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Helios Towers – Entry into the South African Market

Helios Towers (HT) was founded in 2009 and concluded its first tower sales and lease back deal (S&LB) deal with Millicom in Ghana. Subsequently, HT has undertaken similar deals in Congo Brazzaville, DRC, and Tanzania. In 2018, Helios Towers entered the South African market.

Strategy

HT’s principal business lies in building, acquiring and operating telecommunications towers that are capable of accommodating and powering the needs of multiple tenants. These tenants are typically large MNOs and other telecommunications providers who in turn provide wireless voice and data services, primarily to end-consumers and businesses.

HT uses the sales and lease back method of buying towers from mobile network operators.

KPIs

By end 2018:

  • HT had acquired 82% and had built 18% of its total tower stock (total towers 6 745) since commencing operations in Africa. 
  • In 2018, there were 13 549 tenants that yielded an average tenancy across its towers of 2.01x.
  • In 2018, HT earned an average of USD4 435 per month per tower, or USD2 208 per customer per tower per month.

South Africa

In 2018 HT entered into a partnership with Vulatel (Pty) Ltd and formed Helios Towers SA (HTSA) with HT owning 66% and Vulatal 34%. Vulatel has been in operation since 2017. The company acquired Dimension Data’s fibre and wireless division (formerly Plessey South Africa).

Subsequently, Vulatel acquired Gio Construction, a provider of network deployment and maintenance services.

Contact Andre Wills by e-mail to discuss the profile or answer any queries you may have.

2019 East Africa Com

The East Africa Com conference took place in Nairobi, Kenya during the days 14 and 15 May 2019. The overarching theme of the conference was new technologies enabling the emerging digital world and digital transformation. The specific focus of the conference was also on how these developments will unfold in East Africa and the impact they are likely to have across economic, social and government environments in the region.

The eco-system was well-represented at the conference, with organisations from the ICT industry, financial institutions, parastatal utilities, government entities and academia inter alia. Theoretical discussions were supported by ample examples of current uses cases for new technologies in East Africa.

The topics at the conference dealt with a wide range of subjects, tackling issues such as:

  • Quality broadband connectivity and “affordable” access to ensure maximum socio-economic inclusivity in Africa (this continues to be a pertinent topic despite years of private sector and government initiatives);
  • Adoption and application of new technologies (such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning) in various vertical industries and government agencies to deliver new and improved services to customers;
  • Democratisation of data to make it more readily available for analysis to solve socio-economic problems through development of correct policies, yet remaining mindful of the requirement for data anonymity;
  • Digital transformation among organisations in East Africa to become more efficient and globally competitive, and positioning for the 4th Industrial Revolution;
  • Mobile money and financial inclusion; and
  • Growing women leaders in ICT and business in general.

On the last point, the East Africa Com conference has developed a partnership with ITC SheTrades, an initiative of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations. The SheTrades initiative aims to connect three million women to market by 2021, facilitating opportunities for women entrepreneurs, supported by a web and mobile digital platform. At the conference, the emphasis was placed on bringing women into the tech sector and using technology to enable women to participate in economic activities to a greater extent. This would unlock a lot of additional value and grow the global economy, especially in developing markets.

Connecting ICT stakeholders

The AHUB again proved to be a very useful medium of connecting local technology start-ups with investors, operators and large corporates to foment collaboration on new projects and (hopefully) mutually beneficial partnerships. The discussion panel on “Realising synergies between MNOs and African tech start-ups” illustrated initiatives already in place aimed at creating an environment conducive to start-up development and success, although still only 1 in 10 start-ups achieve some form of success (including survival beyond the short term). Revenue splits from commercial products (such as apps) continue to be skewed in favour of large mobile operators who claim they provider greater inputs into the partnership. This can stymie the growth of start-ups into sustainable companies.

Building a successful digital economy

To build a successful digital economy in East Africa a number of more basic building blocks still need to be put in place. For instance, liberalisation of immigration laws to attract foreign skills and direct investment, or creation of incentive schemes to experiment with new technologies through pilots (“sand boxes”) free from bureaucratic constraints. Availability of requisite spectrum for new access technologies (such as 5G) timeously is also critical.

Regulating new technology

One of the recurring discussion points at the conference revolved around regulating the new technologies and services in the digital world. One first needs to understand what it is that one tries to regulate, which is what the governments and regulatory authorities in many markets are currently trying to achieve. Unfortunately, the consensus was that we are likely to see more rather than less regulation, which is also bound to become more complex with increasing complexity of the digital environment around us. This is at a time when most stakeholders hope to see less, not more, regulation to allow for freer development of the digital future. It is critical for governments and regulatory authorities to embrace new technologies, rather than stifle them with over-regulation, lest we miss out on opportunities the new technologies offer.

4th Industrial Revolution

In a sense, Africa is already well suited to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Out of necessity, and limited formal jobs, the gig economy is alive and well. New technologies such as AI, ML and mixed reality innovation will drive these opportunities and create more formal job. An example is the recent launch of the Africa Development Centre by Microsoft in Nairobi, Kenya and Lago, Nigeria which will bring USD100 million of investment and 500 engineering jobs over the next five years. Africa can take advantage of its young population to drive this growth but it first needs to create capacity.

This report was compiled by Dobek Pater who attended and participated in the 2019  East Africa Com.

FTTH and FTTB in Africa

Fibre broadband connectivity has been much talked about in many markets in Africa over the past few years. It is touted as required infrastructure for the next generation of services both in the business and residential markets – from operating out of the cloud by small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to eGovernment services to future household entertainment (streaming content).

Factors limiting fibre growth

Yet, with the exception of a few countries, the growth of fibre access networks has been very limited in across most of the African continent. This can be ascribed to a number of factors, including:

  • Cost of fibre infrastructure deployment – This remains quite high in many markets and makes for a difficult business case, given the service adoption rates (although aerial fibre deployment is less expensive). It is less expensive to build wireless networks.
  • Cost of infrastructure maintenance – Once a fibre network has been built, the cost of maintenance and repairs can also be quite high if the fibre cable keeps being damaged due to other infrastructure development in the same area.
  • Small target market – Socio-economic development is often still slow, with slow middle class growth, and correspondingly low affordability levels. This is coupled with comparatively high prices of fibre connectivity, paying a premium for a superior service. In the business market, and in particular small businesses, the level of maturity (and often also affordability) limits the adoption of fibre broadband.

Fibre Access Infrastructure Market

The fibre access infrastructure provider environment tends to be quite fragmented in many markets, with a number of smaller fibre network operators (FNOs) operational. It is difficult for small operators to maintain a sustainable operation with a small footprint. Hence, in most markets in Africa, operators follow a multi-technology strategy, where possible, for the provision of connectivity services. Fibre is one of the technologies used but most of the connections may be provided wirelessly. Only in a limited number of cases have we seen the evolution of a pure fibre access infrastructure provider. This is most pronounced in South Africa, where around 50 FNOs are operational. Many of them very small and unsustainable. This leads to growing consolidation in this market.

As at mid-2018, there were 136 commercial FTTH / FTTB networks operational in Africa in 40 countries (including territories) and another ten networks either planned or in deployment. The presence of fibre broadband infrastructure on the African continent and growth over the past few years are presented below. The year-on-year growth of connected premises from mid-2017 to mid-2018 was 75%.

Concentrated Market

Fibre broadband uptake is concentrated in a handful of country markets, with almost 97% of total fibre connections on the continent (top five account for 85% of total). Even at that, household penetration is very low in these countries. The notable exceptions are Mauritius (where fibre deployment is being pursued as a national strategy) and La Réunion – both small islands with small populations in the Indian Ocean. This concentration of fibre broadband in several market on the continent is illustrated in the following graphic.

Some of the key market trends observed in the fibre broadband market are:

  • Access infrastructure has been expanding and improving, underpinned by improving national long-haul and metro backhaul infrastructure.
  • Pricing of fibre-based products has seen some reduction, making the products more affordable. This is combined with increasing disposable income levels (at least in growing economies).
  • Economic improvements (not in all markets) have led to improved business climate and demand for fibre-based services.
  • Government policy direction moving towards national fibre roll-out, digital agenda, etc.
  • Access to relevant content has been improving.

Market Opportunities

The present FTTH / FTTB market landscape in Africa provides for a number of opportunities going forward. These include:

  • Lack of legacy fixed infrastructure in many markets presents an opportunity to address this shortage with fibre. However, this can also be a challenge due to, for instance, lack of duct infrastructure which could be reused to lower the cost of deployment or lack of fixed line product / service culture and understanding of such products / services within the target user base.
  • Middle class migration to gated communities / complexes and increasing concentration of businesses in office parks means that the potential users can be reached more easily at a lower cost. New residential and business developments also provide an opportunity for greenfields fibre infrastructure deployment in such premises.
  • Once the first wave of FTTH deployment and uptake is past its peak (this may take a number of years in most markets in Africa), the cost of deployment and provision of services may be suitable for a second wave to address the lower socio-economic segments.
  • The fragmented fibre infrastructure provider environment presents M&A opportunities for (typically) larger operators or non-telecoms investors.
    Future evolution of the FTTH / FTTB markets in Africa will be driven by a combination of socio-economic development and government policies.

Market Outlook

However, given the diversity of markets in Africa in terms of ICT and socio-economic development, the pace of fibre broadband deployment and adoption will also differ significantly from country to country over the next five years. The expected market evolution trends are highlighted below.

Home Market

  • Greater focus on back selling of fibre services to achieve higher connectivity rate of homes passed.
  • Geographic expansion of the FTTH footprint (although limited to main cities in most countries).
  • Introduction of new products (including smaller bundled offers) to address households with lower disposable income levels (than the top end).
  • Introduction of converged products combining fixed and mobile services.
  • Increase in relevant content (requiring fast and reliable internet access) will drive uptake.
  • Continued downward trend in retail prices of fibre products, resulting in greater affordability.

Business Market

  • Geographic expansion of the FTTB footprint (although limited to main cities).
  • Introduction of converged products combining fixed and mobile services.
  • Move towards IoT (and IoE) over time, requiring greater good quality connectivity.
  • Government policy direction aimed at expansion of broadband (including fibre) infrastructure and services to drive socio-economic development.
  • Growth in maturity of the business community, realising the benefits of IP and cloud services. Fibre will be used for delivery of these services.

2018 Broadband Trends in Africa

Broadband is being increasingly considered as a necessity for future socio-economic development, with some parties viewing it as a basic human right. Essentially, without broadband connectivity, the digital divide in the social and business spheres (between businesses / households / individuals who have access to broadband vs. those that do not) will continue to widen to the point where the have nots will be left out of mainstream development altogether.

This presents a significant problem in many countries in Africa which have limited financial resources for telecommunications infrastructure builds on the one hand and continue to experience relatively low levels of socio-economic development on the other hand. Private sector telecoms infrastructure operators tend to build where they can generate a reasonable return on their investment (ROI) while large segments of the population and many small / micro businesses struggle cannot afford proper broadband connectivity or sufficient quantity of broadband services.

Implementation of Polices and Programmes

To remedy this situation, a number of national governments have been developing and implementing policies and programmes to build out broadband infrastructure as widely as possible and to decrease the prices of broadband services to a point where ultimately can afford them in sufficient quantity. To achieve this, they need to involve private sector operators while remaining mindful of the fact that private entities need to remain profitable to maintain sustainable operations.

While most countries in Africa now have access to good quality and adequate bandwidth on international, national long-haul and metro infrastructure (albeit in some markets still expensive), the constraint is now focused on broadband access infrastructure. In some regions of the continent inland backbone networks also need to be improved, although a number of projects are underway to address this.

Although broadband penetration has shown steady growth over the past several years, penetration levels of fixed broadband remain very low at approximately 7% of households on the continent, while mobile broadband has demonstrated a notable decline in growth and plateauing of the penetration rate. These trends are illustrated below.

Note: For the purposes of this analysis mobile 3G is considered a broadband service, although in many instances speeds achieved on a 3G connection would not be reflective of a good quality broadband service.

The Challenge

The challenge to higher fixed broadband penetration is the speed of deployment of fixed broadband infrastructure, to a large degree dictated by sales opportunities. A barrier to entry into the mobile broadband market is often still the price of a 3G or 4G phone. Mobile operators typically pursue a strategy of making lower cost handsets available as much as possible to lower this barrier.

Additionally, mobile broadband coverage (even 3G) is still not available across parts of the continent, particularly in rural / remote areas. Build-out of 4G infrastructure in sub-1GHz spectrum holds promise of providing coverage in such areas but in many markets 4G is still at an early stage of deployment, focusing on the larger urban environment.

Broadband Access Technologies

A range of broadband access technologies is used by operators in Africa to provide services, although the vast majority of connections is wireless and most of the connections are mobile.

The map provides an indication of key broadband technologies deployed. Most of the markets have seen implementation of multiple technologies, with various fixed wireless access (FWA) present in all markets. However, the geographic footprint of these technologies, in particular fixed technologies, remains very limited in most of the markets.

The mix of technologies used for the delivery of broadband services is changing. Older FWA technologies such as pre-WiMAX and WiMAX are being replaced with fixed LTE / LTE-A, while historical copper lines (where they exist) are gradually giving way to fibre (FTTH and FTTB), although on a very limited scale at present, with the exception of a few countries.

In the mobile space, the focus will be on 4G infrastructure footprint build-out far more extensive than currently, with 5G hovering on the distant horizon.

Only South Africa has begun to pilot 5G technology, with first commercial services expected to be offered in the second half of 2019. However, wider 5G implementation is also a couple / few years away in that market.

Broadband Adoption will grow

As the use cases for true broadband connectivity grow, so will adoption of broadband across the consumer and business markets in Africa. This will be aided by decreasing prices of broadband connectivity (in time, all of the connectivity will become commoditised) and government-led initiatives aimed at wider broadband availability.

Broader socio-economic development, supported by good GDP growth in many countries in Africa, will also contribute to making broadband services more affordable and increasingly indispensable to sustain this development.
The opportunity for expansion of broadband penetration is there, as evidenced, for instance by the total mobile penetration rate (80% in mid-2018 for Africa) vs. mobile broadband penetration of 53% at the same time.

There is room for growth

Fixed broadband adoption will need to compete with mobile broadband, certainly in the consumer / residential market and in the micro / small company market.

However, certain drivers such as migration to cloud services and accessing online content in large quantities will create a demand for fixed broadband services.

It would also be sensible for operators in Africa to consider moving to a more open access network environment in the fixed wireline space, where wholesale infrastructure operators would host a number of retail service providers on their networks to stimulate service-based competition.

2018 Microsoft Tech Summit Review

Cloud Key Take-Outs

The tipping point has arrived for cloud services in Africa. The barriers to adoption have been eroded and delivery models for IT have changed forever.

  1. Companies will adopt cloud services at a faster rate. Through the use of local data centres, barriers to cloud adoption such as data protection, reliability and latency are being addressed.
  2. Pivotal to the development of Microsoft’s cloud strategy is Microsoft’s commitment to the African continent. Microsoft has taken great strides in improving the quality of service for companies in South Africa and on the continent, by building two of their own data centres in SA and forging relationships with Internet Solutions, Liquid Telecom and Teraco.
  3. Any company – vendor or end-user – that does not have a commitment to the cloud will be left behind.

Demand for Cloud Services

A recent study, presented at the Microsoft Event, found that 93% of South African companies are developing a cloud strategy.

The major drivers of this trend are: (1) economic imperatives, (2) technological advancement and (3) societal changes.

On the societal side, key research findings by Microsoft include:

  • New generations have new expectations: +50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020. They have new expectations in terms of how and where they want to work.
  • Employees increasingly want the flexibility to work from anywhere. It is estimated that +42% of the global workforce will be mobile by 2022.
  • Employees demand to be “untethered” by routine tasks and to be free to tap into their own creativity, as they believe it fuels success.
  • Cyberthreats are at an all-time high. 74% of businesses expect to be hacked in the next year, therefore security needs to be built into every touchpoint.

Driving Cloud Adoption

To drive cloud adoption in the region, Microsoft is establishing an Azure cloud region in South Africa to offer locally hosted cloud services to South African businesses. This entails providing technical skills and deploying infrastructure in co-located data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

In terms of global scale, Microsoft operates twice as many hyperscale cloud data centres than the combined count of its global competitors. South Africa, through Microsoft’s distributive data centre deployment model, will become part of this global network.

Africa Reach

Microsoft Azure’s hyperscale data centres (Johannesburg and Cape Town) are due to launch in 2018. With this launch, Microsoft will increase the number of globally announced Azure regions to 42.

The new SA data centre facilities will provide highly available, scalable and secure cloud services, with the option of data residency in SA, to companies operating across the African continent. The cloud services include Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365.

This is a strategic development that will boost cloud adoption. Currently many companies in Africa rely on cloud services delivered from outside the continent – either via locations from within the European Union or elsewhere.

About the Event

Microsoft held its second South African Tech Summit in Cape Town on 13 and 14 February. Approximately 3 000 people – ranging from end users of Microsoft products to developers and partners – attended the event. The summit included an exhibition floor “the Hub”, multiple breakout rooms and labs, and keynote speeches presented by prominent Microsoft executives.

  • Microsoft speakers outlined the company’s vision for Microsoft 365 and Azure.
  • Partners showcased their latest offerings in the Microsoft enterprise and cloud-based services space. Partners included: Axiz, Britehouse, Checkpoint, Citrix, EOH, Liquid Telecom, StorTech and Veeam.

Look out for more information on the event in the coming weeks.

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.

Potential Sale of Dimension Data MEA

There has been market speculation that Dimension Data Middle East Africa (DD MEA) is for sale. This analyst note explores the potential sale of DD MEA, reviews the corporate activity of 2017, explores possible sales scenarios and highlights potential buyers.

2010 NTT Group buys Dimension Data Group

In 2010, the NTT Group acquired Dimension Data Group for USD3.2 billion. At the time, the acquisition was stated to be part of NTT’s global strategy to gain a foothold in emerging economies.

Since the acquisition, DD MEA has embarked on its own M&A drive, both in South Africa and in the rest of Africa. Examples of these acquisitions are:

  • South Africa: Agile Business Solutions, Antfarm, Britehouse, ContinuitySA, jFactory, MWEB Business, MWEB Connect. Xpedia Fusion.
  • Africa: DD MEA acquired various ISPs in other countries. The most notable was the acquisition of AccessKenya Group.

The acquisition drive may be seen within the framework of Dimension Data’s mandate (from NTT Group) to double its revenues over a period of five years.

NTT Group Strategic Drive

NTT Group is driving profitability by focussing on improvement in the international business operations profitability. In 2016, various NTT Group subsidiaries instituted activities to raise profitability. Against this background, NTT Group has explored options on how to improve the profitability of DD MEA. This includes the potential sale of DD MEA.

In terms of NNT Group revenue, and based on Q1 2017 financial results, DD MEA is estimated to represent 0.25% of the NTT Group revenue. The charts below show the Q1 revenue contribution from Dimension Data Group and Dimension Data MEA:

2017 DD Revenue

As shown, DD MEA makes a very small contribution to NTT Group. Thus, disposing of DD MEA would not significantly impact NTT Group revenue. Furthermore, should NTT Group dispose of DD MEA, then we can read into this disposal that the NTT Group does not see Africa as an important region within their global strategy.

2017 Dimension Data MEA Corporate Activity

Following the press reporting on the potential sale of DD MEA, a number of interesting corporate activities have been reported. The following list of DD MEA corporate activities covers the period June to August 2017:

 

2017 DD MEA Coporate Timeline

  • NTT Group Seeking to sell Dimension Data MEA
    • In June 2017, press reports have indicated that NTT Group is seeking to sell DD MEA for around USD800 million (or R10.6 billion @ R13.22/USD). In August, press articles further indicated that MTN Group and Vodacom Group were interested in acquiring DD MEA. At the time, press articles indicated that DD MEA may be considering the sale of Internet Solutions and VAST Networks as two separate transactions.
    • Another option raised in the press articles was that the original Dimension Data founders were considering a management buy back, followed by a listing of the company on the stock exchange.
  • Exit Convergence Partners, the BEE Partner
    • In August 2017, Convergence Partners sold its 25% shareholding in DD MEA and exited the company. Convergence Partners indicated that this exit was part of the original deal struck with DD MEA when Convergence Partners acquired the equity stake.
    • DD MEA indicated that they plan to announce a new BEE partner in October 2017.
  • Unbundling: DD MEA sells the old “Plessey” business
    • In August 2017, DD MEA entered into an agreement to sell its fibre and wireless businesses to Vulatel. The fibre and wireless businesses previously traded as Plessey South Africa prior to its integration into DD MEA.
    • Vulatel is a majority-black-women-owned start-up that focuses on the telecommunication and energy sectors.
  • Unbundling: DD MEA sells Dimension Data Nigeria and Dimension Data Ghana
    • In August 2017, DD MEA sold Dimension Data Nigeria and Dimension Data Ghana to Synergy Capital Managers. Synergy Capital Managers is a Lagos-based firm. The acquisition was made through its Synergy Private Equity Fund (SPEF), which is a USD100 million private equity fund targeting high-growth companies in West Africa.
    • This development sees DD MEA exit two key markets.
    • Further country market exits may be on the cards.

Dimension Data stated that the “Plessey” sale is part of its strategy to grow and strengthen its core business. It also plans to move into new areas, including data analytics, IoT, hybrid IT, digital workplace, and cyber security.

Sale of DD MEA Scenarios

The corporate activity in August 2017 indicates that DD MEA is currently undergoing a restructuring process through unbundling and selling non-core businesses. It is likely that DD MEA will dispose of other non-core businesses in SA and in other countries. It is noteworthy to comment that Internet Solutions underwent a cost-cutting exercise in 2016 that resulted in a restructured business with fewer employees.

If DD MEA is to be sold, we can identify three sales scenarios:

2017 DD MEA Sales Scenarios

There is talk of some form of partnership deal, but unpacking such a deal requires making quite a few assumptions about how the deal is structured, who is the partner, etc. Therefore, it is not covered in this analyst note.

# Scenario 1: DD MEA unbundled and sold as separate business units

DD MEA has already begun a process of unbundling and divesting from businesses. Based on the composition of DD MEA, we foresee the following three businesses being sold:

  • Internet Solutions (including the recently acquired MWeb Connect)
  • VAST Networks (wholesale WiFi) + AlwaysOn (Retail WiFi)
  • Dimension Data MEA (remaining businesses, this had already started with the sale of country operations and the old Plessey business)
  • Further disposal of country operations outside of SA

Internet Solutions is a valuable business that the large SA telecoms operators would be interested in. VAST Networks would be of interest to WiFi operators such as HeroTel, while the remaining DD MEA businesses would be of interest to various IT Service Providers. There have been press reports indicating that MTN Group is considering an offer of USD600 million for Internet Solutions.

However, it remains to be seen whether DD MEA is cleaning up its portfolio of businesses to improve profitability, or whether it has embarked on a full unbundling strategy with the objective of selling the individual businesses.

# Scenario 2: DD MEA sold as a single going business with no further unbundling

Selling DD MEA as a single going business unit represents the most attractive opportunity to a large group seeking to acquire a significant presence in the IT services market and fixed telecoms retail market in SA.

If we assume that only larger groups, based on revenue, can afford the price tag, then the following companies would qualify (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • EOH
    • EOH is similar in size to DD MEA.
    • EOH has a history of M&A activity. This would represent a significant diversification into fixed retail telecoms.
  • Liquid Telecom Group (does not have a larger revenue stream, but it would be an interesting strategic move)
    • Liquid Telecom Group has  sold history of M&A activity, with the largest M&A being the acquisition of Neotel.
    • However, the Group may not be able to raise the funds to acquire DD MEA. If it did, then the acquisition would boost Liquid Telecom in the local market.
  • MTN Group
    • This would be a good fit, and MTN Group can afford the price tag.
    • The acquisition would augment the MTN Business, boost the the IT services business and elevate MTN’s position in the fixed retail telecoms market.
    • However, the purchase/sale of Afrihost indicates that there may well be other operational issues that makes such an acquisition a challenge.
  • Telkom Group
    • This would be a good fit, and Telkom Group has undertaken local M&A activity (BCX).
    • However, it may be too soon after the BCX acquisition.
    • We would expect that competition issues would be raised at the Competition Commission regarding the acquisition of Internet Solutions.
  • Vodacom Group
    • This would be a good fit, and Vodacom Group can afford the price tag.
    • The acquisition would augment Vodacom Business, boost the the IT services business and elevate Vodacom’s position in the fixed retail telecoms market.
  • International IT Service Providers
    • One of the international IT Service Providers operating in SA can buy DD MEA.
    • However, this would indicate that they plan to become more active in the fixed retail telecoms market through Internet Solutions. However, the buyer can sell Internet Solutions after the completion of the transaction.

The rest of the IT Service Providers (in terms of revenue) are smaller than DD MEA, and thus are not considered in the above list, but this does not mean that those IT Service Providers would not be interested in acquiring DD MEA. Furthermore, private equity firms may also be interested in acquiring DD MEA.

# Scenario 3: Management Buyout and Listing

Unless there is a first right of refusal to buy back DD MEA, we expect that this would be a challenging management buyout deal, given the price tag of R10.5 billion.

Summary

The corporate activity indicates that DD MEA is undergoing a restructuring process. This supports the speculation that NTT is preparing DD MEA to be sold, or at the very least trimmed to a more profitable business unit.

DD MEA is one of the top five IT Service providers in SA, while  Internet Solutions is a significant competitor in its markets. The purchase of DD MEA and its respective businesses (e.g. Internet Solutions) by a telecoms operator or an IT Service Provider would result in  fundamental change to  the competitive dynamics in the South African ICT market.

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.

 

What are the SA Government Spectrum Plans?

On Monday, 9 August 2016, the Minister of Telecommunications & Postal Services (MTPS) filed a court bid to stop the spectrum auction process initiated by ICASA. See article below from Bloomberg.

The motivation provided by the Minister is that he wants to halt the process to prevent irreparable harm which unsuspecting interested parties may suffer. Basically, his suit selling point is that the current proposed auction process would prevent new players from entering the market.

Based on the above, the following can be speculated on:

  • #1: Retail / Wholesale Market Structure – Single New Wholesale Operator?
    • The ultimate goal is that the government wants to create a single national wholesale operator who then will offer wholesale services to the retail service providers. This would be akin to the concept of MVNOs hosted on mobile network operators.
    • Previously, the government indicated that this was a concept it supported. The current spectrum allocation does not promote a single wholesale operator concept. The single new wholesale operator concept has been supported by operators such as Cell C.
    • There is very little information as to why the ICT policy has not been issued as the government missed its previously announced publication dates.
    • Possibly, the government has already lined up interested parties or is currently shopping around for such interested parties. Therefore, to continue this process, the government needs to gain control of the spectrum process – hence the court case.
  • #2: Crowded Market – Many new Operators?
    • If the MTPS wants to encourage new players to the SA market, then the SA mobile market can become quite crowded.
    • Based on ICASA’s proposed spectrum lot structure, we could see the number of operators rise from the current four (Cell C, MTN, Telkom, Vodacom) to between six and eight.
    • We would question whether the market would support so many mobile operators.

There is spectrum for a wholesale operator – so why stop the process?

  • ICASA has held back much of the 700MHz spectrum, which would not be up for auction (at least not in the currently proposed process). Our view is that this spectrum would be used for a national wholesale operator, as per government plans. (It would probably also need higher spectrum – either 2 600MHz or 2 300MHz). Therefore, the auction could proceed and the government could have its wholesale network.
  • The Minister (as quoted in the article) specifically mentioned foreign players who may want to enter the market. Our reading of it was that a foreign player would first need to obtain an i-ECS licence before it could participate in the auction and the current process proposed by ICASA does not provide sufficient time for that.
  • Yes, the auction would preclude many local already licensed entities from participating due to the reserve price. However, just about all of those entities would probably not be able to fund national network deployment, even if they won a spectrum licence. Cell C is probably the notable exception.
  • Interestingly, apart from ICASA, the government only names the current MNOs as respondents in its filed papers. Why not Neotel, IS, FNB, Liquid, etc. – all those that could be potential bidders?

In conclusion

Without the context of the planned policy, the government’s ultimate goal cannot be clearly understood. However, based on previous positions taken by the government and the motivation presented in its court bid, we conclude that:

  • The government wants to drive the wholesale operator model and has a possible external operator already lined up.
  • Given the government’s financial challenge, we think that the business model would be a form of build-operate-transfer model where the incoming operator finances the network build-out.