26 Sep 2013

Smile Communications talks LTE in Africa...



Irene Charnley
Irene Charnley, CEO of Smile Communications talks LTE to the Africa Com team…

We caught up with Irene Charnley ahead of the AfricaCom Conference and Exhibition, taking place at the CTICC in Cape Town, South Africa – 12-14 November to find out a bit more about her experiences and focus at the event.


AfricaCom: How is Smile Telecoms positioned in Africa and how do you see it evolve in the next year?

Irene Charnley: Smile is an African ICT pioneer, having launched the continent’s first 4G LTE services in Tanzania, followed by further launches in Uganda and Nigeria. Smile owns network, service and spectrum licenses which allow it to build and operate wireless broadband services in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC) – markets which currently have very limited broadband infrastructure, and which cover a combined market population of more than 300 million people. Smile’s group headquarters are located in South Africa, where it also has network and service licenses. In the event that it is awarded spectrum, South Africa will become the fifth market within which Smile will provide industry-leading 4G LTE services.
The next 12 months are likely to see continued growth in ICT access across the continent, combined with ever-increasing demand for high-speed, high quality and reliable broadband services as markets and services continue to mature. Increased competition and innovation amongst high-quality service providers and content and application providers will place additional pressure on legacy systems. This and other factors will add to the pressure on large legacy networks as consumer loyalty continues to decline and as the demand for high-quality and reliable services to support these new applications becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. 

AfricaCom: What is most affecting profitability for operators in Africa and how are you working to improve it?

Irene Charnley: There are a number of factors which limit operator profitability in Africa:
First, infrastructure challenges remain – including power supply (which is often non-existent, inconsistent or comparatively expensive) and the poor quality and unreliability of fiber networks and backhaul systems. Smile continues to work with its vendors and partners (including governments and regulatory agencies) to address these issues wherever possible.
 Second, backhauling costs remain unnecessarily high, in part due to limited fibre availability and the unwillingness of some providers to lease and/or sell existing fibre capacity. Market pricing for bandwidth remains excessively aligned to voice- as opposed to data services, and the lack of special concessions and incentives for broadband equipment limit operators’ ability to invest in infrastructure.
 Third, the high rental costs of shared sites limit the extent to which existing infrastructure can be used at maximum cost-efficiency. Many operators also face significant structural limits to their efficiency, resulting from their continued commitment to outdated 2G and 3G legacy infrastructure. In many cases, these legacy commitments also constitute a limiting factor to the efficient use of frequency spectrum. Smile has made a strategic commitment to the exclusive use of 4G LTE, significantly improving the quality of its services and the cost-effectiveness of its infrastructure and operations.
Finally, operator profitability is affected by high human resource costs, resulting primarily from the comparatively small pool of local 4G LTE expertise. Smile is addressing this challenge by focusing on securing and retaining high-quality expertise, designing its systems to maximise productivity and engaging in aggressive local talent recruitment and development.

AfricaCom: How is LTE changing the market and why is it important for Smile to be a leader in the field? 

Irene Charnley: In a sector which has been driven by innovation, LTE represents the next generation of technology, and therefore the future of the ICT sector as a whole. LTE allows for the more effective use of frequency spectrum, more product innovation and faster implementation, more stable and reliable services at higher data speeds, improved urban coverage and greater operational cost-efficiencies. LTE is the first standard which can truly live up to the promise of high-speed broadband services.

AfricaCom: What strategies are you putting in place to maximise revenues from data services?

Irene Charnley: Smile’s strategy is based on providing an unparalleled customer experience through excellent speed, quality, and reliability, coupled with products and services that are easy to use.. The simultaneous presence of all of these qualities is strongly correlated with increased consumer demand for data services. In addition, the capabilities and efficiencies of its dedicated 4G LTE infrastructure allow Smile to implement innovations rapidly and to increase the cost-efficiency of its services. 

AfricaCom: What services will have the biggest impact on the African telecoms market in the future?

Irene Charnley: Broadband penetration is in its infancy. As penetration grows, network effects, economies of scale and critical mass will all facilitate the development of the African content ecosystem. Services and applications that have been designed by local developers to meet local customer needs to create, access and share content will ultimately have the most profound impact, both on the African telecoms market and on Africa as a whole. 

AfricaCom: What are your expectations from taking part in AfricaCom this year?

Irene Charnley: The rapid pace of ICT evolution and the unique challenges and opportunities which exist in the African market make it particularly necessary to learn from one’s peers. We expect AfricaCom to showcase innovation and enable information-sharing.

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Irene Charnley will be speaking at 12:10 on Day 2 at the LTE@AfricaCom session “LTE launch case study: operator perspective on deploying & launching LTE services in Africa”. 

Register here: http://africa.comworldseries.com/register/