12 Feb 2010

As the mobile world is getting ready for its annual fest in Barcelona, what are the key trends in emerging markets?

It’s been an annual date on the telecoms calendar for decades now, and it was once the place where emerging markets were championed. As most of the world’s operators, vendors and analysts will be present at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I am expecting it to still be a good place to discuss the major trends in the sector. However it seems that this year’s event is looking mostly at the Northern hemisphere and may not address the issues in markets of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America. Even Asia seems a bit short-changed, as China is very well represented on the keynotes and by its vendors, but South-East Asia doesn’t appear as prominently.So, I’ll be spending my week finding out about how the issues addressed at Mobile World Congress relate to emerging markets. Here are my first thoughts/questions
LTE features heavily on the programme and on analysts’ bets on the most talked-about subject. It is indeed a big topic, particularly as TeliaSonera launched the world’s first LTE network in December. It is also big news in Asia, where operators in even the more emerging markets of Indonesia and the Philippines have committed to LTE deployments. It will be interesting to see what is said about the opportunities for these markets, particularly as we are working on a special LTE Focus Day at our next South East Asia Com event (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20-21 July). I am also interested in hearing what the LTE opportunities are for Africa. Some markets such as Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, have already seen the launch of HSPA or HSPA+ services, but when will operators need to start thinking of LTE? Most of the continent already has 3G, and there is demand for internet services, but the lack of disposable income is still an issue for the take-up of data offerings. As for Latin America, a relative late starter for 3G (except in Chile, leading the region’s telecoms sector), when are we to expect operators to start looking into it?
Offering affordable and relevant value-added services is another key area, particularly for emerging markets where voice is still the major services and where ARPU levels can be extremely low. Mobile money has so far been a major success in emerging markets (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa with Safaricom’s m-pesa,, Zain’s Zap and Orange Money), and it will be covered in a day-long session at the opening of the congress. But where else can operator look at? Social networking is raising a lot of interest, but is it applicable outside Western markets? Content is expensive, and often lacking in locally-produced offerings. Mobile marketing is an interesting option, and mobile internet seems the most likely service to increase data usage.
More specifically for the African market, I will be looking at the increasing capacity demand and the evolution of the market, as I am working on the new Capacity & Wholesale event to be co-located with this year’s AfricaCom. New submarine cables will hugely increase the continent’s access to broadband, but there is still work to do to connect the land-locked areas with fibre. Satellite operators still have a strong position in the market despite costly offerings, and it will be interesting to see how they react to new competition. And with the debates on operators’ strategies, their position in the telecom ecosystem, and the rise of managed services and outsourcing, how is the role of wholesale and international carriers evolving?
Finally, I wonder if the organisers will reflect on the recent disaster in Haiti, and include sessions on telecoms in emergency situations. In such times, it is important to remember that access to communications can have a crucial impact on rescue efforts, medical provisions and the logistics of providing aid.


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