Many of the telecoms trends in Africa mirror industry changes on a global level: a decrease in voice traffic, an increase in data usage, and the development and roll out of 4G LTE services.
These issues will no doubt form the basis of hotly debated panel sessions and delegate conversations at the upcoming AfricaCom2017. The event is celebrating its 20th year this November, and as an exhibitor, BICS will once again be heading to South Africa to educate, listen to and learn about the challenges and opportunities in African telecoms and technology.
In recent years we’ve seen a spike in demand for higher bandwidth and more capacity across the continent, fueled by increased uptake of smartphone technology. The falling cost of handsets and data plans has driven the rate of smartphone penetration to about 50%, according to GSMA Mobile Economy 2017, with the majority of the population using 2G, and the rest using 3G services.
Start-ups and innovators are capitalising on this trend, developing and delivering services via mobile which is at the heart of everything. Rural areas with restricted or no access to a bricks-and-mortar bank, for instance, are set to benefit from Africa’s thriving fin-tech and mobile payments markets.
In a bid to discover more about their consumers and shape marketing strategies, digital players such as taxi apps and e-commerce merchants will become increasingly reliant on consumer information held by operators. This big data is already a crucial asset for MNOs, and as more of Africa goes mobile, this will grow more lucrative still.
For the mobile operators, this shift in user behavior has forced a change in strategy. Previously, international calls were generating a large chunk of revenue, and thanks to African exchange rates this was even more lucrative for local operators. Now however, users are relying on Internet service providers, or applications, which only require data. Data is bought locally through individual data packages, and meaning operators aren’t able to cash-in on international calls anymore.
Roaming offers further opportunities for growth, giving operators the chance to capitalise on a more mobile population and a growing IoT sector – both of which demand high quality, cross-border connectivity. However, Africa is a geographically, socially and financially diverse nation, meaning there is little unity between the roaming regulations and guidelines for each of its 54 countries. Prices at the consumer level vary from country to country, with MNOs in a number of regions yet to deploy roaming services. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that many consumers do not have bank accounts, so most rely on pre-paid subscriptions.
BICS’ Open Connectivity Roaming hub will address these challenges, offering a way to deploy or complement roaming footprint, and providing a single platform to help operators manage roaming relationships with others. Our Data Roaming Control tool identifies silent roamers and activates them with more affordable data roaming packages, tailored to their usage needs.
Improvement and investment in mobile infrastructure in Africa offers huge potential. For the end-user, it can bring essential services to rural areas. For the operator, partnering with digital players and companies in vertical industries, as well as approaches like infrastructure sharing, will support these services and monetise the data consumption trend.
Yet it must also be remembered that Africa is still in the early stages of 4G LTE development. According to Xalam Analytics, 70% of the continent’s LTE networks have been operational for less than 18 months, and the number of LTE connections accounts for less than 2% of the global total. As such, one traditional communications services remains a hugely valuable: A2P messaging. This allows businesses and institutions to engage with consumers, and can also be used to add an extra layer of authentication security. For the many remote, rural communities in Africa, SMS remains a vital means of communication.
An article by Clémentine Fournier, Regional VP Africa at BICS