voice-based OTT brands .
The session will open three days of inspiring debates in an event tht has established itself as the annual meeting place for the telecoms, media and ICT industry. Visit www.comworldseries.com/africa for more details

Spending money where it counts!


Written by: Erik Couture, EVP Sales at Polystar

Despite spending millions of dollars on expensive advertising campaigns, CSPs are still uncertain about where higher revenue can be found and how better customer loyalty can be created. It’s a bit like shooting arrows in the dark: they hope they will find the target, but they can’t be sure. It would be better if CSPs could find a way to be more focused and to choose more visible targets.

Consider the problem of churn. When an individual customer moves to another provider, there’s a huge cost involved in trying to win them back. The cost is much higher if it’s a large corporation with many employees, but the rewards are greater, as it is likely to have a correspondingly higher level of expenditure. Such customers regularly spend significant amounts on premium services, such as VPN, or international voice and data traffic. If one of these customers moves to another CSP, it can have a significant impact. Put simply, CSPs can’t afford to lose such high-value accounts. Large corporate accounts represent hard-won assets: they must be protected and nurtured.

These are clearly identifiable and highly visible targets. CSPs have to prioritise their efforts so that, while they take a broad-brush approach to mass-market advertising, they also adopt a more focused approach with such accounts. One way to achieve this is to invest in enhancing customer satisfaction, so that they reduce the likelihood of the most significant customers churning to a rival.

Time after time, market studies have shown that quality of service factors – and how they’re interpreted by customers – are the single most important predictors of user satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is the key factor in churn. Increased satisfaction increases customer retention. This doesn’t mean that things have to be perfect all of the time. In many cases, customers can tolerate temporarily degraded service qualities but only if they’re proactively alerted in advance to specific geographic or service-specific issues or, again proactively, offered bill reductions or free service to compensate for any impact on their experience.

But CSPs can only adopt such tactics if they have systems in place to  identify potential service-affecting issues before they hit the customer. Such service assurance systems need accurate information that provides the required service performance data. This information can deliver insight that can be used to support active, agile account management and a more customer-centric orientation. In addition, these insights will lead to enhancements in overall network quality, to the benefit of all customers. It’s a far better strategy to invest in appropriate CEM and service assurance systems and tools to ensure that any service issues don’t accumulate to create churn in the first place. Customer satisfaction is paramount.

These insights also have the potential to help CSPs in other ways, First, they can enable CSPs to direct network investments to the places in which they will deliver the best return, both in terms of revenues and customer experience: real-time network insights help target investment and enable CSPs to proactively manage service quality for their customers. This helps drives efficiency, as costly investments can pay better dividends and are not spread where they will have least impact.

Second, the same information can yield insights that allow new service offers and enhancements to be delivered to key customers. As we noted, delivering better customer satisfaction is key – but it’s just the initial step in a journey towards putting the customer first and delivering services and packages that really meet their needs. Information obtained from service assurance systems enables such processes to be created, based on objective information and not guesswork.

To deliver this kind of information, you need to first gather data in format- and vendor-agnostic ways from multiple sources. All elements involved in service or content delivery, spanning all relevant parts of the infrastructure must be covered. By converting this data into standard business objects reusable across different platforms, it becomes possible to expose it to all relevant supporting systems across the entire OSS/BSS environment. This enables the interpretation of the collected data, driving insight and improvement in vital areas, such as customer account management, as well as providing tactical information on user behaviour that can then be used for upselling new tariff plans, new devices and for enabling the targeted delivery of new services, tuned to actual user needs.

Service assurance has become a critical function, not just for the smooth operation of the network but also for ensuring consistent customer satisfaction. Gathering and delivering the required information to the right systems is a fundamental aspect of a CSP’s business. Quality of service, which is the foundation of service assurance, accounts for more than 50% of the influencing factors in customer experience. If customers experience poor service quality, all other efforts CSPs make to influence their experience will be wasted. CSPs therefore need to implement service assurance and optimisation programmes in a cost-effective manner. In essence, if CSPs don’t deliver the right quality to the right users, other investments will be seriously undermined.

This is a huge topic. It involves all aspects of the CSP’s organisation and can consume many resources. As such, it’s essential to minimise risk and to focus investment where it can deliver the most immediate returns – and support a customer centric strategy that targets the most valuable customers, such as large corporate accounts. While the integration of multiple sources of data for different platforms to consume is one option, another is to deploy a standalone platform that performs all of these tasks, including the presentation of data to other solutions.

Polystar provides both standalone and fully integrated solutions that can be deployed quickly to collect the information required to support such a programme. They include integrated CEM functionality and can be used to deliver subscriber, customer and marketing analytics, which enable CSPs to build new offers and specialised programmes for their customers, and to enhance network quality and optimise investments.

To spend money where it counts, you first have to know what matters. If you choose the right targets and use objective data to deliver exceptional service and performance, then everyone else can benefit too – but the CSP will be more certain of obtaining return on investments. More importantly, these investments will be more likely to have a positive impact on the bottom line. Data helps illuminate the target and ensures you don’t shoot arrows into the dark.

Meet Polystar at AfricaCom stand B36 to discuss how you can deliver a better experience for your customers.

14 Oct 2014

Managing Talent Acquisition across Africa



 

Written by: Tunde Makinde, Executive Consultant, Executives in Africa

Executives in Africa, the leading international Search firm focused 100% on Africa, is delighted to be media partner to AfricaCom 2014. Globally, we have the largest team of search consultants purely focusing on the Sub-Saharan market, with longstanding results in 22 different African countries.

Increased stability in communication routes in recent years has led to Executives in Africa being able to guide their candidates through the interview and job placement process more efficiently, and we believe our patience and tenacity during the times when technology was not so enabled has helped to give us a firm foothold in this busy arena.

Time and time again our clients tell us that one of the main problems they face is that of sourcing senior executive talent and candidates for leadership roles in Africa.  President and CEO of the Dangote Group recently said, “Having comparative advantage is no longer enough. You need a superior talent pool”. This is backed up by a recent report by PWC which found out that talent shortages are a major issue in Africa. Creating and fostering a skilled workforce is highly regarded by 84% of CEO’s surveyed. 

Talent acquisition is more than just finding the ideal candidate in for the working environment and we work hard to ensure our candidates make informed decisions on where they are locating to, have a firm understanding of protocol and a belief in being able to deal with any challenges they may be exposed to.
We have recently worked with a client that had exactly this type of problem. It is a large Tanzanian Group, which was committed to diversifying into the Pay TV sector and sought a high calibre and experienced Pay TV CEO to be hired within an exceptionally tight time frame as the planned launch date was in just three months.

The senior management of the Group held no prior experience of running a business in this particular sector, so they entrusted us with the critical task of identifying the most suitable individual for the CEO role. The truly global nature of this search meant that we needed to identify and map potential candidates all over the world.  

Our Research team successfully located strong potential candidates across Africa, the Middle  East,  India,  Europe  and  the  USA. Recommendations of possible candidates were also taken from existing contacts in this sector. The list reached 187 potential candidates with a good representation of both expatriate and local candidates.

We delivered the Short List within four weeks of sign off and the successful candidate was made an offer, had accepted and was in situ Dar es Salaam within three months.

Executives in Africa was recently also approached by the leading Pay TV company across Africa, who were looking for a Chief Operating Officer in Nigeria to lead a substantial team and report directly into their high ranking MD.  The candidate, who would be tasked with setting strategy and executing the business plan, represented a key hire for the client as Nigeria is set to go digital in 2015.

The Research team set out a global search and we were delighted to be able to swiftly present a candidate who had outstanding credentials, previous experience and who starts his contract next month.

We look forward to meeting you at AfricaCom 2014. If you would like to speak to Tunde Makinde please contact him directly at tm@executivesinafrica.com.

About Executives in Africa
Executives in Africa which is a search firm focusing on sourcing senior level professionals for roles based in sub-Saharan Africa. 
We have globally the largest team of search consultants purely focusing on the Sub-Saharan market and have successfully recruited in 22 different African countries. We pride ourselves on being able to identify both international talent and local talent and on numerous occasions we have provided shortlists purely with local candidates. In fact around 55% of our placements to date have been African nationals. For more information please visit: http://executivesinafrica.com/

13 Oct 2014

Interview: CEO, MTC Namibia: “In terms of maintaining business mobile sustainability into the future the price-per-gigabyte is critical.”



Written by Benny Har-Even

Miguel Geraldes, CEO, MTC Namibia is speaking on the subject of LTE launch strategies in Africa at the second annual LTE Africa conference, taking place on the 11th-13th November 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.


You’ve already launched LTE in Namibia? What have you learned from the experience?

Indeed, MTC launched LTE in May 2012, with an aim to increase speed and capacity, especially for mobile broadband users (dongles and routers), as well as the new smartphone users. MTC’s strategy since 2008 was to compete in the broadband market, first using 3G, and thereafter LTE to fight against ADSL. To become the market leader in the broadband segment using mobile pushed MTC to deliver a more efficient service in terms of speed and latency against the fixed services, and against WiMAX in the wireless. But as a third of the customer base was already using advanced smartphones, not providing LTE was not an option.

What makes launching LTE in Namibia different and more challenging than doing so in Europe?

The main challenge we had was delivering the backhaul and the international bandwidth. Fortunately, in 2008 MTC decided to enter into the WACS (submarine cable), which went into operation in Namibia in May 2012, and also the national fibre backbones using DWDM 40G technology that connect the main cities to the core systems. Currently we have more than 4,000Km, which resulted from an agreement with the power utility in order to light OPGW (optical ground wire) fibres in the high voltage network.

Another challenge successfully negotiated was spectrum availability; in particular 1800MHz. In Namibia the regulator and government provided a tremendous amount of support in order to accelerate Namibia to become the LTE leader in Africa.

Is the affordability of connectivity a concern for your business strategy?

We know that mobile bandwidth is doubling year by year and that this process is even accelerating – usage could increase give to ten-fold over the next five years. Therefore, in terms of maintaining business mobile sustainability into the future the price-per-gigabyte is critical. From our perspective the price-per-gigabyte is actually more critical than the speed we provide to users, because the network is providing more speed than what is needed in reality, even for video. We have to understand that LTE has an equivalent OPEX as 3G and sometimes the CAPEX is in some circumstances even lower than 3G, but LTE is able to process ten times more than 3G.

What are the challenges around backhauling from remote areas and what technologies come into play to do so?

Currently, we are not providing LTE in rural areas. We are waiting for the release of the 800Mhz spectrum, which will be perfect for providing the same coverage area for LTE as we have today with 2G.

When we do go rural, it will reopen the backhaul challenge because the traditional copper E1, or even old microwaves will not be able to accommodate LTE. However, a wide backbone with a huge capacity will be critical for the future upgrade backhauling. We should be able to connect to the existing backhaul easily, using IP microwave, and in some cases fibre, resolving that challenge.

In conclusion, for rural areas it is mandatory to have lower frequencies—800MHz—which is what was defined for our region, and also to have a wide backbone for backhauling, but it should not be too dramatic a challenge to overcome.

What are the most interesting and exciting network technologies coming down the line?

Technology is not exciting per say, but what is really exciting is how we can improve people’s lives with the technology. We have to understand the network holistically, and the different layers of the network—2G, 3G and LTE—in order for the components to synchronize perfectly. And for that, it is critical to understand all-IP networks.

In that light, at MTC we implemented the EPC (converged data core) using all of the different data technologies under the same roof. This was a huge step for our network, providing all of the data traffic flowing through the same core systems, from the GSM Edge to LTE. It is critical how the IT systems work within this new context, in particular the business support systems (BSS/billing and CRM).

The last point is how the operator can provide devices to the market, in terms of routers and dongles, but also in terms of a variety of the latest smartphones, because without that the customer cannot benefit from the significant investments in the network, and the operator from the benefits of monetizing the data in order to deliver a return on investment.

Additionally, we believe the virtualization of network components will happen in the medium and long terms.

Is your data traffic mainly internationally driven or local and how will that change over the next few years?
Our data traffic is mainly international. Local traffic is of a very low quantity, but it is very important in terms of relevance to our customers—for example, internet banking. We believe that most content, which included private information, will soon be in the cloud.

What are you most looking forward to with regard to the LTE Africa conference?


While AfricaCom is the main initiative, the LTE Africa conference is, in my opinion, the most valuable event, which any serious operator should not overlook. The panels and the speakers represent the most advanced information in the region, and I look forward to them sharing their views and experiences of what they are generating from LTE. For me that is of the most importance for us all—to understand the challenges and help provide success for the others.

Can Mobile Operators Fight Back Against Interconnect Fraud?






Written by Hassan Iftikhar, CSG International

With more than $2 billion USD of revenue lost every year to interconnect fraud, it’s no wonder why mobile operators around the world are focused on reducing illegal bypass termination, which represents the single largest contributor to interconnect fraud.

To circumvent calling rates, many subscribers in emerging markets have multiple phones to take advantage of offers that allow them to talk for free to subscribers on the same network. The same idea applies to termination of calls: by using multiple mobile phones (with multiple SIM cards) for each network, illegal terminators can direct calls onto the corresponding network. Calls will come into the country over the internet to a specific connection, then terminate via a mobile phone (or a rack of SIMs) which are in reality connected to the imposter’s computer. 

Bypass fraud is more prevalent in the countries where the cost of terminating an international call is considerably higher than that of a national call. This is most prevalent in many parts of Africa and the Middle-East. Fraudsters (individuals or organisation) will sell capacity to terminate calls in these countries at much cheaper rates, on the open market. They may even have direct connections to some operators. The end user (subscriber) is usually unaware of this sort of fraud but will experience delays, bad call quality and reduced services such as no caller id.

Illegal termination circumvents the regulated mobile operators who are allowed to take foreign calls coming into a given country. In some countries, industry experts estimate that as much as 70% of mobile traffic is terminated on illegal routes.
The technology to commit this type of fraud is readily available and is fairly easy to set up, break down, and set up somewhere else.  How can operators get ahead of this profit-draining trend?

Mobile operators have two lines of defense:


  • Live traffic analysis based solutions: these capture live customer traffic Call Detail Records (CDRs) from local switches and use rules to detect subscriptions/phone numbers with suspicious call patterns

  • Test call based solutions: these generate end-to-end controlled test calls from overseas into the target mobile network where test nodes are placed to receive the calls. The Calling Line Identification (CLI) is inspected.


Both approaches have their advantages and are effective when used in combination, particularly whenoperators also work closely with regulatory bodies to ensure prompt legal action. The test call based approach has the distinct advantage of speed: a test call-based system can pinpoint a SIM box number with a single call.

As with any type of fraud, speed is important since the way to remove illegal bypass from the network is to eliminate potential profits for the fraudster.  Continuously and rapidly blocking the fraudulent SIM cards becomes a nuisance for the fraudster, prompting them to look elsewhere for easier prey.

To combat this type of fraud successfully, operators are beginning to deploy solutions that generate continuous test calls from overseas into the target network—and do so in a variety of ways.  Since only some of the traffic into the country will be subject to illegal bypass, an effective solution must be able to simulate a large variety of traffic streams into the target network.

Indeed, fraud has become big business in the mobile world—and its attraction as a lucrative “get rich” quick scheme only promises to grow as subscribers in emerging markets and international calling plans rise. But with the right approach, mobile operators can fight fire with fire.

 For more recommendations and best practices on how to sniff out mobile fraud
visit us at AfricaCom stand P84
or download our white paper or learn more about call quality best practices here.