News in Brief 11 January 2018

Africa:

Algeria: Safe gaming - Mobilis has launched its first application for downloading children's games on smartphones, 'Mobilis Store arena'. The app has been launched in partnership with Huawei, with the participation of 44 children in electronic games fighting on big screens at the House of Culture. Tablets were offered to the winning competitors. Mobilis's CEO Ahmed Choudar said that this application allows 40 games for children to be downloaded. The aim is to promote a healthy environment for the distribution of suitable games, adding 'as a telecommunication company, we must adapt ourselves to the world of games and at the same time protect our children and our society'. Choudar as noted that Mobilis now has some 2 million subscribers using 3G and 4G technology, and said that the problem of double coverage will be solved in the western border areas, as had been done in the east.

Algeria: Timely texts - Algeria Telecom subscriber's can now receive notifications of telephone bills by SMS. The text message states the amount of the pending invoice and the payment deadline. Users, however, have to register their mobile number to receive the free service. They will also receive details of offers and promotions.

Cameroon: Fibre deployment - According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications a total of 4,000 km of additional fibre was deployed in 2017 as part of the third phase of the national fibre optic backbone, so bringing the national total to 12,000 km. The network will also be interconnected with Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, CAR and Nigeria. TIC Mag notes that Cameroon only had 6,000 km of fibre in 2013.

Cote d'Ivoire: Money transfer tax - A 0.5 percent tax is now being levied on money transfers made through telcos or their intermediaries, and relates particularly to remittances, according to the 2018 Tax Schedule which came into force at the start of the year, Journal du Cameroun reported. The tax is being born by the payer. The number of mobile subscribers rose from 16 million in 2011 to 30 million in 2017, and the revenue expected to be generated is estimated at XOF 10 billion (USD 13.5 million).

Egypt: 3G outage - Vodafone 3G resumed normal service after the network experienced an hour-long disruption due to technical problems on 3 January. The Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that subscribers in some areas were barely able to make outgoing calls during the outage, which only affected 3G services, while 2G and 4G services continued to operate normally.

Ghana: Top-up sharing - Vodafone's Ekiki Mi promotion, which allows users to share airtime purchased using Vodafone Cash with five other people, has been extended to 31 January 2018. Vodafone Cash's Director Martison Obeng-Agyei said: "This promotion which has been running since November last year, further demonstrates that we are serious about giving our customers true value."

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Guinea: Long-serving subscriber - MTN Guinea has feted its oldest subscriber, one Soumah Lamine, Computer scientist at the Total Guinea General Management. MTN Guinea invited him to dine at the new hotel Onomo Conakry. He was subsequently able to meet MTN Guinea staff who thanked him for his support, and presented him with gifts to mark the occasion.

Kenya: Fintech focus - Internet browser developer Opera has named Eddie Ndichu as the Managing Director and Vice President for Fintech Africa. It has also announced plans to set-up an office in Kenya. Ndichu was previously the Head of Digital Service and Mobile Payments at KCB Bank Group. The role at Opera will encompass the development of micro-lending, remittances, payments and transaction capabilities using improved technologies in mobile and the Internet. Opera recently launched an integrated new Web payment platform in Kenya called OPay, which runs directly on the Opera Mini browser.

Kenya: Mast mutilated - An unknown number of gunmen are reported to have used Rocket Propelled Grenades to attack the Safaricom mast, on 6 January. The Star reports that suspected al Shabaab militants attacked and destroyed a mast in Kutulo area, Wajir county. The attackers subsequently engaged with four officers who were manning the premises in a gunfight.

Kuwait: Unlimited Iflix - Zain Kuwait is offering six months of complimentary unlimited access to Iflix and a monthly data bundle of 5GB. Iflix offers thousands of TV shows and movies to stream on-demand, with Arabic and English subtitles.

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Morocco: VoD approved - Orange Maroc is to launch a video-on-demand service after approval from regulator, the Haute Autorite de la Communication Audiovisuelle (HACA) was confirmed. The VOD service will be available to pre- and post-paid mobile subscribers, according to local reports. The service will make films and series available in Arabic, French and English. According to Orange Maroc's Head of Consumer Regis Deliere said it would commission its own content in the future. Orange Films et Séries is to be offered on multiple screens via the operator's Orange et Moi app. The HACA  has authorised Orange Maroc's holding company Medi Telecom to commercialise Orange Films et Series in December for an initial three year period. Rival Maroc Telecom offers VOD services from Starz Play and Icflix, while Inwi offers MBC's Shahid Plus streaming service.

Nigeria: Fast-rising fuel - A national fuel shortage may have cost telcos an estimated NGN 10 billion (USD 27.5 million) in revenue in the last two weeks of December, according to The Punch. Most telecom towers rely on generators and the report suggested that operators are seeing petrol and diesel prices doubling or trebling. Parallel Wireless, a telecoms company working in Africa, was quoted as saying the current challenges are for the government to help operators provide value to the rural market. Parallel suggested that investments in the rural areas will create affordable workforce and employment opportunities. The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria's Executive Secretary, Gbolahan Awonuga said the GSM, LTE and ISPs remained the largest consumers of diesel in the country. As of 2014, they were spending an estimated NGN 175 million (USD 482,000) daily or NGN 540 billion (USD 149 billion) annually. Awonuga estimated that the figure would have risen by some 35 percent in 2015 and doubled in 2016, based on the expansion of base stations and fluctuations in the cost of diesel, coupled with the worsening power situation. The cost of a site connected to the grid is about one sixth of that of a fuel-powered site, according to Airtel Nigeria Chief Executive Officer Segun Ogunsanya, adding that only 10 - 15 percent of the BTS are connected to the power grid.

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Nigeria: Roaming relief - 9mobile has extended its roaming offer launched for Christmas for customers in the UAE and nine other destinations. The two packages will continue until 31 January. The offers of the twin roaming packages, 9mobile Roaming to United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 9mobile Xmas Roaming remain the same. The roaming data bundles offer variants of 200 Mb for NGN 5,000 (USD 13.77) valid for seven days, or 500 Mb for NGN 10,000 (USD 27.55) valid for thirty days. 9mobile Xmas Roaming provides services in South Africa (Vodacom & Cell C), UK (Vodafone and 02), Ghana (Vodafone), France (Orange), Germany (Vodafone, T mobile and 02), Kenya (Safaricom), Spain (Vodafone and Movistar), Turkey (Vodafone and Turkcell) and the Netherlands (Vodafone).

Rwanda: 4G coverage - Tasked with deploying the national 4G LTE infrastructure, KT Rwanda Networks (KTRN), says network roll-out has achieved 95 percent coverage of the population. KTRN is owned by KT Corp of South Korea and the government, and inaugurated its LTE network in November 2014, reaching 17 percent coverage by the end 2015 and 55 percent by the end of 2016.

Rwanda: Better bank access - MTN Rwanda and Amasezerano Community Bank have signed a deal under which the bank's customers will be able to deposit or withdraw money on their mobile phones using MTN's Push &Pull service. Amasezerano Community Bank's Managing Director Froduald Munyankiko said that the service is faster, more secure and offers simplicity in transactions. The facility will allow Amasezerano Bank customers to transfer (push) money from their MTN Mobile Money wallets to their bank accounts, or withdraw (pull) money from their bank accounts to their MTN Mobile Money accounts.

Tunisia: Quality campaigns - The Instance Nationale des Telecommunications de Tunisie has now published the reports of the 21st and 22nd quality of service evaluation campaigns of the three 2G / 3G mobile networks in 2017, carried out in the 10 delegations of the governorates of Tozeur and Kebili and in the 21 delegations of the governorates of Gabes and Mahdia. The full reports are here. 

Uganda: Best bundle - Africell has launched the 'Super Mix' service, The Independent reports. Africell PRO, Edgar Karamagi, said that the Super Mix provides the best bargain in voice, SMS and data services. In December, Africell also launched the 1 GB Swift social media bundle for UGX 2,500 (USD 0.68) and valid for a full week, and the1.2 GB daily data bundle for UGX 5,000 (USD 1.36).

Uganda: Milestone moment - Airtel claims to have started the New Year by achieving the 10 million customer milestone. Airtel Uganda's Managing Director V.G. Somasekhar attributed the growth to affordability and national network presence. There is currently no independent verification of this number.

Uganda: Mobile regulator - The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has invited sealed bids for the supply and delivery of four double cabin vehicles. It said that the funding is in place. Bidding will be conducted in accordance with the Open Domestic Bidding, a procedure contained in the Government of Uganda's Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act, 2003, and is open to all bidders. The closing date is 10 January.

Zambia: Fines paid - MNOs Zamtel, Airtel Networks Zambia and MTN Zambia have complied with the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) requirement to pay the ZMW 3 million (USD 295,000) for failing to meet to Quality of Service indicators in 3Q 2017. Failures included call set-up success rate, mean opinion score, successful SMS rate, SMS delivery time and hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) success log-ins. ZICTA corporate communications manager Ngabo Nankonde said: "The service providers are complying; they have commenced the payment process." Zamtel and MTN were both fined ZMW 1.2 million (117,000) for failing with call set-up success rate and HTTP success log-ins; Airtel had the same issues but was only fined MWK 750,000. ZICTA held a public inquiry on 18 November 2017 at which the MNOs made submissions after conducting an inspection between 1 July and 30 September 2017.

Zimbabwe: Procedural glitch - The Minister of Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security Supa Mandiwanzira is reported to be under investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), according to TechZim. Allegations of criminal abuse of office were made by former Netone CEO, Reward Kangai. A letter to ZACC on 20 December 2017 noted that the matter is already under investigation. Kangai reported that Mandiwanzira engaged South African consultancy Megawatt Energy without a tender, following which Netone received an invoice for USD 4 million which the operator was previously unaware of. The firm investigated a USD 248 million deal between Netone and Huawei; the report apparently found savings of USD 31 million.

Zimbabwe: Rural roll-out - Mobile operator NetOne has signed a USD 71 million deal on 31 December with Huawei for the expansion of its mobile networks into rural areas, Techzim reported. The deal was funded by a concessional loan from China Exim Bank. NetOne acting Chief Executive Officer Brian Mutandiro said that the deal was part of a 100-day plan including accessibility to rural communities as a major quick-win.

Middle East:

Egypt: Services restored - Telecom Egypt (TE) reports that its Internet services have been fully restored following a submarine cable being severed, Reuters reported. TE said it has re-routed traffic to avoid the affected section of cable, which is in the Mediterranean. It did not say how the link was severed. On 2 January TE said that its Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) Internet services in Egypt and other neighbouring countries were affected.

Iran: Messaging curtailed - Encrypted messaging service Telegram is reported to have been blocked by the government after days of anti-government unrest. State TV announced that Telegram had been suspended to 'preserve the peace and security of citizens', according to BuzzFeed.

Oman: Mobile music - Ooredoo Oman has launched the AL7ANI add-on for mobile Internet users to get unlimited access to music applications over the next three months. From 7 January to 7 April, users will be able to stream as many songs as they like when using the Apple Music, Gaana and Saavn services, , giving them a channel to more than 60 million songs in English, Hindi, Arabic, Urdu, French, etc. Pre-paid users pay OMR 0.200 per day, while post-paid pay OMR 3 added to their monthly bill.

Oman: Mobile VOD - Omantel has partnered with MBC Group to allow customers to subscribe to the Shahid Plus service, a premium video-on-demand (VOD) service in the Arab world, by using their mobile credit. The offer is available to both Omantel post- and pre-paid customers. For a monthly fee of OMR 2 through Shahid Plus, users have the option of having the service fee directly charged to their monthly post-paid bills or debited from their pre-paid accounts. Omantel's General Manager of Marketing Communications and Performance, Said Salim al Shanfari, said: "Our partnership with MBC Group enables us to continue to provide yet another value-added offering coupled with premium content that will help our customers stay connected to the best of entertainment and enjoy their favourite shows even while on-the-go."

Qatar: Antenna framework - Wireless solutions provider Comba Telecom Systems Holdings on 9 January said that it is now a preferred vendor for Ooredoo Group. Comba said that it had signed a group-level global Frame Agreement (FA) for five years with Ooredoo, with immediate effect. It is to provide a significant percentage of the forecasted volume of base station antennas and associated ancillary products, such as jumpers, combiners, couplers and splitters, to Ooredoo in up to ten geographic markets. Ooredoo Group's Deputy Chief Executive Officer Waleed Al Sayed said: "This agreement enables us to deploy new antennas that will support the underlying enabling technologies such as higher order sectorization, carrier addition, carrier aggregation and massive MIMO, as we upgrade our radio networks from 2G to 5G technology."

Qatar: Eastern focus - Ooredoo TV has announced two new South Asian channel packages, aimed at expatriates. The packages cost QAR 35 (USD 7) per month each and will offer services in Bangla, Urdu and other languages. The Pakistani Variety Pack offers thirteen channels including 94 News HD, Channel 24, Neo News HD, Dawn News, City 42, Khyber TV, APLUS and Sindh TV. The Ooredoo TV Bangla Pack has eleven channels, including ATN Bangla, NTV, Channel 9, Asian TV, Boishakhi TV, Ekkator TV and Maasranga TV.

Qatar: Local alignment - Vodafone Qatar will now have a financial year end to coincide with the calendar year, rather than the end of March. The move was approved at an Extraordinary General Assembly on 18 October 2017. It is claimed that this is in line with other listed companies in Qatar, although it will, of course, be out-of-step with its UK-based parent. The board is to meet on 18 January and will issue a trading update for the nine-month period ending 31 December 2017. It will issue a proforma unaudited income statement for the twelve-month period ending 31 December 2017.

Saudi Arabia: Debt refinancing - STC has obtained a USD 378.5 million Islamic loan through its Malaysian subsidiary, Reuters reported. A document from the arranging banks shows that STC will use the loan to refinance existing debt originally used to acquire a stake in Malaysian mobile operator Maxis. Subsidiary STC Malaysia Holdings has a 25 percent stake in Binariang GSM Holdings which in turn holds a controlling stake in Maxis. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (Malaysia), HSBC Amanah Malaysia and Standard Chartered Bank Saadiq were tasked with arranging the deal; Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (Malaysia) will act as the investment agent.

Saudi Arabia: Pre-paid plan - Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia has launched a pre-paid plan allowing customers to double the amount of data in their monthly Internet plans. Offered in three packages (5GB, 7GB, and 9GB) the new 'Doubelha' plan gives customers double the amount of data at the same price of the original plan. For example, the 5GB, 7GB and 9GB Internet plans double to 10GB, 14GB and 18GB Internet plans and are valid for 3 months at the same price. Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia's CEO Fouad Halawi said: "We will continue to offer exceptional promotions for Saudi youths as we seek to stand out and develop mobile services."

United Arab Emirates: 60-minute SIM - Virgin Mobile UAE has partnered with Careem to provide SIM delivery and home activation, using Careem's precise location analytics. According to Virgin, the integration of its app with Careem's will mean that the SIMs can be delivered by any one of Careem's 5,000 drivers in the UAE within 60 minutes. The aim is to eventually reduce the time to 30 minutes. Virgin Mobile UAE's Managing Director Karim Benkirane said: "Careem have proven to be a strong partner, capable of providing excellent logistical support, driver distribution and technical integration, allowing us to fulfil our promise of delivery with one hour."

United Arab Emirates: Use it to lose it - Etisalat has confirmed that the recently introduced 5 percent VAT only applies to actual usage, and will not be applied to pre-paid credit. On 3 January Etisalat clarified that it had not increased the prices of pre-paid recharge cards. Etisalat has introduced five denominations of recharge cards sold at AED 30, 55, 110, 210 and 525 to ensure customers have sufficient credit after adding the VAT.