22 Apr 2010

5 questions to Robert Aouad, CEO of ISP Isocel Telecom in Benin

Thanks to the launch of several submarine cables connecting it to Europe et the rest of Africa, Western and Central Africa is soon to experience dramatically improved internet access. This will no doubt give a great opportunity for new operators and Internet Service Providers to create a niche in the region's telecoms market. More particularly, it will improve access to communications for all, particularly for underserved segments such as the young and people on low income.
Robert Aouad is one of those entrepreneurs who has spotted the huge potential for alternative service providers to deliver internet access to the region. He is the main promoter of the ISOCEL project, launched in 2004 and which after 4 months became the first private ISP in Benin after the incumbent. ISOCEL is currently in the process of deploying similar wireless networks in six secondary cities in Benin and operate and manage ICT community centers.
Robert will be a panellist at the West & Central Africa Com cognress in Dakar in June, where he will share his thoughts on how fixed-Line, mobile & wireless operators can deliver reliable and affordable broadband services in the region. As an advance preview of the message he will put forward at the event, he answers five questions for us.

What are the key trends in West & Central Africa’s telecommunications market today?
The telecommunications market in West & Central Africa tends towards a radical transformation in the next 10 years, with increased competition among mobile operators, particularly as ARPU is diminishing. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of new subscribers will come from a low-revenue segment living in remote areas. This will push the sector’s stakeholders to make up for this decrease in revenues by offering other value-added services, mainly access to mobile internet.

What are the key markets trends to watch and why?
It would be interesting to observe the arrival of new generation technologies and their adoption in a larger market, such as WiMAX, HSDPA, CDMA EV-DO Rev B etc. After a few years, we will have a better understanding of which of these different technologies are most successful and if they have a sustainable business model.

How has the global economic situation affected your market, and how has your company responded to it?
We are lucky to be in a market which is still largely under-exploited. This means that we haven’t felt the consequences of the global economic situation, which hasn’t affected our growth in terms of subscribers and revenues. On the other hand, we operate in a market where the buying power is among the lowest and this has always forced us to create products and services that are affordable for our target customers.

Which services or technologies are likely to have the biggest impact on the market in the years to come?
It is certain that mobile internet access will have a remarkable growth but the success of 3rd and 4th generation technologies will be confronted with issues of available capacity when the number of users grows exponentially. We also hope that the MVNO model will be adopted massively by countries in West & Central Africa as it represents a win-win partnership for actual and virtual operators.

How important is the West & Central Africa Com congress for the region’s telecoms industry and what do you expect to take out of the event?
Like every year, the West & Central Africa Com congress is an occasion to meet the main stakeholders in the telecommunications market and to hear about the new market trends. The fact that the event is taking place in a French-speaking country will probably encourage more operators from the region to participate.