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MTN Nigeria wins 4G auction

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has declared MTN as winner of its latest auction for a ten-year frequency spectrum licence for the 2.6GHz band.

The NCC had earlier confirmed that ‎MTN’s bid was in full compliance with the relevant provisions of the Information Memorandum (IM) for the exercise in which MTN emerged as sole approved bidder.

Although Nigeria is one of 28 African countries that currently offer 4G/LTE services, the rate of penetration is restricted to a few major cities. As such, MTN’s success in this auction is a big boost to its plan to deliver global mobile broadband and LTE 4G services to over 60 million customers in Nigeria.

MTN also plans to use FDD networks in addition to its existing WIMAX over TDD networks, as this provides for greater consistency with existing 2G and 3G deployments.

MTN Nigeria CEO Ferdi Moolman stated that “After complying with all the requirements for the 2.6GHz auction and making the licence payment of N18.96 billion to the NCC, MTN has been issued a letter of award. With the 2.6 GHz band, we expect to roll out and provide the full range of LTE services to Nigerians, empowering Nigeria with the latest mobile broadband technology.”

The award of the spectrum by the NCC was further to an open, transparent and competitive process in which all operators – local and foreign; enjoyed equal and unfettered rights of participation in line with the NCC’s desire for transparency and ensuring a level playing field for all. The NCC has described this spectrum as a significant trigger for a broadband revolution that will unlock benefits such as greater coverage, access, affordability and innovation, with the customer at the centre of these gains.

Studies by McKinsey have shown that a 10% increase in broadband penetration is associated with a 1.4% increase in GDP growth in developing markets. As such, the knock-on effect on individuals, businesses and multiple sectors of the economy signal far reaching implications for socio-economic growth and development.

According to MTN’s Ferdi Moolman, “We are very pleased with this development at this time, which is a further step in the right direction for Nigeria. Indeed, MTN is fully aligned and supports the NCC’s objective to deliver broadband services to present and future generations of subscribers, in line with the National Broadband Plan of 2013.”

He added “This license acquisition further demonstrates MTN’s abiding faith in the future of Nigeria and the resilience of the Nigerian economy. MTN continues to believe in Nigeria and we have expressed this belief in the level of our investment, which currently stands at approximately USD 15 billion and counting. We strongly believe that there is need for significant levels of investment in broadband infrastructure and services to truly launch Nigeria into the information age. We are honoured to be the arrowhead.”

“In addition, we are also delighted that the matter of the fine imposed by the NCC was amicably settled in the interest of all parties. I am pleased to announce that the first payment of N30 billion in the terms of settlement has already been disbursed to the NCC. In addition to the earlier payment of N50 billion which we paid in good faith and without prejudice on February 24, this means we have now paid a total of N80 billion.”

In addition to aggressive investment, MTN has also built the most extensive private fibre optics superhighway in Africa and the Middle East, covering approximately 16,000 kilometres, which is longer than the distance from Indonesia (Asia) to Argentina (South America)!

For Ferdi Moolman, the 2.6GHz acquisition has set the stage for the roll-out of 4G LTE broadband internet services across the country, starting in the major cities of Lagos and Abuja.

In his words “Our subscribers, especially those in clustered areas such as the major cities, can expect distinct improvements in browsing speed, quality and experience. This means that they will have fast access to high definition video streaming, as well as conferencing and calling, lag-free music streaming, and improved data uploads and downloads”.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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