News in Brief 14 November 2018

Africa:

Africa: Edutainment capitalisation - UK-based Kukua has raised USD 2.5 million in seed investment to construct game-based apps. The media and education technology company aims to create the first pan-African edutainment franchise to address child illiteracy. There will be some 250 million African primary school children by 2030, but 138 million primary school children currently lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. Kukua is consequently building Sema, a suite of educational tools made up of game-based apps that teach reading, writing and maths. The round has been led by EchoVC and also featuring firstminute capital, Burda Principal Investments, Xavier Niel's Kima Ventures and strategic angel investors such as Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, former VP of mobile at Uber and Dropbox. Kukua has partnered with Airtel to promote Sema apps to over two million phones in Kenya.

Africa: MVNO new markets - Lycamobile Group's CEO Chris Tooley, speaking at the MVNOs Europe conference in London last week, said that the MVNO group intends to launch in Mexico, India, Russia, Uganda, Cameroon and Kenya in 2019, Telegeography reported. The African launches will be in spite of the limited success Lycamobile has experienced in Africa to date; Tooley suggesting that the 'ecosystem isn't right' for MVNOs to do business in Africa and that it was only possible to 'get a toe-hold'.

Africa: Ratings review - Moody's Investors Service has put Bharti Airtel on a ratings downgrade watch, citing fears of cashflow and profitability issues, particularly in its main India business which has been hit by a price war. It has placed the operator on review for downgrade of its Baa3 issuer and senior unsecured rating, and also the ratings outlook on senior unsecured notes issued by Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) BV. The review reflects Bharti Airtel's lower levels of profitability, particularly from its core Indian mobile operations, negative free cash flow and higher debt levels to fund capital spending. However Moody's expects most of the USD 1.25 billion recently raised by Bharti's Africa unit to be used to pare debt, but its leverage to see marginal improvement. As previously noted, the Africa arm recently raised USD 1.25 billion by concluding a placement of shares to six global investors in the run-up to its initial public offer (IPO), which is likely in May-June 2019.

Benin: MNP launched - Moov Benin kicked-off its portability campaign on 30 October 2018 at the hotel Golden Tulip in Cotonou. The Director General of Moov Benin fronted the event, along with artists whose images appear in the campaign materials. Ironically the scope for porting has been greatly reduced after the operations of Bell Benin and Glo were closed down, leaving just Moov and MTN to play swapsies.

Ghana: TV offering - Kwese Play has launched its video streaming service, delivered over FTTH, offering on-demand and live TV content. Kwese will leverage Liquid Telecom’s fibre network, which also holds 4G and 5G spectrum capability configured to carry video content. It will offer over 200 streaming channels delivered on a single platform. Kwese Play devices will be bundled with Vodafone’s fixed broadband home Internet packages, to enable single billing for most subscription-based content available through the service.

Kenya: Critical fault - On 9 November Safaricom experienced a network glitch at 7:56pm at its Nairobi Gospel Mobile Switch Room (MSR) due to high temperatures at the site, TechWeez reported. This fault was categorised as 'critical' and saw the affected subscriber lose access to all services in Nairobi East and West, and specifically Kireita, Ngara, CBD, Racecourse, Kawangware, Kangemi, Loresho, Dagoretti, Mountain View, Pumwani, Kamkunji, Ongata Rongai, Kiserian, Karen, Kibera, Wilson, Ngong Hill and Langata.

Kenya: Licence push renewed - Safaricom is to press the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) regarding the 3-year delay in issuing its digital broadcast licence. CEO Bob Collymore said Safaricom is seeking to venture into commercial free-to-air television services as part of triple-play offering over its fibre network. The CA said in September it had delayed the approval pending the results of a study on competition in the industry. Safaricom originally made the application in August 2015 and also applied for an IPTV, subscription management and terrestrial subscription broadcasting services licences, enabling it to broadcast content over the Internet.

Liberia: Banking partnership - Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) customers, who are also Lonestar Cell MTN mobile money subscribers, can now perform mobile money transactions such as cash-in and cash-out, bill payments and all other mobile money services at all LBDI banks in Liberia. On 2 November the bank joined five other business entities to tap into the Lonestar mobile money programme, FrontPageAfricaOnline reported. LBDI's Othello Freeman said that in 2014 the bank and Lonestar entered into an agreement to collaborate, operate and provide mobile money products. As part of the deal, the bank will now set up more branches and particularly in remote locations. LBDI President John B.S. Davies, said that there is no threshold for deposit.

Namibia: Premium payments - Telelcom Namibia's Chief Executive, Theo Klein, has defended the parastatal's decision to pay over NAD 2 million (USD 141,000) to seven executives, despite concerns by the board that such payments are being made despite its current financial difficulties. Klein told The Namibian last week that the money was paid to seven executives, including himself, but that they had been made over the four years from 2014 to executives on a five-year fixed-term contract. During the same period Telecom reported made losses of some NAD 284 million (USD 20 million). Klein described them as premiums payable in line with their fixed-term contracts, dependent on pre-determined individual performances. The paper reports that payments were made to Klein of NAD 618,000 (USD 44,000); suspended head of legal services Jinah Buys got NAD 212,000 (15,000); Chief Mobile Officer Armando Perny NAD 399,940 (USD 28,000); Chief Operations Officer Laban Hiwilepo NAD 401,100 (USD 28,300); Chief Commercial Officer Calvin Muniswaswa NAD 531,250 (USD 37,500); Chief Human Resources Officer Holger Sircoulomb NAD 103,600 (USD 7,300); and Powercom Chief Executive Alisa Amupolo NAD 232,284 (USD 16,400).

State of Digital - Angola: February 2018

Namibia: Rural 3G - In mid-October the resort town of Gross Barman was added to Mobile Telecommunications Limited's (MTC) 3G network. The spa town is situated on the District Road 1972, 25 km south-east of Okahandja in the Otjozondjupa Region, and close to the capital Windhoek, making it is a popular weekend destination. The move is part of its national network improvement infrastructure programme branded 081Every1. MTC's Chief Human Capital and Corporate Affairs, Tim Ekandjo said: "3G network upgrades in rural settings is preparation in advance paving the way for the 4G network which is currently enjoyed in urban areas only."

Nigeria: Government stake - The federal government is a part owner and shareholder of MTN Nigeria, the Premium Times has reported. It is claimed that a stake is held via the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), the nation’s investment agency. The initial investment was apparently made in 2014, and NSIA spokesperson Titi Olubiyi confirmed to tha paper that the investment is still valid. On its Website MTN records a 75.81 percent stake is owned by MTN International (Mauritius) Limited (MTNI); 18.7 percent by Nigerian shareholders through special purpose vehicles; 2.78 percent owned by Mobile Telephone Networks NIC B.V and 1.76 percent owned by Public Investment Corporation SOC Limited.

Nigeria: MTN meeting - Central Bank of Nigeria representatives were due to meet four lenders to MTN Nigeria on Friday 9 November to discuss a dispute over a USD 8.1 billion fund transfer, Reuters reported citing a banking source. The Central Bank emailed invitations on 8 November to the Nigerian heads of Standard Chartered, Citibank, Stanbic IBTC Bank and Diamond Bank to attend a meeting the next day, the source said. The source said that the meeting would start at 16:00 hrs on 9 November and focus on MTN's fund transfer.

another fine mess for african telecoms

Zimbabwe: Ministerial misdemeanours - Former Minister of ICT Supa Mandiwanzira has been arrested and charged with criminal abuse of office. Charges relate to allegations of irregular board appointments at the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) and awarding of an audit contract for state-owned telco NetOne to Megawatt without adhering to regulatory tender process, ITWebAfrica reported. He is also accused of appointing his personal assistant to the POTRAZ board in violation of corporate governance principles and a cabinet circular. Mandiwanzira was due to appear in court on 7 November.

Zimbabwe: Street renaissance - Mobile operator Econet Wireless has launched the first phase of Harare's digital transformation plan, which will start with the renovation of 2.0 First Street, one of the main commercial arteries of the city. Econet Wireless has installed a kiosk with a touch screen which will allow city councils and residents to exchange information on various social issues. The operator also plans to install digital kiosks so that users can pay bills directly. Public lighting will be restored and surveillance cameras will be installed for more security of shops and users. The installation of public Wi-Fi is also planned. A contract was signed a few days ago between Econet and the city council for the renovation of First Street. According to Lovemore Nyatsinea, the executive assistant to Econet Wireless's president and CEO, the work will be carried out in several stages in close collaboration with the municipal structures.

Middle East:

Israel: Satellite sales - Spacecom, operator of the AMOS satellite fleet, has announced that it is expanding sales with a Vertical Solutions Division targeting MNOs, government programmes, service providers and other commercial groups operating in the data, mobile, and video markets. The new division's first deal is a multi-year contract with a leading Southern Africa VSAT services provider via AMOS-7. The new services utilize capacity on AMOS-3, AMOS-4, AMOS-7 and AMOS-17, following the latter’s scheduled launch in 2019 to service Africa.

Jordan: Lead retained - At the end of September 2018 Zain Jordan had some 3.8 million subscribers, and kept its market lead despite intense price competition and challenging economic conditions. It reported year-on-year revenues for 3Q18 stable at USD 369 million, with EBITDA down 15 percent to USD 148 million, reflecting an EBITDA margin of 40 percent. However net profit fell 21 percent to USD 56 million for the first nine-months of 2018. With the ongoing expansion of 4G services nationally, data revenues (excluding SMS & VAS) represented 38 percent of the total.

Oman: Wholesale rates set - The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has approved the Reference Access and Interconnection Offers (RAIOs) of Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) and Ooredoo, the Muscat Daily reported. The tariffs of wholesale services have been rationalised based on the cost models developed by the TRA, as well as models submitted by the two MNOs, with the aim of promoting effective competition. Mobile termination rates (MTRs) will be reduced in phases from the current charge of OMR 0.015 (USD 0.03887) to OMR 0.004 (USD 0.01037) per minute over four years, while the mobile call origination rate has been reduced from OMR 0.0166 (USD 0.04302) to OMR 0.01054 (USD 0.02731) per minute. The MNOs have been given two months to update their existing wholesale agreements.

United Arab Emirates: August totals - The number of mobile, fixed-line and data services stood at 22.8 million at the end of August. The number of mobile subscribers reached around 19.154 million, representing a penetration of 217 percent, according to statistics released recently by the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority. Pre-paid subscribers numbered 15.734 million by the end of August 2018 while post-paid reached 3.419 million by the end of the same month. Mobile services account for 80 percent of the revenues of Etisalat Group and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du). Up to 1.360 million people are subscribing in Internet services by the end of August, 99.9 percent of whom are opting for broadband services. Fixed-line subscribers stood at 2.326 million.

United Arab Emirates: Closer regulatory co-operation - The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cote d'Ivoire's National Agency for the Universal Service of Telecommunications-TIC (ANSUT), in continuation of efforts made by the Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications in Cote d'Ivoire (ARTCI). The aim is to foster co-operation in information and communications technology (ICT) sector development, promote digitisation and facilitate digital development in the Arab and the West African economies.

United Arab Emirates: ICT indicators - The Global Competitiveness Report issued by the World Economic Forum (Davos) 2018 shows the UAE advancing 18 places in 'ICT Adoption' from 24th to 6th place globally in the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). This is a measurement of the efficiency of the telecoms sector by countries using a number of global competitiveness indicators. The report also found that the UAE was ranked first in the world in the Global Competitiveness Index for mobile broadband subscription rate, and ranked second globally in the mobile subscription index. On this occasion, H.E. Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, TRA Director General, said: "We are in the 6th place in ICT utilization, which is an advanced ranking..."

Device developments:

Africa: Home-grown handsets - Mara Group's Ashish Thakkar has stated the intention to build mobile phone assembly plants in each of the five sub-regions of Africa, Agence Ecofin reported. At the Africa Investment Forum held from 7 - 9 November 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa, he explained that the plan should start with Rwanda and South Africa. According to Ashish Thakkar: "... we have quality smartphones, but they are not affordable and if it's affordable, it's not quality". It is expected that the devices will also be exported to Europe, making Mara a global player. The project is being developed in partnership with Google. Thakkar said that his company would be investing some ZAR 1.5 billion (USD 106 million) in the South African venture over the next five years, and added: "We have a few [phones] that are assembled in Africa but nothing is truly being manufactured in Africa. Thanks to the African Development Bank, that changes today." The African Development Bank has a strategy to support the industrialising of Africa. AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said: "... It just tells you the quality of entrepreneurship that we have in Africa… Africa is not just a market for others. Africa is going to be the manufacturing base to create markets within Africa and also have markets outside Africa".