The African continent is still being marked by a lack of pervasive connectivity due to outdated infrastructure as well as delayed decisions around the introduction of 3G and 4G technologies, says MOHAMED ABDELREHIM, Head of Solutions and Business Development for Nokia MEA.
Many African countries are also going through geopolitical changes, prioritising areas other than ICT for investment to mobilise their countries. According to Mohamed Abdelrehim, Head of Solutions and Business Development for Nokia in the Middle East and Africa market, there has, however, been a shift towards providing 4G licenses without expecting substantial license fees.
“Generating quick sales by overpricing the license fees has a short-term benefit for governments. Their mid to long term goals should be around driving connectivity and accelerating the telecommunications sector, as it drives job creation and has a much bigger impact,” he says. “Once you establish a new network, you trigger different market sectors. So, accelerating the telecommunications sector automatically generates more jobs and this, in turn, drives innovation and the potential of extending connectivity nationwide including the rural areas, as the cost of MB will be reduced with the 4G compared to 2G/3G.”
Abdelrehim says that if this is delayed, all the segments relating to telecommunications will be held back from growing and generating jobs and the continent will lag behind the rest of the world in introducing new solutions, as there will not be enough connectivity, bandwidth or the required handsets to introduce those services. “Accordingly, it delays GDP growth, especially in the SME segment. If you look at Europe and Asia Pacific right now, the biggest economy segments which are benefiting from telecommunications infrastructure are basically the SMEs,” he says.
Smart city solutions, including eHealth and eLearning, are also impacted. “These solutions are dependent on services that are provided via remote connectivity. So, if you don’t have the right telecommunications infrastructure you will not be able to introduce those services. This again has a direct impact on the SME segment, which ultimately will slow down GDP growth.”
Abdelrehim says despite the relatively gloomy outlook, they are seeing some positive events unfolding on the continent. “Nokia has been selected as the strategic infrastructure provider to roll out a smart city in partnership with the Government of Rwanda. As part of the project rollout, the Government of Rwanda will invest in network connectivity and sensor deployment in different applications, which will serve the local citizens in public safety, waste management, utility applications and healthcare to name a few. “It is projects of this nature, supported and driven by government, that will make a real difference in enhancing people’s lives, creating jobs and improving economies – in this case, the economy of Rwanda. The Ministry of Youth and ICT in Rwanda believes that through this project, they will not only improve people’s day to day lives with better services and security, but they also anticipate long-term positive socio-economic benefits for the people in Rwanda. Furthermore, they also plan to share their experience with other countries in Africa.”
He says this initiative clearly demonstrates that Rwanda has the political mandate to provide the latest and best services for citizens. “Once the political mandate is in place, the next step is to partner with the right entities such as the Smart African and key vendors that can implement innovative solutions that can ultimately be replicated in other African countries as well. This, in turn, will generate more jobs in different segments and accelerate the introduction of more services, especially when it comes to learning. The key here is to address those pain points that are specific to each country.”
Abdelrehim says this lies at the heart of connecting the unconnected in Africa. “In many of the African countries, governments see it as their political mandate to connect all their citizens and a human right for every citizen on the continent to have access to broadband. Already there are several discussions underway with key entities such as UNESCO and vendors, such as Nokia to investigate the right solutions to connect the unconnected. That said, we do need the political blessing for us to bring our business models, solutions and success stories to make pervasive broadband a reality.”
He adds that while organisations have a mandate to generate revenue, they also have a social responsibility to address the social needs of people on the continent. Nokia recently sponsored and participated in CodeBus Africa, a 100-day tour connecting Finnish and African innovators as part of Finland’s official 100th anniversary celebrations. The CodeBus Africa journey spanned ten countries in total – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The aim of the project was to boost grassroots level teaching of computer programming, particularly among girls, and to contribute to long-term efforts to promote quality education, youth empowerment and employment. “The project consisted of creative coding workshops, most of which were run in township communities. Learners paired up to produce their own song with the open-source programming platform Sonic Pi – a tried-and-true curriculum developed by a Finnish technology education company and project partner Mehackit,” says Abdelrehim.
Nokia is also currently focusing on the non-carrier segment to drive acceleration of the ecosystem. “We are engaging with governments and universities and focusing very strongly on innovation and smart cities, to enable us to bring the latest use cases to Africa. At the same time, we would like to stimulate local markets through key discussions and by executing hackathons across the continent as these result in innovative solutions to local pain points that can make a real difference to people.” He says that while there are generic use cases around innovation taking place in Europe, these might not necessarily meet the needs of the continent. “That is why we are taking a bottom up approach in trying to help people bring their ideas so that we can assist them in turning those ideas into commercial products and solutions. That way we are not only solving real problems on the African continent, but we are also making a meaningful contribution to people’s lives and driving innovation to further stimulate economic growth.”
Africa phones go flat
Africa’s mobile phone market declined 2.1% quarter on quarter in Q3 2018 according to the latest figures from IDC.
The global technology research and consulting firm newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows overall shipments for the quarter totalled 52.6 million units, with feature phone shipments falling 2.7% QoQ and smartphone shipments declining 1.3% over the same period.
Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Itel) led the feature phone space in Q3 2018, with a combined unit share of 58.2%. Nokia was next in line with 11.7% share. Transsion, Samsung, and Huawei dominated the smartphone space with respective unit shares of 34.9%, 21.7%, and 10.2%. However, in value terms, Samsung led the smartphone market with 37.2% share, followed by Transsion (21.0%) and Huawei (13.0%).
There were differing fortunes in the region’s three major markets, with Nigeria suffering a heavy 11.6% QoQ decline in mobile phone shipments, while South Africa and Kenya saw respective QoQ growth of 8.5% and 7.9% in Q3 2018.
“The decline in Nigeria stemmed from a slowdown in government spending, ongoing warfare in the country’s northern states, and market uncertainty in the lead up to elections,” says George Mbuthia, a research analyst at IDC. “In South Africa, the market’s growth was spurred by the penetration of low-end devices from brands such as Mobicel, Mint, and Nokia, while the launch of entry-level smartphones helped drive growth in Kenya despite increases in taxes and fuel prices placing a significant burden on disposable income in the country.”
While feature phones remain steadfastly popular across Africa, particularly in more rural areas, consumers are increasingly being attracted by smartphone offerings from Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Huawei, which are actively targeting feature-oriented customers at more economical price points.
“There is a new wave of Chinese brands aggressively pursuing growth opportunities in the region, while the more-established Huawei is also accelerating its marketing efforts and expanding its distribution budget,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a research manager at IDC. “These brands have quickly progressed along the learning curve and evolved their offerings to perfectly reflect the realities of the region by addressing the diverse pricing and feature needs of the consumer base.”
Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa’s overall mobile phone market to reach 58 million units in Q4 2018, spurred by the festive season and online consumer events such as Black Friday. The introduction of more affordable smartphones in the African market will help drive progress in this space over the coming quarters, while the share of feature phones will decline steadily as the transition to smartphones gathers momentum.
Mobile money to cross borders
Orange and MTN launch pan-African mobile money interoperability to scale up mobile financial services across Africa.
Two of Africa’s largest mobile operators and mobile money providers, Orange Group and MTN Group, today announced a joint venture, Mowali (mobile wallet interoperability), to enable interoperable payments across the continent. Mowali makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider, in real time and at low cost.
Mowali will immediately benefit from the reach of MTN Mobile Money and Orange Money, bringing together over 100 million mobile money accounts and mobile money operations in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 markets. Mowali is ready to enable interoperability between digital financial service providers beyond MTN and Orange operations and markets, to support the existing 338 million mobile money accounts in Africa.
Mowali is a digital payment infrastructure that connects financial service providers and customers in one inclusive network. It functions as an industry utility, open to any mobile money provider in Africa, including banks, money transfer operators and other financial service providers.
The objective of Mowali is to increase the usage of mobile money by consumers and merchants. Mowali enables money to circulate freely between mobile money accounts from any operators in all countries. From the customer’s point of view, this means “I can pay or receive money anywhere from my mobile account regardless of my operator”. The system will unlock further innovation in the digital financial space within the continent.
For Stéphane Richard, Chairman & CEO of Orange, “by providing full interoperability between platforms, Mowali will provide an important step forward that will allow mobile money to become a universal means of payment in Africa. Increasing financial inclusion through the use of digital technology is an essential element in furthering the economic development of Africa, particularly for more isolated communities. This solution embodies Orange’s ambition to be a leading player in the digital transformation of the continent. By joining forces with another of Africa’s market leaders, MTN, we aim to accelerate the pace of this transformation in a way that will change the lives of our customers by providing them with simpler, safer and more advantageous services. “
“One of MTN’s goals is to accelerate the penetration of mobile financial services in Africa, Mowali is one such vehicle that will help us achieve that objective. Furthermore, co-operation and partnerships that help us accelerate the pace of development and overcome some of the scale, scope and complexity of challenges that society faces are key. This partnership with Orange is therefore an important step in helping us play a meaningful role in supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals related to eliminating extreme poverty and enhancing socio-economic development in the markets we operate in and beyond. Thus giving our customers access to a bright, digital future.” said Rob Shuter, Group President and CEO of MTN.
The GSMA supports the Mowali initiative as interoperability at this scale is a key accelerator for both financial inclusion and Mobile Money usability across Africa. “Today, there are over 690 million mobile money accounts around the world. Mobile money services have become an essential, life-changing tool across Africa, providing access to safe and secure financial services but also to energy, health, education and employment opportunities. The creation of Mowali will help to further transform mobile financial services throughout the African region. It demonstrates the mobile industry’s continued leadership and commitment to driving financial inclusion and economic empowerment through industry collaboration. The GSMA is proud to support its development,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA.
“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome, in support of financial inclusion. With Mowali, Orange and MTN deliver a solution that will enable them, and other companies, to scale digital financial services across Africa, faster, to everyone—including the poor,” said Kosta Peric, deputy director of Financial Services for the Poor, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “This is a signal that a new wave of innovation, which can help alleviate poverty and drive economic opportunity, is coming. We’re pleased to see an implementation of Mojaloop—an open source payment platform available to operators across the sector—help achieve that.”