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By 17 October 2012 | Categories: news

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Strong growth in the telecommunications sector is being driven by increasing investment, rapid progress in technological and communications services and some deregulation across the African continent. This according to PwC, which also believes that these achievements to date are only just the beginning as Africa’s future potential dwarfs the growth seen so far.
 
Johan van Huyssteen, PwC communications leader for Southern Africa, says: “With billions of dollars of international investment flowing in and subscriber numbers rising across the continent, Africa’s communications market is at the inflection point where high potential starts to turn into high growth.”
 
These are some of the highlights from PwC’s publication: Communications Review: Telecoms in Africa: innovating and inspiring, recently released in South Africa. The journal examines the issues and challenges facing the diverse companies that comprise the telecommunications industry.
 
The report focuses on a number of matters facing communications companies on the African continent, including the challenges confronting operators in Africa and around the world; a reflection on one of the continent’s highest potential areas of opportunity; and a focus on how CEOs in the communications industry are actively reshaping their go-to-market approaches and business models to boost their organisations’ ability to do more business globally.
 
Growth in communication infrastructure
 
According to estimates by Business Monitor International-TechKnowledge Group, total combined fixed and mobile cumulative capital expenditure made in Africa is set to grow from $78.8 billion in 2008 to $145.8 billion by 2015.
 
“This rising tide of investment is undergoing an accelerating shift away from investment in fixed-line services and infrastructure, towards mobile,” says Van Huyssteen. As a result, by 2015 the mobile sector will account for over two-thirds – an estimated 68.9%, or $100.1 billion – of cumulative investment in African telecommunications, states the report.
 
The number of mobile operators, excluding MVNOs, rose from 158 in the first quarter of 2008 to 175 at the end of 2010, according to statistics issued by Africa & Middle East Telecom Week, of which 60% are affiliated with the major telecommunication groups.
 
Van Huyssteen says that big opportunities are still to come in the light of the remaining potential for new subscribers which may even be bigger due to multi-SIM behaviour. According to a report in 2011 issued by Gfk Retail and Technology, about one in ten phones sold in the Middle East and Africa are reported to be dual SIMs.
 
Although Africa is commonly characterised as a single marketplace, it is made up of 56 individual countries, and its markets can be considered in some ways more diverse than those of Europe. “Alongside their varying levels of maturity, what further distinguishes African markets are their diverse regulatory structures. Regulation plays a vital role in the development of all communications markets, but especially ones changing and growing as rapidly as those in Africa.
 
Creating a solid foundation for growth
 
The combined use of mobile devices, the increasing complexity of network infrastructure and the competitive pressures within the market has placed significant pressure on the performance of telecommunication networks.
 
“A lapse in network performance affects the bottom line of the business in that it leads to reduced usage, increased assurance costs, and lowers customer satisfaction,” says Van Huyssteen.“The investment balance between “new” and “old” is important as operators around the world are busy investing in the deployment of next generation networks while restrained by sometimes lesser investments in their existing networks, costs in network operating expenditures and a decline in average revenue per user.”
 
For mobile operators, assessment and improvement of their current network performance is considered important before they upgrade the network to newer technologies. This could involve assessing network performance issues and their root causes and then launching a cross-functional operations improvement programme

Why older networks’ performance need to be assessed
 
After many years of aggressively building a 2G network to compete on coverage and capacity, many operators are potentially left with a cobweb of ‘stranded assets’, insufficient network capacity, inefficient processes and a jumble of tools.
 
“To contemplate rolling out another technology, such as 3G or even 4G, after the long 2G phase could have negative results, manifested as network quality problems and overall delays in the rollout of the new network.”
 
He says that operators that take stock of their networks at the end of the 2G phase and before they roll out the next technology tend to perform better because knowing more about their existing network helps them make the necessary changes faster for a 3G rollout.
 
As operators around the world are either launching or getting ready to launch next generation networks, this may be an opportune time for them to conduct a due diligence exercise so that they can build “newer” networks on a solid foundation.
 
Enabling possibilities through mobile payments
 
The use of mobile devices to make payments electronically is radically changing the shape of personal and business banking in Africa. According to recent research carried out by PwC on mobile payments in Africa, the industry has gained significant momentum in the past year.
 
The study surveyed 11 mobile operators in eight countries across the African continent: South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Namibia and Kenya. The survey shows that mobile payments are on track to become a preferred mode of banking in a number of countries, as more people are attracted by the efficiency of the process.
 
The study, which included mobile operators, banks and joint ventures between operators and banks, highlights the approaches being taken to make mobile-payments schemes as easy as possible for people to access.
 
All respondents offer free registration to users and enable bank transactions within an hour of signing up. The majority require no minimum balance for savings, and none charge monthly fees to register for the service. The results of the study also indicate the broad appeal of mobile payments for multiple types of transactions.
 
Mobile operators and banks have also formed partnerships to capitalise on the opportunity mobile payments present in Africa. However, national financial regulators have expressed concern around consumer’s safety issues and the potential for agent fraud.
 
Uncertainties about the economy
 
Companies in every sector globally have expressed concern about the recent economic uncertainty. This pessimism is more marked among CEOs in the telecommunications sector with 55% believing the global economy will decline over the next 12 months, compared to the overall average of 48%.
 
However, 50% of the communications CEOs are very confident they can generate higher revenues in the next 12 months compared to the average in the total sample of only 40%.
 
PwC interviewed 42 communications CEOs in 23 countries. Many CEOs in the communication sector are pinning their hopes for future growth in the emerging markets, while less than half (40%) are very confident in their ability to hire the people they require.
 
Van Huyssteen concludes: “Africa is one of the world’s dynamic telecommunications markets and is also one of the most innovative - a global testing lab for mobile enabled applications in areas like payments, commerce, health and education. As well as building networks and revenues, the industry is also acting as an engine of social and economic development across the region.

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