News in Brief 25 April 2018


Africa: Asian funding - MFS Africa has completed a USD 4.5 million round of funding round which will allow the remittance provider it to grow in existing markets, develop merchant services and provide facilities to ease trade between Asia and Africa. The round was led by China-based VC company LUN Partners. As part of the deal, the companies will collaborate to open digital trade channels between businesses in China, and other Asian countries, and the remittance company's network in Africa.

Africa & Middle East: Feature phone boom - IDC reports that the EMEA smartphone market saw a fall in volumes again during 2017, although there was a 'relative boom' in shipments of feature phones. However Apple performed well. The analyst house reported that not only are feature phones enjoying what it described as a 'strong resurgence' in Africa, sales volumes are also falling more slowly than before across Europe. In contrast, and despite the region being dominated in demographic terms by the 1.2 billion African population, there was no boost for the entry-level smartphone market, impacting several companies targeting this segment including Alcatel and Lenovo. Simon Baker, programme director of mobile phone research for IDC CEMA, noted that the Middle East market is still subdued in the aftermath of the oil price drop.

Africa: Google Go - The Google Go app is now available in 26 sub-Saharan Africa nations, including Nigeria and Kenya, and is customized for Android devices with low storage and will load on slow and unstable connections including 2G networks. It has partnered with MTN Group and Vodacom Group. Search results are optimised to save up to 40 percent of data. Just five megabits in size, the app will allow for voice recognition in search, while also allowing switching between languages including Swahili. Google has also released lightweight operating 'Go' systems including Gmail and Google Assistant. In 2017 it launched YouTube Go in Nigeria, an 'offline first' version of the video sharing platform, allowing users to preview and download videos, rather than stream.

Benin: Seven volume code - The Minister of Digital Economy and Communication, Aurelie Adam Soule announced on 23 April 2018 the promulgation of State Law No. 2017-20 which brings together all the legal provisions applicable to digital activities. The Digital Code contains some 647 articles divided into seven books, and modernizes the legal regimes of the telecommunications sector, 24 Heures au Benin reported.

Botswana: Rural launches - Orange Botswana has recently launched network sites in Ditshegwane and Lorolwaneng in the southern part of the country, and has promised similar installations in the Northern region and Central District. Orange Botswana's Sales Operations Director, Sipho Ntebang, said: "We are going to establish Service and Orange Money points to distribute our products and services", adding that it will employ locals to provide the services. Six additional sites in remote villages will have services provided by mid-year, including Makobo, Mokoboxane, Kauxwi, Zoroga and Mabeleapodi, in the North-East, North-West and the Central Districts.

Gabon: KT contract - Some XAF 150 billion (USD 283 million) is to be invested over the next three years to expand its fibre optic network, the Minister of Communication and Digital economy Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze said last week on the sidelines of a telecoms forum in the commercial capital Abidjan. The first phase of the project is already completed, linking the coastal capital Libreville to Franceville. Korea Telecom has won the contract for the second half of the project, connecting up the north of the Central Africa country, after a tender process.

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International: Laundering Lycamobile? - The UK government reportedly stopped a raid on the premises of mobile company Lycamobile, suspected of money laundering, because it donated to the ruling Conservative Party, despite the Home Office vowing to implement the toughest anti-money laundering plan in a decade. BuzzFeed News reports that Britain refused to assist French authorities in their investigation of Lycamobile, a UK telco suspected of money laundering and tax fraud. The British government cited the fact that it was the 'biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party' and gives money to a trust founded by Prince Charles. Meanwhile French prosecutors have arrested up to 19 people over their alleged use of the company's accounts to launder money from organized criminal networks in 2016.

Kenya: Merger muddle - Jaindi Kisero writing in The Nation has noted that the proposed Airtel-Telkom merger appears to have a number of flaws. Quoting sources, he believes that fresh capital is unlikely to be made available. The pooling of infrastructure assets should be a key element to provide the necessary synergies but Airtel sold its towers to Kenya Towers Company in 2015. Telkom Kenya is selling its towers under a sale-and-leaseback transaction in a deal dubbed 'Mnara'.

Liberia: Bank modernisation - The United Bank for Africa (UBA) has announced the launch of a new mobile banking application with user-friendly features on 16 April in Monrovia. UBA-Liberia Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Olalekan Balogun was quoted by the Liberian Observer as saying: "Before now, UBA was the only bank that was offering both the Visa and the Liberian dollar Visa Card. I see some mobile competition now looking in that direction because we believe that with digital banking comes a lot of efficiency and convenience." The banking service is being hosted at Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia outlets.

Nigeria: Cellular credit checks - MTN Nigeria is collaborating with CRC Credit Bureau to launch Mobile Credit Check over the USSD code *565*8#, an alternative medium for individuals and merchants to access a summary of credit reports via their mobile phones, the Guardian reported. Managing Director Tunde Ahmed Popoola said the service is a quick way for credit checks to be carried out with a mobile phone. It is currently available to MTN subscribers only.


Senegal: Continuity CEO - Sonatel has announced the appointment of Sekou Drame as its new CEO, following Alioune Ndiaye's appointment as director of Orange's African operations earlier this year. Drame re-joins Sonatel after nearly two years as CEO of Orange Sierra Leone. He was previously CEO of Orange Business Services in Senegal.

Tanzania: Free films - Vodacom users can access iflix content on all devices at no cost until 30 May. This follows Vodacom signing of a partnership deal with iflix for emerging markets to give users unlimited access to iflix's entertainment service. To access the offer users have to register at Iflix is currently available in 27 markets in Asia, MENA, and sub-Saharan Africa.

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Togo: Wider network - Moov Togo and MFS Africa have signed a new agreement so that Flooz users now have access to a larger network of partners, including banks and on-line merchants. Togo is claimed to receive over USD 80 million from other West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) countries annually, and sends over USD 35 million to the same countries. MFS Africa is a fintech company that enables interconnections between mobile wallet systems and banks, money transfer operators, and merchants. MFS Africa claims the largest African digital payments network.

Uganda: Money transaction tax - The Monitor reports that a new tax on mobile money transactions is to be levied, citing tax proposals contained in the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act 2018. A tax of 1 percent of the value of the transaction will apply for receipts, making payments and withdrawals. The law is expected to be effective from 1 July.

Zimbabwe: Opportunity explorer - Mobile network operator TelOne is partnering with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) to develop a telecommunications research laboratory. TelOne MD Chipo Mtasa said it is expected to focus on new value added services. TelOne is solely dependent on the fixed-line voice and the operator has to reposition itself as an Internet service provider of choice. NUST will provide the researchers while TelOne will provide the hard- and software.

Zimbabwe: Self-service centre - Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has launched of a multi-purpose Web-based self-care service. Customers can now monitor their airtime and data usage, view their call history, transfer airtime and reset their PUK numbers. Econet Chief Operating Officer Fayaz King said: "It will change the way our customers interact with us in that it will empower them to do most of the things they would only be able to do by visiting our shops or calling our call centre."

Middle East:

Bahrain: Infotainment installation - Enterprise-focused Kalaam Telecom has implemented an Infotainment and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) Solution for the Lagoona Beach Luxury Resort & Spa, a major luxury hotel apartment. The all-new hospitality IPTV solution was developed after analysis of the business requirements and challenges, and is intended to enhance the guest experience. Guests can request services from a mobile application within the hotel to buy items, book leisure activities, buy local tour packages, call a taxi from TV, chat with front desk, play games, browse the Internet or be connected to social media. A request management and escalation system allows the hotel to manage and monitor all guest related services and requests on a single panel and service them immediately.

Bahrain: MENA Music offering - Viva Bahrain has partnered with Samsung Electronics Mena to offer Samsung CUE, a digital entertainment service music and music services. Subscribers will have seamless digital access to music, which can be purchased and downloaded with a card-free payment mechanism using their phone bill or mobile credit. Samsung CUE has been designed for the MENA region, and is the first Samsung digital content retail store and multimedia entertainment service and is available on the Samsung Galaxy App store.

Jordan: Sustainability MoU - Zain Jordan and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a MoU. The agreement entails the endorsement and recognition of the corporate sustainability programs of Zain Jordan, which is considered as one of the earliest adapters to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations, in addition to facilitating and exploring other opportunities between both parties to support the SDGs.

Kuwait: Viva Value Add - Viva Kuwait is offering Nintendo Switch offer with its Internet plans starting at KWD 11 (USD 37). The offer requires a 24-month contract and starts with a subscription for 500 GB per month at KWD 6 (USD 20). Data of 1 TB a month costs KWD 10 (USD 33), with another KWD 14 (USD 47) per month for the device, and a plan with 2 TB and sharing costs KWD 18 (USD 60) per month, plus KWD 19 (USD 63) for the Nintendo Switch.

Middle East: Compact data centre - Switzerland-based Reichle & De-Massari (R&M), a developer and provider of cabling systems for network infrastructures, has launched its Telco Edge micro data centre in the Middle East. R&M said its self-contained product provides a reduced physical footprint and significantly lower power consumption. The unit features built-in cooling, UPS and integrated fibre-optic cabling, as well as automated tracking and documentation of network cabling and IT assets.

Oman: Corporate FNP - Ooredoo has launched its Fixed Number Portability (FNP) service for business clients. Henceforth companies can change operators and keep their existing fixed line numbers. Ooredoo's Chief Business and Wholesale Officer Sultan bin Ahmed Al Wahaibi, said: "Customers joining us through FNP can look forward to get the highest levels of productivity thanks to our digitally advanced communication solutions that can be scaled to your needs while saving costs on infrastructure. This aligns with our 'Be Digital' brand promise to support our business customers through their digitalisation process. Additionally, the convenient FNP facility also means that users can take their fixed number anywhere in Oman."

Oman: Fibre expansion - The Al Khuwair area now benefits from the expansion of Ooredoo Oman Fibre Home Broadband service. Internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps, unlimited use and free installation and modem, with service plans starting from OMR 28 (USD 73) are being offered. The offer includes unlimited fixed Ooredoo minutes, discounted international rates and faster downloads. Customers that sign up for a 50 Mbps plan and above will receive a free WiFi Mesh device worth OMR 169.90 (USD 441). Mussanah and Al Amerat are expected to be connected in the next two weeks, and the service is already available in eighteen regions.

Oman: Pair of bonds - Omantel has issued bonds worth USD 1.5 billion in two tranches. The first tranche was for USD 600 million maturing in 2023 (5.5 years) yielding an interest rate of 5.625 percent per annum, while the second tranche was for USD 900 million maturing in 2028 (10 years) and yielding an interest rate of 6.625 percent per annum. The proceeds of bonds will be used to repay the bridge loan facility taken for Zain Kuwait investment.

Qatar: High-flying Internet - The Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) has approved the provision of Internet service onboard aircraft at all altitudes, compared to a previous minimum of 3,000 meters above sea level. The move follows a public consultation conducted by the CRA. Qatar is therefore the first MENA country to approve the provision of gate-to-gate Internet connectivity onboard aircraft. The amended Class License was issued on 15 April.

Saudi Arabia: 5G mall trial - Mobile network operator Mobily has conducted a 5G trial at a special stand in Riyadh Gallery mall. Mobily's Chief Executive Officer Ahmed Aboudoma said that the 5G trial, is part of its strategy to develop its technical capabilities and claimed that it was first Middle East operator to allow smart devices users the opportunity to experience 5G speeds in a trial.

Device developments:

South Africa: New Nokias - HMD Global has announced the launch of three new Nokia Smartphones the Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia 7 plus and the new Nokia 6. The Android One devices were introduced at Mobile World Congress in February 2018 and will go on sale during April 2018 through Cell-C, MTN and Vodacom as well as selected retailers. Devices in the Android One programme will be shipped with a limited number of pre-installed Google Services apps to provide more storage space. The Nokia 8 Sirocco will be available on 7 May from ZAR 499 (USD 42) per month x 24 months on Post-Paid Operator deals or from ZAR 12,999 (USD 1,081) pre-paid. The Nokia 7 plus has been available since 19 April 2018 from ZAR 329 (USD 27) per month x 24 months on post-paid operator deals or from ZAR 6,599 (USD 549) pre-paid. The new Nokia 6 was released on 23 April 2018 from MTN, from ZAR 3,999 (USD 332) pre-paid.