News in Brief 11 March 2015

Africa: Rural solution - NuRAN Wireless says it has received its first African order for its GSM LiteCell. The low-power (54W), low-OPEX GSM base station is intended for deployments in rural and low-density, lower-ARPU urban areas. The base station has already been deployed in Mexico and Asia, and a number of African operators are now trialling the equipment.

Bahrain: Solution for Sure - Batelco Group has signed Canada-based Star Solutions to build and implement GSM and LTE mobile networks for Sure South Atlantic. The network will meet demand for mobile services particularly in St Helena and Ascension Island. Ian Kelly, Chief Executive of Sure South Atlantic and Diego Garcia, said Star Solutions had pioneered all-IP wireless infrastructure technologies and has experience in delivering effective mobile network technology in remote locations. Kelly said the project was already under way in St Helena and Ascension Island and mobile services would be launched later this year.

Botswana: Dongle imminent - Speaking for Orange Botswana, Boga Chilinde has said it will soon introduce the 4G MiFi dongle to allow more users to connect at a 4G wifi hotspot. In an interview with Voice Money, Chilinde said that the device could be used with laptops or as a wifi device for more users to connect. Last week, Orange launched the Android Orange Roya smartphone for use on the 4G network.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Maternal mobile operator - All women employed by Vodacom Congo in the latter stages of pregnancy will now be entitled to 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. The move was announced on 6 March by the Vodafone Group, which has adopted the policy for its entire global staff. Radio Okapi interviewed the Director of Human resources of Vodacom Congo, Jean Martin Kama, who said: "Congolese legislation provides for fourteen weeks of maternity leave.....On top of that, returning from maternity leave, the breast feeding period - which is currently one hour a day for the next six months - will spend two hours per day. " This will be applicable from April 2015.

Egypt: Cable upgrade - Telecom Egypt's plan to replace copper cables with fibre got underway in March. It said that the implementation of the plan would see 4 million users receiving services through fibre by the end of 2015, out of the current customer base of approximately 7 million, the Daily News reported. Over 2 million customers received the services via fibre in 2014. The company is planning to offer the service to another 2 million customers by the end of 2015. Development works will cover a number of exchanges in areas of East Cairo, New Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, North Coast, East Delta, Mid-Delta, Northern Upper Egypt, Central Upper Egypt and South Upper Egypt.

Gabon: Court calls for calm - A court in Libreville has told strikers belonging to the National Telecommunication Union (SYNATEL) to stay away from the premises of the Gabon Telecom and not carry out any acts of intimidation, harassment or violence. The move follows two days of violent confrontation that saw services in the capital affected. Recently appointed GT MD Abderahim Koumaa said: "We are really trying hard to improve our workers' living conditions ", adding that the management was open to dialogue to address the demands, which he said needed more time due to some sensitive aspects, BizTechAfrica reported.

Ghana: ICH challenged - Minority MP for Obuasi West, Kwaku Kwarteng and two others are suing the government over the Interconnect Clearing House. The NCA and Afriwave Telecom as well as all mobile operators are named as the defendants, according to the Daily Guide. The suit was filed in Accra on 5 March 2015 and also invites the Attorney-General as an interested party. A declaration that the NCA's decision to constitute Afriwave Telecom Ghana Ltd for the ICH programme is 'unlawful, unreasonable and in breach' of the NCA's 'constitutional obligation' to 'to act fairly, reasonably and in accordance with law.'

Ghana: Instant Internet - Airtel Ghana has deployed an SMS-based Internet service from Dotgo which gives all mobile users access to the Internet without mobile data or Wi-Fi , whether they use a feature phone or smartphone. The user sends an SMS to Dotgo containing the name of the Website that they want to visit. Dotgo then responds with an interactive menu-based version of the Website condensed and formatted for SMS. The Dotgo platform also provides operators with protection against the revenue losses caused by Internet-based services that bypass the carrier, such as OTT messaging.

Israel: Colossal contract - Gilat Satellite Network, which is controlled by the FIMI fund, has won a USD 286 million contract in Peru to set up telecom networks in rural areas. Gilat says that the contract with Fitel (Fondo de Inversion en Telecomunicaciones / Telecommunications Investment Fund) is the largest contract it has ever won. Fitel's regional initiative represents the complementary phase of the Peruvian National Fibre Backbone project, aimed to connect rural villages to broadband services. Within the framework of this phase, Gilat won the bids for three regional projects - in Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Apurimac. These projects are BOT (Built, Operate and Transfer).

Kenya: Bitcoin beckons - The Australian based Bitcoin exchange, Igot, has launched in Kenya with the acquisition of local company TagPesa to target the country's remittance market. Igot has also been granted access to M-Pesa, giving members the ability to deposit and withdraw money directly from their M-Pesa account.

Kenya: Cable completion - Liquid Telecom Kenya is to re-enter the retail Internet market. CEO Ben Roberts told media that the company intends to complete the Fibre To The Home (FTTH) projects that the former owners, Kenya Data Network (KDN), started but failed to finish. Some KES 1.4 billion (USD 15.0 million) will be spent. The market is currently dominated by Jamii Telecoms, which has 80,000 FTTH passes. Liquid's UK parent recently raised USD 150 million to fund expansion, facilitated by Standard Chartered and provided by large global investment banks.

Kenya: Cellular convergence - As part of its wireless Internet market strategy, Safaricom has applied for a digital television broadcasting licence. Business Daily reports that the mobile operator applied for the licence in mid-February. It is also seeking approval for a set-top box. CEO Bob Collymore said it is mainly interested in using the set-top boxes to deliver Internet to households that own a TV set.

Kenya: Data bundle relaxation - Safaricom has now increased the expiry to 90 days for Internet data bundles, responding to a public outcry that followed its decision to change policies on usage and distribution of data credits on its network a week ago. Safaricom's Director for Corporate Affairs Nzioka Waita told Business Daily Africa that it had reviewed complaints from customers before making the move. Safaricom had set an expiry date, and also capped its data transfer service Sambaza Bundles at 25Mb from a previous limit of 999MB. It said that the change of rules was intended to protect customers from fraud by unauthorised data resellers.

Kenya: Data driven - Safaricom has opened the Eldoret data centre to improve network quality in the North Rift region. The hub, known as the MGW site, has been set up at Kapsoya in the outskirts of Eldoret Town at a cost of KES 20 million (USD 215,000). Director of Technology, Thiboud Rerolle, said the demand for data services had created the need for the facility. Safaricom has eleven key data hubs in Kenya.

Kenya: Fund tracking - Business users can now track funds sent to beneficiaries via Safaricom's M-Pesa. M-Pesa SurePay is a closed loop payment system for businesses and Public Benefit Organisations (PBO's). It allows fund managers to trace the entire value chain from disbursement to expenditure, addressing challenges such as mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.

Kenya: Tyre tracks - Following a claim that Telkom Kenya's acquisition of tyres involved bribes, it has issued a press release. It acknowledges the United States Securities and Exchange Commission's report on 'cease and desist' proceedings instituted against the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of 24 February 2015, in which it is named. Telkom Kenya has confirmed that it issued 68 Purchase Orders for tyres from Goodyear's local subsidiary, Treadsetters Tyres Ltd, between January 2006 and January 2008. The value of the orders is KES 1.66 million (USD 17,775) of which KES 32,050 (USD 343) was post privatisation.

Malawi: Rate rise resisted - Mobile operator Telecoms Networks Malawi (TNM) has deferred its planned 14 percent tariff increase after the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) intervened, the Nyasa Times reported. TNM has now sent an SMS to users telling them that the pre-paid tariffs for voice and SMS will remain unchanged until further notice. The increase was to be implemented on 4 March 2015.

Middle East & North Africa: TV theft - Piracy remains a major problem in the Middle East and North Africa, despite the many efforts to eradicate it. According to the latest 'Digital TV Middle East & North Africa' report, there are 34.3 million Arabic-speaking free-to-air satellite TV homes in the region, and it is estimated that at least 10 percent of these homes also receive pirated premium satellite TV signals. The number of pay TV homes in the 20 countries making up the Middle East and North Africa region will double between 2010 and 2020 to 21.3 million, with Turkey accounting for 37 percent of the total. About 18 percent of TV households, analogue and digital, legitimately paid for TV signals. This proportion will climb to 24 percent by 2020. Pay TV penetration will remain below 10 percent of TV households in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia. Read more...

Qatar: Family feed - Ooredoo has announced a new partnership with Portugual-based iMobileMagic, Gulf-Times reported. Ooredoo will work with iMobileMagic to offer the new 'Ooredoo Family Safety' service based on iMobileMagic's PhoneNear cloud platform. The service will enable people in Qatar to track, alert and communicate with family members in real-time using smartphones, tablets or computers. A location feed is provided to mobile devices.

Saudi Arabia: Roaming rates - TeliaSonera-controlled Uzbekistan mobile operator Ucell has extended its promotion for subscribers roaming in Saudi Arabia during the Umra holiday. The rate of both outgoing and incoming calls totals USD 1 per minute, while each SMS costs USD 0.10 on the network of Mobily. The promotion will run until 8 April.

Saudi Arabia: SKT, STC tie-up - SK Telecom signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Saudi Telecom Company (STC) last week to collaborate on the development of the innovation capabilities in Saudi Arabia by benchmarking Korea's Creative Economy Concept. In addition, both companies agreed to explore development of business opportunities in Saudi Arabia and potentially the region, especially in areas including digital healthcare, education and Smart Cities. SKT and STC have also agreed to share technological expertise and marketing know-how in diverse areas to strengthen their business presence not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the overseas markets. SK Telecom will share its products and marketing capabilities in areas of smart cities, digital healthcare, smart learning, IoT, Lifeware (life+hardware/software) and BEMS (Building Energy Management System).

South Africa: Telkom secure - The government will not be selling its stake in Telkom to raise finance for power utility Eskom, according to Minister of Telecommunications Siyabonga Cwele. Bloomberg quoted Cwele speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as saying that Telkom would not be sold, as it is spearheading the rollout of Internet connectivity in South Africa. The government has a stake of nearly 40 percent stake in Telkom, which has a value of about ZAR 17.6 billion (USD 1.51 billion).

Senegal: Protectionist policy? - The Autorite de Regulation des Telecommunications et des Postes (ARTP) gave Orange-affiliate Sonatel 48 hours last week to explain why it was blocking end user access to over-the-top (OTT) voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) services such as Viber. The operator is being accused of 'illegally' blocking Internet users from accessing services from Viber and WhatsApp. The regulations favour a 'technology neutral' approach.

Swaziland: Knock on effect - A joint statement issued by the Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC) and MTN Swaziland has warned of possible network interruptions when load shedding is being practised. MTN ha some 288 2G and 270 3G base stations which are connected to the electricity grid. A number of areas have been affected by load shedding after Eskom shortages were reported in South Africa. SEC imports 80 percent of its electricity from Eskom and 10 percent from Electricidade de Mozambique (EdM) of Mozambique.

Tanzania: Mandatory listings - Moremi Marwa, Chief Executive of Tanzania's stock exchange said at the Reuters Africa Investment Summit he expected the government to approve regulations for the mandatory listing of shares in mobile phone operators by April. He said regulations required to implement a 2010 law requiring the listing of mobile operators were awaiting approval. Operators include Vodacom Tanzania; Bharti Airtel; Tigo and Etisalat (Zantel).

Uganda: Low-cost Internet - Zoom Wireless was granted a commercial ISP licence on 23 January 2015, and is offering services to corporates and consumers in and around Gulu in northern Uganda. It is offering speeds from 1-9 Mbps and has small business and residential options of 512 kbps, 1 Mbps or 3 Mbps, at around half that charged by rivals with no usage caps. In August 2014, Zoom started on a trial basis. San Francisco based EveryLayer designed and deployed the network and deployed a fibre-backed, carrier grade Wi-Fi network.

United Arab Emirates: Corporate roaming - Etisalat's corporate customers now have wider data connectivity with Business Traveller Packs covering 248 operators in 105 countries at no additional cost. Users can to choose from 30-day one-off packs to monthly recurring packs. The affordable packs range from AED 60 for 100Mb to AED 1,500 for 10Gb, with flexible price points of AED 200 for 500Mb and AED 100 for 200Mb.

Zimbabwe: Feelers from dos Santos - Isabel dos Santos is reportedly showing an interested in Telecel. dos Santos has interests in Portugal where she owns close to 7 percent of oil & gas firm GalpEnergia along with Portuguese billionaire Americo Amorim, and has a controlling stake in Portuguese cable TV and telecom firm Nos SGPS. She made a USD 1.5 billion bid for Portugal Telecom (PT) GPS SA, which has 25.7 percent stake in Brazilian telecom operator Oi.

Zimbabwe: Insurance milestone - Two months from launch, Econet?s insurance service, EcoSure, has registered over a million new customers. EcoSure has been registering more than 150,000 new customers each week. Econet Wireless CEO Douglas Mboweni said that packages ranged from those with premiums of USD 0.50 per month for a pay-out of USD 500 to USD 5 per month for a pay-out of USD 5,000. The most popular package is the USD 1 per month with a pay out of USD 1,000.