Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East 2012 Africa’s mobile revolution: The potential, challenges and solutions

Africa’s mobile revolution: The potential, challenges and solutions

by david.nunes
Ben McCaffertyIssue:AME 2012
Article no.:8
Topic:Africa’s mobile revolution: The potential, challenges and solutions
Author:Ben McCafferty
PDF size:223KB

About author

Ben McCafferty is Vice President of the EMEA region at Volubill. He responsible for leading the global sales team in identifying and securing new business opportunities and building on the company’s market leading position and existing global customer base to create revenue growth.

Prior to joining Volubill, Mr McCafferty spent 15 years with Sema in a variety of senior positions in sales, marketing, business development, and operations. As BSS Sales Director, he built a strong sales team that achieved significant revenue growth and acquired over 15 new customers in Europe and Asia. During this period, Mr McCafferty also worked overseas in senior operational roles for six years, successfully managing multiple critical delivery projects for mobile operators in Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe.

Article abstract

The combination of social media and mobile Internet are transforming Africa, with the ability to digitally congregate and freely assemble and to transact business without setting foot inside a bank. Rather than trailing behind the world in technology, Africa is leading the way in Mobile Money, with over 50 systems in place and a forecast of 350 million users by 2015. To avoid the capacity crunch of the developed world, African operators need to bolster their broadband capacity, but at the same time keep costs down. They need to introduce data charging schemes to preserve margins. They need to innovate with services such as “Happy Hour” that discounts the service in off-peak time, easing off traffic pressure and pleasing customers at the same time.

Full Article

Africa is at a tipping point. For years now, the continent has been a leader in mobile innovation, and now it finds itself on the precipice of widespread mobile broadband adoption, the results of which could be nothing short of revolutionary.
According to a recent study by the International Telecommunication Union, Africa has a 400 per cent larger mobile broadband penetration rate then fixed broadband. As we have recently seen in other parts of the world, mobile communications have become essential to igniting the economic and social prosperity of an emerging region. The ability to communicate with one another at will, the ability to digitally congregate and freely assemble, the ability to engage in free enterprise… all can now be done through a mobile phone. With mobile already clearly taking a leading role as a catalyst for change, Africa and other emerging regions are poised to look drastically different in only a few short years.
None of it can happen however, without the proper implementation of advanced mobile technologies to responsibly and profitably reach a whole new prospective customer base. Otherwise geographical limitations and problems seen in other countries such as capacity crunch could cripple Africa’s mobile potential before it is even realised. Such technologies include WiMAX solutions, satellite capabilities and smart charging policies that are built on service types, time of day, or customer preference.
The potential
Up until a few years ago mobile phone communication was a simple case of talk and SMS, but this is changing rapidly. Now, a mother has the power to know where her children are at all times; an employee can be productive outside of the office; and people in the remotest of areas can transfer money or make payments from their bank at the touch of a button. Since BlackBerry’s introduction in 2003, to be ‘mobile’ means to be online and informed at anytime, anywhere. Subsequently, the amount of information available increased exponentially. Not only do people always have the ability to get in touch with family, friends and colleagues, but they can also do it via a host of different platforms. Further, the combination of mobile and social media forms like Twitter and Facebook has also transformed the ‘news’ from something that happened, to something that is happening. Media content is now accessed and spread via one-to-one connections at an unprecedented rate and speed.
It is not merely one-to-one connections that have become more easily facilitated – more importantly, one-to-many or many-to-many connections are now possible too. To freely assemble or petition is a right that has come to define a healthy democratic nation. However it is also through such activities that momentous changes within a country occur. Facebook and Twitter now act as modern-day meeting places where like-minded individuals can go to share ideas and even plan to gather at real-world locations. It has been well-documented that this particular use of Facebook was the catalyst for last year’s Egyptian revolutions.
Similarly, application-based tools such as DropBox and Google Drive allow users to quickly exchange and collaborate on content. A mobile broadband connection means that you instantly have access to both a gathering place with an unlimited number of people and a collaboration room where an idea can grow from a grain of inspiration to a fully bloomed course of action without the need for everyone to be in the same area, or even the same country.
While mobility can have an incredible effect on the modernisation of society, even more recent advancements have the potential to yield a similar outcome in the banking and economic aspects of society. In ‘developed’ economies like the U.S and Europe, advances in online banking tools and mobile payments are looked at with great anticipation, but in fact Africa has already taken great strides in this area of commerce. Last October, The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said Africa is “leading the trend” with 51 mobile money systems in place. At the time, Africa could claim over 40 million of its inhabitants using some kind of mobile payment system. That number is expected to hit 350 million by 2015.
Challenges and solutions
Africa’s promise as a ground-breaking region for modernization through mobility is not set in stone, however. There are a host of potential pitfalls that need to be addressed, some specific to the continent, others which can cause major roadblocks in any region. Fortunately, the technologies to avoid these problems have already been developed. It is now up to Africa’s service providers to ensure they are deployed. Thus far, they appear to be succeeding.
Africa’s terrain has proven to be a surprising source of inspiration for local providers like 4G Africa and Orange Tunisia when it comes to enabling mass broadband adoption, largely because of the incredible challenges it presents. The continent is vast, and further complicated by swathes of desert, which means that broadband access is becoming increasingly important. It is, in many cases, the only way in which people can communicate. However, laying out a huge copper infrastructure in traditional fashion across such a huge geography would be expensive and perhaps even physically impossible in places. Enter 4G Africa’s WiMAX solution. WiMAX is essentially a super-charged Wi-Fi network, offering a signal radius of about 30 miles, as opposed to Wi-Fi’s 100-foot range, and thus perfectly suited for the rural areas of Africa. In addition, its no-copper infrastructure makes WiMAX cheaper to roll out, providing greater efficiency for a developing region to get the data and connectivity it craves.
Africa is also a perfect breeding ground for the growth of new, satellite-based mobile broadband services. Satellite inherently covers a larger geographical range than any other broadband service, and is therefore able to reach rural areas that may have never before had access to broadband. Satellite used to be considered too slow and cumbersome to be competitive with incumbent services, but recent advances in both technology and charging policies have allowed satellite providers to offer services at prices that are in fact cheaper than some incumbents – another benefit for underserved rural areas. In Africa, Eutelsat, Avanti and 4G Africa have all launched satellite broadband capabilities. 4G Africa has further bolstered theirs with WiMAX distribution, literally maximising the potential rural customer reach.
The physical size of Africa presents one problem. Another is the size of the population. Service providers in other regions of the world, including North America, Europe and Japan are all facing issues around capacity crunch. With so many new customers being added to their networks on a daily basis, data consumption is increasingly squeezing the limited amounts of available broadband spectrum. When you think that the United States, with a population of about 300 million, faces capacity constraints, Africa’s population of more than one billion makes operators’ challenges on that continent even greater
Unfortunately, few operators, even in what we traditionally think of as more sophisticated mobile communications markets, have been able to find a solution to this problem that allows them to remain profitable while also delivering a high quality of service to their customers. In March AT&T’s attempts to discreetly throttle the connections of users with high data consumption rates resulted in a large customer backlash. Then there are other providers who recently claimed to still offer ’unlimited’ data plans and have subsequently been exposed in their efforts to hide stipulations.
Once again, Africa has led the way. Orange Tunisia has been particularly good at introducing data charging and policy management plans that keep customers happy and minimise financial and spectrum-crunching problems.
One such example of an innovative, sophisticated policy is Orange Tunisia’s ’Happy Hour‘ which allows for high-quality service to customers coupled with reduced data charges between the hours of 11 pm and 8 am. Therefore, when the network’s capacity is low, customers get charged less. ’Happy Hour’ acts as a selling point for prospective users who may work during off-hours, or who live a nocturnal lifestyle. Additionally, customers are incentivised to shift their data consumption habits and take pressure off the network during peak hours. This makes network management easier, and data consumption patterns more predictable for the operator.
Unfairly, Africa is often thought of as the location to where technology arrives last. Recent years have shown that, in terms of mobile innovation, the direct opposite might in fact be the case. Africa leads the way in mobile payments, and boasts one of the highest mobile subscriber bases in the world. All of this means that African operators, if they can continue to take into account capacity and new available technology, are uniquely positioned to maintain their status as global innovators in all areas mobile, a beacon for the rest of the world.

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