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.

18 Nov 2015

Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize highlights the importance of ICT for development in a keynote at AfricaCom

The Hon. Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of South Africa’s Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, took to the stage at AfricaCom this morning to highlight the importance of information and communications technologies for socio-economic development in Africa.
“As a newly established Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, we appreciate an opportunity to come and share ideas with such a distinguished audience” the Minister said.
She highlighted the Department’s objectives: “Much of the ICT revolution is driven by the private sector but as a government we have realised that we have an important role to play in aligning policies with the possibilities emerging from the private sector. What we’ve struggled with is the digital divide. The cost of communications is unreasonably high in societies where it is needed the most".
Broadband access is a key priority: “In 2014 South Africa had an internet penetration rate of about 40%. There is a significant growth but it tends to be concentrated in the ‘golden’ cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and East London. Our target in terms to achieve 100% broadband penetration by 2020”.
She mentioned education, e-government, e-health and mobile financial services as key elements of ICT development: “We are investing a lot in e-government. We see the use of technology as a real enabler. People who access services online tend to have higher levels of satisfaction, so it calls for a clear e-strategy.”
She called for increased cooperation between industry stakeholders and recognised the important support that regulators and governments can give the industry: “we are aligning our policy strategies with the regulators and ensuring we promote a competitive environment.  I invite you to look carefully at partnerships and to take advantage of the tax breaks and the many opportunities that governments are availing.” In terms of spectrum allocation, the department is in the process of auditing the needs and she acknowledged the clear need for new allocation toward ICT development.
Overall the Minister emphasized the importance of developmental goals: “The biggest commodity in the world today is knowledge. Strategic investment in the ICT sector will allow Africa to take its right place in the world”.
AfricaCom continues in Cape Town until Thursday 19th November.

17 Nov 2015

Innovation needs more support in Africa, say keynote speakers at AfricaCom

AfricaCom 2015 opened today with a keynote panel on innovation leadership, asking how to support a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in digital Africa.
Moderated by Larry Madowo, tech editor at NTV Kenya, the panel brought together Christian de Faria, CEO of Airtel Africa, Markku Makelinen, Director of Global Operator Partnerships at Facebook, Marc Rennard, EVP of AMEA at Orange and Bright Simons, President of mPedigree and award-winning entrepreneur.
Christian de Faria started by stating “We’re not doing enough in terms of innovation. There’s a lot of talent in Africa so how do we support it?” He mentioned the partnership Airtel developed with Facebook as a way of supporting innovators and called for the gian OTT brand to expand its presence in Africa beyond the new office opened recently in South Africa.
According to Markku Makelinen, the driver for all innovation is connectivity to the internet.
For Marc Rennard, innovation is part of our Orange’s DNA: “We support local innovation through partnerships with incubators, venture prizes, technocentres etc. The most important thing is to create a favourable local environment as the innovation coming from the field in Africa meets actual needs of local people”
Bright Simons said governments are uniquely positioned to support innovation: “Africa is very fragmented so the market isn’t the best place to transform innovation into a scalable market-winning product. Governments can create the initial spark for local innovation and the market will follow.” Other panellists agreed on the lack of support from governments, who don’t always have the will or ability to look at long-term objectives. Taxation was once again mentioned as an issue in the tech field.

To wrap up the discussion, Bright called for ecosystem innovation; Marc said the future will be API, open innovation and a multi-cultural approach to innovation; Markku advised entrepreneurs to innovate not imitate; and Christian called for the industry to get together in a more meaningful manner and encourage the bright minds we have on the continent.

13 Nov 2015

The role of ICT in enabling socio-economic development – Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of South Africa’s Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services at AfricaCom 2015

There can be little doubt that the burgeoning Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector is shaping the future of socio-economic development across Africa. So much so, that governments the continent over, have recognized that access to the ‘Internet is a basic necessity for more than just business, education and service delivery, but also for survival and individual self-respect’, as noted by the Hon. Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of South Africa’s Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services in her budget speech in 2015.

Professor Mkhize will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming AfricaCom 2015 conference and will address delegates on “the role of ICTs for Inclusive Social and Economic Development in Africa” on the morning of 18th November. She will address the role of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in enabling inclusive socio-economic development, whether access to the Internet is derived from broadband in homes and offices, or via the mobile telephone, which is growing in popularity as the number one method to getting online.

Still, access and its subsequent impact on overall economic growth is being hampered by the cost and poor quality of ICT-infrastructure. This is where Governments have a vital role to play in developing progressive ICT policies and regulatory frameworks that can unlock the real potential that ICT can play in expanding citizen consciousness to realise a thriving information society and knowledge economy. Professor Mkhize said “Connectivity has demonstrated its ability to ignite socio-economic development time and again. We need to expand existing infrastructure and introduce new technologies to connect our citizens, especially those in rural areas. Like the cutting-edge satellite technology deployed by Avanti Communications to deliver high speed broadband across 100% of South Africa today. Connected regions will produce the increased economic growth that a thriving information society drives.”

“We are delighted to welcome the Hon. Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize at AfricaCom this year. Governments have a unique role to play in supporting telecommunications, digital and ICT development. Prof. Mkhize’s keynote speech will highlight the economic and social importance of the sector in Africa, a message that is at the heart of AfricaCom” confirmed Julie Rey-Gore, Research Director at Informa Telecoms & Media.

Prof. Mkhize's participation to AfricaCom shows the importance of governments and regulators in the development of a healthy communications sector in Africa. The AfricaCom 2015 programme reflects this importance with a new Regulatory Panel, taking place on Tuesday 17th November with the participation of Isaias Barreto da Rosa (Commissioner forTelecommunications and IT, ECOWAS), Thari G. Pheko (Chief Executive,Communications Regulatory Authority) and Pakamile Pongwana (CEO, ICASA).

About AfricaCom 2015
Taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from 17 -19 November 2015, AfricaCom is now in its 18th year. AfricaCom is Africa’s largest communications conference & exhibition. The conference programme covers the
most strategic issues affecting companies in Africa’s digital market - services, efficiency, profitability, customer experience, partnerships, policy and more – and features 4 co-located events: VSAT Africa, TV Connect Africa, LTE Africa and Apps World Africa. To register: http://africa.comworldseries.com/register/

Announcing the Ericsson AHUB Pitch & Win finalists

We are proud to announce the finalists of the Pitch & Win session, which will take place at the Ericsson AHUB at AfricaCom on Wednesday 18th November.

The Pitch & Win session will give  5 African tech start-ups a chance to make themselves known and receive recognition in the industry. After receiving entries from all over Africa, our judges have selected the following

The finallists
  • AfyaBimaa mobile Micro health Insurance product for the low income and informal sector population
  • CitySpy: an app aiming to streamline community policing strategies by merging it with location-based social networking strategies
  • iGrow Academyan online business vocational college
  • The Medical Concierge Groupa Health IT enterprise based in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria founded in 2012. 
  • VericomMachine 2 Machine (M2M) solution targeting consumers in different sectors

The format
5 start-ups will pitch for 3 minutes in front of our panel of judges and will have 3 minutes to answer questions from the judges.
The judges will deliberate and will name the top Ahub start-up. All finalists will receive feedback from the judges on their pitch.

The Judges
Derrick Kotze, CEO, mLab Southern Africa
Pierre Cloete, EP Head TV & Media, Ericsson
Susie Goldring, Director, 22tribes 
Peter Martin, Northwind Capital

When will the winner be announced?
-    The winner will be announced at the Ericsson AHUB on Wednesday 18th November at 4pm. 

12 Nov 2015

How Simplifying Customer Analytics Can Accelerate Returns from Big Data - Inna Ott, Director of Marketing at Polystar

The emerging science of Big Data Analytics has been a hot topic in the industry for several years but, until now, progress towards widespread utilisation of the insights it can reveal has been relatively slow. There are two primary reasons for this. First, while everyone knows that Big Data offers huge potential, the issue has been, where to start? With so much data available, it’s been hard to see the wood for the trees. Second, the ability to work with big data has been restricted to a few specialist data scientists.

This has changed. Today, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are showing clear signs that Big Data strategies and plans have reached maturity by accelerating deployment of solutions that enable them to begin to capitalise on this rich resource. The difference driving this gathering momentum is that there are now clearly identifiable targets that enable a step-by-step approach to the implementation of Big Data strategies.

Many CSPs, for example, have chosen to focus on Subscriber Analytics as the first step in their Big Data strategies. This is because Subscriber Analytics is believed to offer the greatest potential to deliver rapid returns, enabling them to build better relationships with subscribers, among other benefits.

There’s a simple reason for this: a deep understanding of customer behaviour, while fundamental to business success, has traditionally been an expensive and imprecise discipline. Imprecise, because extrapolation from the few to the many is no guarantee of accuracy; and expensive, because efforts to obtain statistically significant data from which more accurate conclusions can be drawn, can be exceedingly costly.

While isolated data sets can deliver insight, conclusions that can be drawn may not be sufficiently representative. For CSPs, the ability to obtain accurate, timely insight into what customers actually do from a sufficiently broad sample base provides an unparalleled opportunity to not only provide better service and support, but also to reduce the costs of customer research. Big Data provides the constant flood of real-time, objective information about customer behaviour that makes this possible. The difficulty has, until now, been to make this information available to the many, not just data scientists.

Happily, there are now solutions like ones from Polystar that address this problem. A new class of advanced processing engines is available that sort information collected from the network and filters it so that it can be made relevant to different users. This pre-processing removes the pain from Big Data Analysis and delivers the right information in an accessible manner to people within the organisation. Smart solutions provide different views, so that, for example marketing teams can see the information they need, while customer services obtain a different view – and can interrogate the data with different queries and questions.

This simplification is critical. It democratises data and, for the first time, enables its potential to be realised. Data analytics is not longer a specialist discipline. Now, not only can anyone ask the right questions, but we can ensure the right people are able to discover the answers.

Meet Polystar at AfricaCom (Stand F14a) to explore how your company can benefit from a fast and efficient Customer Experience Management solution and get aggressive return on investment in a short time period.

11 Nov 2015

Merchant solutions could be the answer to mobile money’s last mile issue - Nomanini CEO

The mobile money agency system has made huge progress in increasing access to financial services and reducing the cost of transactions, though in terms of serving the “last mile” - those wishing to make single dollar transactions - there is still much to be done. But the answer may be staring us in the face, says Nomanini CEO, Vahid Monadjem.

In disrupting the traditional financial system, with its reliance on formal tellers and ATMs, mobile money and its agency model have taken off across Africa. According to Frost & Sullivan, the value of mobile money transactions in Sub-Saharan Africa reached USD 656 million in 2014, and may more than double to USD 1.3 billion in the next four years.

The success of the likes of M-Pesa, Paga, Zoona and Splash-Cash stemmed from the relative inaccessibility to and unaffordability of the banking system for small transactions. Mobile money providers reduced the cost of transactions by eliminating the need for high-cost office space and tellers behind expensive counters. Yet, if we are speaking about banking the unbanked, values transacted are still relatively large and hence infrequent. The average M-Pesa transaction value is over USD 20, which is a lot if you earn less than USD 2 per day, which well over one billion people globally do. It's time to extend the gains of the agency model to the next level: to single dollar transactions with general retail merchants on every street corner.

For payments with dedicated agents, who earn all their income from transactions, the fixed monthly cost is USD 150 - 250 per agent. An agent would have to process over USD 20,000 in transactions to break even. If they were to do that on single dollar transactions, each agent would have to process two transactions a minute, eight hours a day, every day of the week. This is not likely to happen. So average transaction values remain at around USD 30 and providing single dollar transactions continues to be uneconomical.

There is a need for a third tier in the payments system if the last mile of payments is to be covered. The first tier is of course bank branches and ATMs, the second tier is mobile money agents and the third tier is merchant payments. We need to make single dollar transactions a cost-effective reality, which it cannot be under the current system, as it is impossible for single dollar transactions to cover the costs of the first and second tier models.

The answer, however, may be staring us in the face: merchants in the informal retail trade. Nigeria has thousands of bank branches, tens of thousands of mobile money agents, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of small retail merchants. This is a ubiquitous touch-point for consumers across Africa.

At Nomanini we are realising that services like ours can be the last mile when it comes to single dollar payments.

This is based on simple economics. Whereas 100 per cent of an agent’s income comes from payments, merchants sell all sorts of other items, so processing of transactions provides an additional income or a complementary income for the rest of their business. In fact a merchant wants to do small transactions to attract customers. If the transactions are too large, their liquidity suffers and they would rather refer those transactions to dedicated agents. With lower overheads - the shop is already built, the staff are already employed - costs come down, and with them so do transaction values. Now single dollar payments are a possibility, simply by utilising a massive pre-existing network.

People that live on USD 5 per day - over four billion people, or two-thirds of the world’s population - can now cost effectively make electronic transactions daily. This third tier of financial services provides one more level of inclusion to the use of e-money, which can then be extended over time to transactions for other things such as microfinance and insurance. To create a truly cashless society will require that the liquidity and cost of using of e-money to be on a par with cash, for those at the bottom of the pyramid as well as at the top. That is the story of single dollar payments, where currently cash has a better value proposition for daily payments.

Creating this third tier has its challenges. Payments is a low margin business and last mile is an unattractive area to serve for many businesses regardless of what sector you are in. There has been little consolidation in the market, and the immaturity of the ecosystem is a hindrance to doing it at scale. Merchant acquisition is intensive and requires significant tech and organisation.
By utilising the huge existing merchant network to make single dollar payments more accessible and affordable to the bottom of the pyramid, a third tier is possible. This is what our service offering enables. And from there, it could provide a springboard to a multitude of ancillary services - such as credit scoring and inventory management for merchant. We just need to get the economics right for nano-transactions.

About Author

Vahid Monadjem is the founder and CEO of Nomanini, a South African-based enterprise payments platform provider that enables transactions in the cash-based informal retail sector.

He is passionate about working at the intersection of technology and design in informal markets, where Nomanini’s solutions can directly impact people's lives. Vahid’s vision for Nomanini is to provide platforms for transactions in emerging markets by empowering local partners to create the tools that best suit their particular environment. 

10 Nov 2015

OTT Rising - PeerApp

At last year’s AfricaCom, a panel of African operators admitted that “OTT was here to stay”, though to a large degree, the comments were in the context of messaging type apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp used on mobile devices.  In many other parts of the world, “OTT” (over-the-top) was starting to mean streaming video delivered directly from content publishers over the Internet.   “Over the Internet” involving the telco for ‘last mile’ delivery – of course - whether or not the telco is getting a cut of any revenue associated with the content. 

A year later, as we all get ready for AfricaCom 2015, “OTT” in Africa is indeed also starting to mean streaming video – including livestreaming.  And operators are starting to feel the same bandwidth squeeze felt in other parts of the world, as the flood of Internet content swamps their networks.   And, given the high predominance of mobile in Africa – and particular challenges associated with mobile video – African operators have their work cut out for them trying to get all that content to their subscribers at the expected quality…and do that efficiently. 

How can network operators address this challenge? Experience has shown that simply by boosting broadband network capacity and speeds is not enough.  Internet access speeds are clearly important, but it’s the quality and performance of the ‘apps’ (including content!) that matter most to consumers. The shorter the distance OTT content needs to travel, the better consumer experiences will be.  And of course, consumer experience is a huge retention factor, which is so important in today’s competitive environment. 

Adding local content delivery capabilities to broadband access networks puts popular Internet-based information and entertainment – including live streaming video - on a faster lane to consumers.   Local content delivery significantly improves QoE (Quality of Experience) and performance for end-users by storing popular OTT content closer to consumers at the edge of operator networks, thus shortening latency and improving quality and performance.  It also relieves network congestion, conserves bandwidth and lowers operating and capital expenses for any type of operator - mobile or fixed. 

From an operating standpoint, local content delivery must integrate easily with both fixed and mobile networks, and be available as a virtualized solution for maximum efficiency. 

Augmenting broadband access networks with local content delivery helps carriers optimize their bandwidth use and decongest the last-mile squeeze, so that streaming video and other OTT content can be delivered smoothly.

Interested in learning more, including how we are helping our 80+ customers in Africa meet similar challenges?  Visit us on Stand A10 at AfricaCom.  www.peerapp.com @PeerApp 

9 Nov 2015

Cyber Security Innovation Race – Three Things Organisations in Africa Need To Know

As cyber attackers increase their ability to innovate, so they are able to enhance their capacity to outpace state-of-the-art security technology. Keeping up with the dynamic, ever-changing threat landscape is key to ensuring your defences are optimised in this cyber battle. Here are three things you need to know to ensure your IT security stays one step ahead of attackers.

1. Attacks are more sophisticated and disruptive

If enterprises aren't evolving as fast as they can, then the attacking community is going to leave them in the dust. The recent Cisco 2015 Midyear Security Report highlighted the latest threats, which include:
  • The increasing exploitation of Adobe Flash vulnerabilities mean that they are being regularly integrated into widely used exploit kits such as Angler and Nuclear. 
  • Malware authors are amplifying their use of techniques such as sandbox detection to conceal their presence on networks. 
  • Criminals are once again using Microsoft Office macros to deliver malware and evade security protections. 
  • Operators of crime ware, like ransomware, are hiring and funding professional development teams to help ensure their tactics remain profitable. 
  • Criminals are turning to the anonymous web network Tor and the Invisible Internet Project (I2P) to relay command-and-control communications while eluding detection. 
  • Some exploit kit authors are using excerpts from Jane Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility, into web landing pages so that antivirus and other security solutions are more likely to classify these pages as authentic. 

It is vital that companies remain aware of these hazards and ensure they keep abreast of the latest attack innovations, as these are becoming increasingly lethal. The seriousness of this threat to South African businesses was highlighted recently in the drafting of the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill.

2. An integrated solution means faster time to detection

Time to detection is the most important metric in security; we have to see it to stop it, and the faster we see it, the faster we can manage its implications. Speed means agility and adaptability and ultimately the destruction of threats.

Detection ideally needs to be done in minutes, even seconds. However, the current industry standard of threat detection is 100 to 200 days, which means that the hackers are winning.  Cisco has managed to reduce threat detection to just 46 hours, which we believe is still too long, and needs to be continually improved upon. 

Faster time to detection can be enhanced by introducing an integrated solution. A patchwork quilt of security products and solutions is impossible to manage. Simplicity is key. Vendors must be vigilant in developing integrated security solutions that help organisations be proactive and align the right people, processes, and technology. Organisations face significant challenges with point product solutions and need to consider an integrated threat defense architecture that embeds security everywhere, and will enforce at any control point. 

3. Turn to trustworthy solutions, products and vendors

As the security industry addresses increased fragmentation, a dynamic threat landscape, and how to cope with a rising shortfall of skilled talent, businesses must invest in effective, sustainable and trusted security solutions and professional services. The technology industry, in turn, must provide reliable and resilient products and services, and security businesses must deliver vastly improved, yet meaningfully simplified, capabilities for detecting, preventing, and recovering from attacks. 

IT vendors have to up their game across their service offering to be defined as trustworthy. Companies want to buy from vendors they believe in, vendors who can prove they are transparent and who have a statement of principles that they follow. This includes everything from developing a life-cycle of a product that has security in mind, to making sure you have a secure supply chain, to the instrumentation of products which you can test.  

In order to provide end-to-end security solutions to customers, Cisco announced its intent to acquire Lancope, Inc. Lancope, through its StealthWatch system, provides network behavior analytics, threat visibility and security intelligence to protect enterprise networks against today’s top threats. As a result, we are embedding threat protection capabilities from the enterprise infrastructure to the data center, from mobile to the cloud, and through to endpoints.

This year Cisco, a global IT leader, will highlight the various cyber security concerns that service providers face at AfricaCom 2015. Scheduled to take place between the 17th and 19th November at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, AfricaCom promises to draw over 10,000 delegates within the technology space. With the acknowledgement that cyber security should be a top priority for all businesses, experts at the 2015 AfricaCom Conference will unpack the various threats and viable solutions to cyber-attacks in a hyper connected world.

By Paolo Campoli, Head of Global Service Provider Sales, Middle East & Africa at Cisco

Hon. Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize to give a keynote at AfricaCom

Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, has confirmed her participation to AfricaCom, the largest event of the telecommunications, digital and ICT sector in Africa. She will give a keynote presentation on Wednesday 18th November on ICTs for Inclusive Social and Economic Development in Africa.

Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize is the Deputy Minister of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal ServicesDuring the previous administration, she served as the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, the Deputy Minister of Economic Development Department and the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training. She is the former Ambassador of South Africa to the Netherlands. Prof Mkhize is the former Commissioner of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She is the former Treasurer General of the ANCWL. She has served as a secretary, treasurer and chair at a branch level and the Zonal Chairperson in the Randburg-Diepsloot areas. She is the Convener of the ProgressiveWomen Movement of South Africa (PWMSA)She is the Honorary Professor of Psychology at the University of South Africa. She has served in numerous Boards and Trusts. She is the founder Member of the National Children and Violence Trust, a Child’s Rights Organization.

Prof. Mkhize's participation to AfricaCom shows the importance of governments and regulators in the development of a healthy communications sector in Africa. The AfricaCom programme reflects this importance with a new Regulatory Panel, taking place on Tuesday 17th November with the participation of Isaias Barreto da Rosa (Commissioner for Telecommunications and IT, ECOWAS), Thari G. Pheko (Chief Executive, Botswana CommunicationsRegulatory Authority) and Pakamile Pongwana (CEO, ICASA).

For more information on the AfricaCom programme click here.

5 Nov 2015

Cloud services: the missing piece of the quad play for SMBs?

Technology convergence has created an extraordinary opportunity for telcos to broaden their offer to consumers. The fab four that make up the quad play service set (phone, broadband, TV and wireless) have helped these businesses move beyond their core value proposition and step into the role of content providers.

Now they have many more reasons to be in touch, and many more things to talk about. That’s helping build deeper, more rewarding relationships with customers, generating valuable consumer data and shoring up revenue streams. It’s also setting the stage for these businesses to continue extending their services, moving into areas that would previously have seemed unrelated to their brand activities.

Making a play for the SMB market

But how can quad play work for the small businesses (SMBs) that are an important subset of telco customers? While they’re in the market for mobiles, WiFi and other communication solutions, TV doesn’t rank high on SMBs’ list of must-haves. Given the pressure telcos are experiencing on revenues and margins in core income streams, finding a replacement fourth service for SMBs is something of an imperative.

Not only could it help protect their ARPU, it could even lead to growth. Up until now, however, that missing piece of the jigsaw has proved elusive. Just what is it that could legitimately build engagement and offer real value to SMBs?

Step forward cloud services. More and more SMBs are wising up to the range of help and advice available through cloud-based apps. In our recent survey, 70% said they’re considering accessing this support in the next 2-3 years. Given this explosion in interest, cloud solutions should really be a default part of the SMB quad play.

Don’t lose out to your competitors

And quite naturally, telcos are rapidly moving into this space: to make the most of its huge growth opportunity and to benefit from the boom in SaaS apps being designed to meet small business needs. For those Tier 1 and Tier 2 telcos without cloud service propositions, there’s no time to waste. Competitors are busy, working to establish a presence in this market before it tips over into mass adoption by SMBs. 

But filling that gap and making cloud services the fourth piece in the quad play won’t be enough. As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog, if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. As much as you need to invest in the technology behind an app marketplace, you’ll also need to develop a powerful Go To Market strategy and invest in an effective digital engagement platform. Only then will telcos realise the potential that cloud services promise as part of the quad play for SMBs.