News in Brief 4 April 2018


Africa: Satellite village service - British Telecom (BT) claims to have given 180,000 people in thirteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa access to the Internet, e-learning and improved healthcare under its Connecting Africa programme. The scheme was launched in 2013 in partnership with international charity SOS Children's Villages, initially to connect 20 villages. It was later extended to 30 villages. It is using satellite services from its Madley operations centre near Hereford in the UK. BT has designed and built network infrastructure in each country, and its engineers have trained local IT support teams to maintain and operate it.

Africa: Taking on the risk - PayPal is looking to partner with mobile money operators to raise its exposure to Africa's unbanked population, says Efi Dahan, the group's general manager for Russia, Middle East and Africa, Business Day Live reported. PayPal's digital money transfer unit Xoom has partnered with African mobile money service providers in the past, in an effort to target the remittances market. PayPal is proposing to absorb the cost of returning goods, an otherwise expensive process for consumers and retailers from the US. PayPal says it will cover a user's return delivery costs up to twelve times a year. PayPal expects online sales in South Afica to reach ZAR 53 billion (USD 4.4 billion) in 2018, from ZAR 37 billion (USD 3.1 billion) in 2016.

Algeria: ADSL rescue - Algerie Telecom has launched its Rescue Relay service that allows users to reactivate their ADSL Internet connection if the subscription expires out-of-office hours. The emergency reload service is for IDOOM ADSL account holders. Users call '1500' using a fixed or mobile line and enter the fixed line number for the ADSL subscription and select the emergency reload option from the menu. The user will then have 36 hours of Internet access.

Algeria: New blood for Mobilis - With effect from 28 March, mobile operator Mobilis has a new Director General; Zaidi Ahmed has replaced Ahmed Choudar, who in turn has been named as CEO of Algeria Telecom Group. Before returning to Algeria, Ahmed Zaidi held several positions abroad, with Orange (France), MTS (Russia), Telefonica (Argentina) and Carlo in Brazil.

Botswana: Share send-off - Outgoing President Seretse Khama Ian Khama has been gifted BWP 15,000 (USD 1,532) worth of shares in Botswana Telecommunication Corporation Limited by Members of Parliament.

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Cameroon: Non-telco MoMo - The Societe Generale Cameroun (SGC) has been authorised to provide mobile money services by the Bank of Central African States (BEAC). SGC has a six-month timeframe in which to initiate services. Unlike Afriland, BICEC and UBA which have partnered with MTN, Orange, and Viettel respectively, SGC is not collaborating with a telco. SGC is partnering with Yup Cameroun, a network of third-party service providers, which is accessible via an extended network of distributors with appropriate terminals. Offered in Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal, Yup's service comprises more than 30,000 e-wallets and about 600 agents. SGC expects to launch its mobile money services in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Togo later this year.

Egypt: Dividend diverted - Telecom Egypt has announced that as a result of a new investment opportunity in the submarine cable industry, the board has decided to reduce the earlier proposed dividend for 2017 to EGP 0.25 (USD 0.15) from EGP 1 (USD 0.06) per share. It needed short-term financing for the potential investment opportunity without inflating its debt position; and achieve a short-term return on the potential investment.

Ghana: Taxing times - MTN Ghana paid some GHS 1.22 billion (USD 273 million) in taxes in 2017. Some GHS 1.06 billion (USD 237.2 million) was paid to the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA); GHS 159.4 million (USD 35.7 million) to the National Communications Authority (NCA) and the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), Ghananews reported. MTN's acting Corporate Services Executive Pala Ofori Asiedu said MTN is to invest USD 144 million in network expansion in 2018, with some 28 rural communities in the Western Region to be covered as part of the programme. In 2017 it launched fibre broadband to key business and residential areas, enabling so that some 20,000 homes to access fibre broadband in the Greater Accra, Eastern and Ashanti Regions.

Morocco: Stake safe - Maroc Telecom's 30 percent stake held by the government is unlikely to be sold, the Minister of Finance Mohammed Boussaid told Reuters on the sidelines of a UK-Morocco trade and investment forum in London last week, adding that the government had not yet made a decision on other potential privatisations.


Sierra Leone: Cable issues - The National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) has dismissed reports that it ordered the shut down of the Internet connectivity on Election Day on 31 March. According to the Journal du Cameroun, there was an Internet outage shortly after counting began, and the blackout lasted for about 12 hours. In a statement NATCOM said that there had been an issue with international cable connecting Sierra Leone to the rest of the world, and directed inquiries to the Sierra Leone Cable Company (SALCAB) which manages the fibre optic cable service.

South Africa: Easter freebie - Cell-C zero-rated data for all its mobile customers over the Easter weekend wanting to try its new Black video-on-demand entertainment offering. The promotion ran from midnight on Thursday evening to midnight on Monday evening and was available to all Cell-C pre- and pre-post mobile customers. Users had to sign-up for a free, seven-day Black trial account, providing access to the Flexi Premium package. Existing Black customers would also benefit from the promotion, Cell-C said. National data roaming on the Vodacom network was not included in the promotion.

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South Africa: Social success - Vodacom launched its specialist Social Media Command Centre in Bellville, northeast of Cape Town's city centre, last week. It expects to spend more than ZAR 15 million (USD 1.3 million) on staff, equipment, infrastructure and technology over the next 12 months to meet the growing demand on social media which has doubled in the space of a year. Vodacom's Chief of Commercial Operations Errol van Graan said: "The exponential use of social media amongst our customer base has necessitated the introduction of a specialised unit to service these channels." Vodacom has two distinct Twitter handles, @Vodacom with 372,000 followers, and @Vodacom111 with around 110,000.

South Sudan: Guarantees sought - Vivacell's President Pierre Fattouch and CEO Hussein Rifai have been Juba since 28 March 2018 with the aim of lifting of the suspension of operations imposed on 20 March 2018, Agence Ecofin reported. The operator is reported to have tax arrears of some USD 60 million. National Communications Authority (NCA) Director-General Lado Kenyi has said that negotiations have progressed, without providing details, although adding that guarantees are needed.

Sudan: Pound swap - Zain Group is reported to be in talks with the Kuwaiti government to swap Sudanese pounds for hard currency, its Chief Executive Bader Nasser al-Kharafi said last week. The pounds would be kept in Sudan, using them for future projects or aid. Reuters reported Kharafi as saying Zain Sudan 'is operationally an excellent company but the impact on the currency is not in our hands.' Zain Sudan's profit rose 173 percent in 2017 in the local currency, but fell 29 percent in US dollars. Zain Group cited the devaluation of the Sudanese pound represented USD 82 million in lost group profit in 2017.

Zimbabwe: Cash compliance - Ecocash's application is now compatible with NetOne and Telecel numbers, a spokesman for the mobile money service told The Financial Gazette last week. Subscribers to other networks can now access EcoCash through its data application, which is available for android and iOS devices.

Zimbabwe: Ownership issue - The ownership issue of third-ranked mobile network operator, Telecel Zimbabwe, has been reignited after self-exiled businessman and co-founder James Makamba returned after 12 years, the Zimbabwe Independent has reported. Makamba returned after former President Robert Mugabe stood down. It is suggested that Makamba is alleging that Gerald Mlotshwa, who was his legal counsel, acted as a proxy, as he could not conduct business in Zimbabwe whilst in exile. Makamba, together with Jane Mutasa, owned the majority shareholding in the Empowerment Corporation-held shares through Kestrel Corporation. He had 95 percent of the EC shares. Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Supa Mandiwanzira confirmed the matter, but the government, as Telecel's majority shareholder, is distancing itself from affair.

Zimbabwe: Zero tolerance - Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has disenfranchised agents who are charging what are described as punitive rates. The Herald newspaper suggests that some dealers were charging a 30 percent mark-up to process transactions, especially those redeeming cash. Econet Mutare resident manager Parshon Muranganwa said in a recent interview that the operator had zero tolerance on corruption.

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Afghanistan: Internet price cuts - The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Afghanistan has reduced Internet service prices. According to the Ministry, 3G Internet service rates will reduced by 10 percent for Salaam Network, which represents a 20 percent decrease compared to other domestic networks. A 37.5 percent discount will be applied to Afghan Telecom Digital Subscriber line (DSL) Internet services. The Ministry has also announced that it plans to offer a 20 percent discount to private Internet service providers if the reduction will be passed onto end-users.

Afghanistan: Torched towers - The destruction of six mobile towers in central Uruzgan province has been attributed to Taliban insurgents. An industry source told the Pajhwok Afghan News that the towers belonging to Afghan Wireless, Roshan and Etisalat were torched in Tirinkot and Hari Rod districts. The governor's spokesman was reported as confirming that three towers belonging to Afghan Wireless Network, two to Etisalat and one to Roshan had been set alight. He added that the towers had been inactive for a period of two years or more.

Bahrain: More mobile  money - VIVA Bahrain has launched VIVA Cash at an event attended by His Excellency the Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications Engineer Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed; H.E Rasheed Mohammed Al Maraj, Governor of the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB), and H.E Shaikh Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, Chairman of SADAD. VIVA Bahrain's CEO, Ulaiyan Al Wetaid said: " .. we are excited to launch our latest mobile payment solution, VIVA Cash, in collaboration with SADAD Bahrain, the Kingdom's FinTech leader, licensed and regulated by the Central Bank of Bahrain." The app can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play Store. Zero remittance fees apply to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Philippines for a limited period. To mark the launch, every deposit will be matched with a 10 percent top-up up to BHD 3 for a limited period.

Bahrain: Secure and fast - Batelco and Huawei signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the 2018 Mobile World Congress to collaborate on the development of Safe Cities and the National Broadband Network. This will aid the implementation of the Fourth National Telecommunications Plan, which calls for 100 percent access to secure and affordable ultra-fast broadband by 2019 for all businesses, as well as 95 percent of households.

Israel: Mapping make-over - Google Maps is now fully supported in Hebrew. On 28 March Google announced that it was launching the service in 39 additional languages including Hebrew. Google Maps is now fully available on both mobile apps and web browsers. Previously the service had been supported in Hebrew within Israel by displaying the names of locations on maps in Hebrew. Now the entire service is available in Hebrew including major locations worldwide, if the user so requires.

Middle East: Local content - Zain has announced the availability of Viu, an OTT Video service provided by PCCW and Vuclip. It will available through a carrier billing partnership with Zain's managed service provider SLA Digital. Viu is available in 15 markets including the Middle East countries of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE offering what is described as fresh and localized regional and local premium TV shows, movies and Viu Originals. Vuclip will work with SLA Digital to extend the Viu service offering to other Zain Group customers in the Middle East to capitalize on the region's growing youth population, smartphone penetration, and appetite for digital content and entertainment.

Oman: Hayyak test drive - Commenting on the 'Hayyak Your Way' pre-paid service, Omantel's Consumer Business Unit Senior manager of Product Development, Saleh Mahmoud al Maimani, said the service has seen 'huge success' and that the number of subscribers has been rising steadily. Pre-paid customers are able to test-drive the service for seven days for only OMR 2 (USD 5.20), and allowing users' unlimited talk to five favourite numbers and 250MBs for top social media apps usage and 250MBs for regular Internet usage. The offer is available till 14 May.

Oman: IoT club - Ooredoo Oman has joined the LoRa Alliance, a non-profit association for the Internet-of-things (IoT). It claims to be the first telco in the GCC to do so. It expects to collaborate with other IoT service providers, chip manufacturers, product developers and other businesses. The LoRa Alliance has over 500 participants and it acts as a forum for collaboration opportunities and sharing experiences to enable the success of the LoRa protocol, LoRaWAN.

Saudi Arabia: Tower sale timing - Zain is reported to be awaiting approval from regulator CITC to sell its mobile towers, its Chief Executive Bader Nasser al-Kharafi told reporters in Kuwait last week. The timing of the sale could not be provided before approval is obtained, Reuters reported.

Turkey: New seats - Turkcell shareholders have approved the appointment of three new board members at last week's annual general meeting. Ingrid Stenmark, Tuvan Yalim and Mustafa Kiral were listed as board nominees in filings, and replace Mehmet Bostan, Jan Rudberg and Erik Belfrage.

United Arab Emirates: Upgrade outages - Etisalat subscribers will experience disruptions as network upgrades are applied over the next three months it said last week. It is preparing to meet future requirements for 5G networks and Internet of Things. The upgrade will be undertaken in incremental stages to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted service.