2017 AfricaCom Conference Review

About the event

The annual AfricaCom event was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from 7-9 November 2017, with a line-up of global thought leaders who provided interesting insights on future technology trends and market developments in Africa. The event also offered a good networking platform for industry players and essential learning opportunities. The event also marked 20 years of AfricaCom, which has become the largest ICT event on the continent.

A summary of key discussion points and take-ways from the conference is provided below.

New trends

M-commerce was notably among the disruptive technologies that were under the spotlight at the event and is expected to be far more “disruptive” than PC-based e-commerce ever was. In the next 6 years Africa is expected to lead digital solutions, with companies with clear digital strategy expected to lead the market. Among the key messages delivered at the event was the need to encourage local manufacturing companies to take a leadership position in the region. Other notable topics that were discussed included Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Smart Cities, Digital Health, SDN & VFN, and Blockchain.

A growing trend is that of governments trying to recreate monopolies in the market, instead of creating an enabling environment for competition to thrive and intervene in markets such as rural areas, where it often does not make economic sense for private sector companies to invest. This is coupled with a growing practice by governments of treating telecoms sector businesses as cash cows. Some of the operators claim that as much as 60% of their revenues are taken by governments. The key message from the operators on this issue was that ICT should not cross-subsidise other industries, so that revenues generated in the ICT sector can be reinvested to further sector development and innovation.

A single national network model, such as the WOAN proposed by the South African government, also came under scrutiny, with operators sharing a common view that this model could be harmful for the telecoms sector. Furthermore, market regulators need to be educated on a continuous basis, in order to be able to regulate very dynamic markets effectively.

IoT and high data costs

The issue of data costs was very topical. From an operator point of view, the cost of operating a telecommunications network remains very high in many markets across Africa. Lack of proper utility infrastructure negatively impacts the operational efficiencies of telecoms operators, which in turn results in higher retail prices of data than the public and the state would like to see. Moreover, there is also the question of economic principle, with operators in most markets opting to charge for data what they can, if not constrained by regulation. More can be done in terms of trying to reduce the retail price of data to benefit users. Operators such as Safaricom (Kenya) are reviewing their data charge models to see how prices could be reduced further.

However, other operators are of the view that MNOs no longer generate large profits as they had done in the past, largely due to competition from the OTTs who have negatively impacted the price of voice services. Decreasing voice revenues do not leave the operators with much room to move when it comes to lowering prices of other products (such as data).

A panel discussion on IoT resulted in a call to use IoT to transform the telecoms industry. IoT will also help businesses to be more efficient. Africa is expected to benefit considerably from IoT, particularly in sectors such as mining, transport, tourism, health and energy. As such, security around IoT platforms needs to become a priority.

The journey to 5G

3G is expected to continue carrying most of the traffic in Africa as the technology lifespan is usually 20 years. Most operators in Africa began 3G deployment 5 to 10 years ago. However, operators should not be rolling out 2G and 3G networks in isolation. As we enter the new era of high speed connectivity, when 5G eventually arrives, the technology is expected to drive real convergence. It is believed that in the next six years, the world will be ready for 5G, with the first subscriptions expected to start early in 2022. Africa is expected to reach 2 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2023. However, the predicted commercial launch of 5G services could be brought forward, given that by the end of 2017 the first phase of 5G standard will be completed. This will allow early adopters to launch commercial offerings, particularly in the developed markets.

Some of the speakers at the event believe that Wireless-to-the-Home technology will drive connectivity globally and not fibre, as many anticipate. Nonetheless, the deployment of fibre will continue to be essential, as it does serve specific needs in the market more effectively than wireless technologies.

Bridging the digital divide

On the need to connect Africa’s next billion, a study revealed that of the 240 countries that were part of the study, some 104 do not have broadband strategy. For African countries to grow their GDPs, they need to prioritise broadband rollout. The example of Singapore was given, which came from a historically low ICT ranking to become one of the leading countries globally by prioritising broadband rollout. Currently, Africa contributes less than 5% of the global GDP and 75% of the people on the continent do not have smartphones. Moreover, 50% of the people in Africa are still serviced exclusively by 2G networks. Several initiatives are being undertaken by various companies to bridge the digital divide in Africa. These include:

  • SmartWIFI – The hotspot service is intended to bring WiFi to rural areas, enabling retailers, hospitality establishments, petrol stations, as well as healthcare centres or schools to become a connectivity point and a digital gateway to opportunity for the surrounding population. Access can be extended to several kilometres through off-the-shelf Wi-Fi repeaters.

Project Loon – A network of balloons located at the edge of space is designed to extend Internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide at an affordable cost. If successfully rolled out across the African continent, Project Loon has the potential to assist countries with low Internet population coverage to achieve nation-wide coverage. Connection signal is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from  a telecommunications partner on the ground, relayed across the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground. The demonstrated data transmission speed between balloons over 100 km apart in the stratosphere and back to earth (directly to LTE devices) is up to 10Mbps.

  • The Express Wi-Fi initiative will be expanded through a partnership with Facebook in Nigeria, with the goal of connecting more people to the Internet in a cost-efficient way. Express Wi-Fi in Nigeria is focused in areas where people gather and work, including markets, cafés and public outdoor spaces.

Creating an enabling environment

African countries are encouraged to start educating rural communities, empowering them to use devices to enable growth. However, lack of access to the Internet, lack of local content, lack of spectrum, lack of affordability (costly devices) and a poor demand side (due to lack of proper education, particularly in rural areas) are some of the key issues that are contributing to the current digital divide in many parts of Africa.

Furthermore, governments are urged by the operators to create enabling environments to support innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa. For their part, some of the state governments in Africa are already taking steps to improve ICT penetration and use it as a socio-economic enabler. Examples include:

  • Namibia – Currently, Internet penetration is around 50% of the population but the country has declared access to the Internet a basic human right and wants to achieve 100% population coverage in the next two years. New investment initiatives should be announced soon.
  • South Africa – The Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services is urging operators to consider bridging the digital divide through the greater use of satellite broadband services, with satellite technology offering far wider coverage than terrestrial networks. It is disappointing that of the 100 satellites to have been launched globally in 2017, only five will have been launched by African states. There needs to be greater focus on the use of satellite technology in Africa.
  • Zimbabwe – The government is the biggest spender on ICT in the country and intends to accelerate mobile network deployment. The government has interest in 2 out of the 3 MNOs operating in the country. New policies have been introduced, which will encourage infrastructure sharing between the operators.

To reduce the cost of communication, initiatives such as uniform roaming charges between operators in an economic community such as SADC and joint infrastructure investment by operators should be encouraged.

2017 FTTH Africa Council Conference Review

This year’s 2017 FTTH Africa Council Conference highlighted some interesting developments that were presented and discussed among the delegates. These are our key take-outs from the conference:

Besides looking at the fibre developments in the various markets, with current focus on the importance of rolling out quality infrastructure in the Africa, LATAM, MENA, Europe and the Americas, the key messages at conference also centred around the recent topical issues, mainly the road to 5G, and the need to build next generation mobile networks to support fibre. The telecoms sector players seem to be actively tracking developments around 5G, not only because it is expected to complement fibre solutions, but also because 5G is no longer regarded as a spectrum-based network, but rather a platform that is scalable, segmentable and designed for the Internet of things.

The influence of the regulatory authorities in shaping and growing economies around the globe also came under scrutiny. As discussions gained momentum around the subject, it became clear that the market does not favour heavily regulated environments, as previous studies indicate that there is little economic growth achieved in such markets. Regulators were also urged to be agile to ensure that policies and legislations that being introduced, move at the same speed as the technological developments themselves. Locally, the government was urged to entrench investment-friendly policy and market certainty before infrastructure investment take place on a scale needed by SA.

The developments in the IOT market also received attention at the conference, as well growing interest in Big Data analytics. This despite growing concerns that Big Data is susceptible to hacking, and can also be used for spying. Privacy as well as discrimination challenges were also highlighted as possible danger areas as far as Big Data is concerned, as everything can be tracked and analysed through Big Data.

In the fibre market, opportunities in the highly urbanised areas are increasingly becoming small, this has prompted operators to now target small towns in their endeavours to build smart cities. The operators however conceded that the high cost of extending fibre internet services beyond urban areas does not make expansion to smaller towns viable, especially combined with the lower number of potential subscribers, although expenses associated with equipment and electronics of fibre networks have come down. Notably, operators are currently considering various models that they can adopt in order to bring fibre to these towns in a sustainable way, and have also urged governments to put incentives on the table, that will encourage them to roll out fibre in the small towns and cities, as well to stimulate uptake of services.

In terms of monetising fibre, operators were urged to embrace infrastructure sharing models, as these would allow them to reduce costs. It must nonetheless be emphasised that each market is different, meaning this preferred model might not be ideal for some markets. In terms of rolling out fibre networks, the general view is that Africa continues to be challenged by shortage of funding, shortage of skills, lack of proper planning as well as policy uncertainty, although the continent is at least getting the fibre footprint right.

Overall, an intervention to deal with the issues highlighted above will require operators to undertake careful studies to understand the problem, before possible solutions are implemented. This as we are moving to a fragmented world, that will be characterised by cloud services, integrated services, simplicity, and single identity.

Moreover, the increasing adoption of fibre solutions in various markets around the world is expected to have a positive impact on our journey to the 4th Industrial Revolution and the global digital economy. This is because the industrial Internet, Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data are also driven by optics, and so is the foundation of platform economics. However, telcos of today will continue to be challenged by the disruptive players such as OTTs and MVNOs, as well as growing competition facilitated by open access networks, more innovative solutions entering the market, and competitors that are quick to embrace newer technologies.

For further details, please contact Ofentse Mopedi.

NG Telecoms Africa Summit 2017 – Africa Analysis Feedback

Africa Analysis recently attended the GDS NG Telecoms Africa Summit 2017, held at the Raidsson Blu Hotel in Lusaka Zambia, over the period 26 to 28th of April 2017. The Summit saw the gathering of commercial, operational, marketing and technical executives from telecommunications operators and service providers across Africa. The event provided a platform to discuss the various challenges that telecoms operators face in their respective local and regional markets.

The three key challenges identified by the delegates were:

  1. The network and infrastructure related issues;
  2. The customer and how to improve service and experience quality; and
  3. The future development and trends that African operators are likely to face.

In addition, the keynote address delivered by Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel Ghana focussed on the concept of “rethinking” telecommunications in Africa and the ability to create and deliver African solutions for the African telecommunications opportunities and challenges. The presentation highlighted the need to adopt fresh approaches to content, data services, infrastructure and devices as network operators across the region begin to look at evolving revenue streams and customer expectations.

The network and infrastructure challenge

The network and infrastructure related challenges emphasized the growing reliance on offshore data centres, cloud security, and a perceived lack of vendor support.

Other key infrastructure challenges identified included:

  • 4G LTE
  • Data centres
  • Cloud
  • Offshore data centres
  • Cloud and IoT relevance given the infrastructure challenges

The main points of concern were:

  • Why are these solutions not manufactured on the African Continent?
  • Do the equipment and solutions vendors have the African operators’ best interests at heart?
  • Operators maintain the status quo and new technologies and services such as 4G/5G will be irrelevant if it is constructed on a broken system implying that it will not be sustainable.
  • Services such as cloud and IoT will require operators to fix current problems and challenges.

Operators also highlighted the fact that operators also faced challenges as to political and regulatory stability noting that in certain instances network roll out projects were derailed by government or competitor intervention.

The customer experience challenge

The central theme of the discussion was the ability of network operators to be able to better understand their customers to deliver a better service. At the heart of this was the ability to leverage technology and services such as cloud and data analytics to get to know the customer better. However, operators will need to first develop a brand and loyalty before being able to implement cloud and big data services.

The future

Discussions concerning the future of the network operators in Africa focussed on:

  • Partnership and monetization potential of the over the top (OTT) players
  • Internet of Things (IoT) – the revenue potential and expected growth
  • Bandwidth demand and its growth
  • LTE – the upgrade path and the business case

The OTT services across Africa present operators with a threat and an opportunity. Many operators have sought to embrace the OTT players and have zero rated the data services of these players to entice additional customers and demonstrate value add for their customers. Others have attempted to offer OTT like services in the form of their own platforms. However, the real challenge for the operators has been the ability to monetize or grow their revenue from these services.

The IoT market presents another revenue growth opportunity. However, operators will need to ensure that they have the right platforms and ecosystems in place for these services to gain traction.

A key concern has been the massive growth of bandwidth consumption across the region. Operators find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place as they face pressure from consumers and regulators to reduce the cost of data services while costs of bandwidth decline, forcing them to offer more bandwidth at the same rates with a resultant growth in data consumption.
The development of 4G/LTE in Africa will depend on the ability of operators to develop a solid base and business case for their existing 3G networks.

Africa Analysis Assessment

The NG Telecoms Summit brought many challenges being faced by network operators to light. However, it appears that these challenges and opportunities are viewed as being separate from each other. Operators need to view the evolution in the communications services as part and parcel of the growth of services in Africa.

End users will become more sophisticated and demanding in services being consumed and the associated costs. This presents operators an opportunity to push more advanced services into the market and begin to re-align their roles from being the mere pipe or conduit for services to being the enabler of application and content. It is at the application and content point of the services stack that Africa can begin to create unique and tailored services to meet local demand.

In addition, the development of future platform and technologies such as 4G/LTE and 5G will depend on the operators and their ability to develop sound business cases for 3G to use as a foundation for these technologies.

 

Future Workforce Study 2016

Dell and Intel have teamed up to create their newest Future Workforce Study 2016, which reveals how people around the world feel about how technology is shaping the workplace. Collaborating with Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), a series of online interviews were conducted across seven target industries, with adults who work more than 35 hours a week. South Africa was included in the study and is grouped with Europe.

Key study highlights:

#1 Employees expect to work in a smart office in the near future

  • Today’s office is not smart enough; however, workers expect to be working in smart offices in the near future. Employees globally feel their offices are not advanced enough and desire an environment that uses data to make “smarter” decisions about employee habits like temperature, lighting etc. Workers are not only ready for businesses to implement the latest technologies to make their offices smarter, they expect it to happen within the next five years. Specifically, 44% of employees worldwide feel that their workspace isn’t smart enough, and more than half expect to be working in a smart office within the next five years.
  • This expectation is highest among the younger workforce, with 69% expecting to be in a smart office within the next five years. The consequences for not meeting these expectations is also greater for the millennial workforce, with 42% saying they would quit a job with substandard technology and 82% saying workplace technology influences what role they would take. Further, a majority of workers place an emphasis on functional benefits with 63% of millennials and 55% of older workers (over 35 years old) indicating they would rather have high-tech perks, such as augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) and Internet of Things (IoT) than low-tech perks like ping pong, free food etc.

#2 The way we communicate will continue evolving away from face-to-face meetings

  • The way we communicate will be the next thing to change. The influx of new technology in the workplace has affected how employees communicate, collaborate and work more efficiently. In fact, with many employees believing that face-to-face meetings will be obsolete soon, the norms of office communication could be the next major change impacting the workplace.
  • While 57% of global employees still prefer to have face-to-face conversations with colleagues, half of global employees and three in five millennials think better communication technology and remote teams will make face-to-face conversation obsolete in the near future. In fact, a majority of workers in China, India and South Africa already do not prefer face-to-face conversations and instead use collaborative technologies to communicate with colleagues. Within this evolution, 79% of millennials believe workspaces are more collaborative than they used to be, and over 70% of millennials feel that advanced tech/smart offices are crucial to a collaborative, productive and efficient work environment.
  • Further, employees noted that virtual-sharing allows for collaboration with colleagues while remote capabilities would be the most beneficial technology integration into their office lives.

#3 Virtual reality and artificial intelligence adoption is growing

  • Virtual reality and artificial intelligence could impact the workplace sooner than we think. Cutting-edge technologies including virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence may soon play a pivotal role in how we work, and employees are expecting these technologies to impact their lives soon.
  • While millennials are the keenest for this convergence, interestingly it isn’t just the younger workforce who are looking forward to the introductions of these technologies into their working lives. Two thirds (66%) of the global population would be willing to use AR/VR products in their professional lives, while 46 percent believe the technologies will improve productivity within their individual role. Just under two thirds (62%) also believe that the introduction of artificial intelligence will make their job easier, while half (50%) say AI will lead to more productivity in the workplace, with 30% listing the ability to automate complex or repetitive tasks as the major immediate advantage.

#4 Remote employment continues to grow, given the advancement of enabling technologies

  • Remote employment allows global workers to focus equally on productivity and quality of life benefits, revealing the range of advantages that flexible working provides. Evolving technology has already had a huge impact on modern employee lifestyles. Technology has allowed people to change their lifestyles and, in turn, this has impacted their work styles and preferences. With these changes, employers are offering more flexible work arrangements to keep up with this evolution to cater to the mobile worker.
  • Over half (52%) of employees already work outside of a traditional office at least one day a week, while 18% are working from a public location every week. Employees are also seeing the advancement of technologies to better enable these new working arrangements, with respondents listing advanced security protection as the single most important technology to be implemented into their workplace.

Future Workforce Study 2016 Report
Dell and Intel have teamed up to create their newest Future Workforce Study 2016, which reveals how people around the world feel about how technology is shaping the workplace. Collaborating with Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), 3801 online interviews were conducted across nine different markets between April 05 and May 03, 2016. The report primarily analyzes adults who work more than 35 hours a week and work in one of seven target industries: Education, Government, Financial Services, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Media & Entertainment, and Retail.