Cloud computing set to drive telecoms business in Africa


The future of Cloud Computing for telecommunication companies in Africa is bright, and according to a report published on March 27th by IBM, nowhere is Cloud’s potential impact on driving telecom business more relevant than in Africa, Pan African News Agency, PANA reports (27/3).

Picture: xmarksmyhands/Flickr
Picture: xmarksmyhands/Flickr

“Cloud computing is no longer just about making IT more efficient and effective. Cloud is seen by business executives generally – and telecom managers in particular – as a key to accelerating revenue growth, both organically and into adjacent markets that had previously been outside the purview of telecom,” said IBM computing expert Kedrick Brown.

Nearly 65% of telecoms industry respondents to a global survey indicated that Cloud adoption was a high priority for their entire organisations, not just the IT group.

“Globally, telecoms are jumping headfirst into the Cloud marketplace, either by offering managed storage and other Cloud solutions as a complement to their traditional communications portfolios or by creating new services that they can quickly activate and monetise for a populace hungry for data,” said Brown in a news update service of Pyramid Research.

For instance, Safaricom, a communications service provider (CSP) in Kenya, has announced it would use its Cloud capabilities to host its M-pesa mobile money service in Africa, rather than rely on off-shore hosting facilities.

According to Brown, numerous other CSPs were launching or exploring the feasibility of similar Cloud-based services throughout the emerging world – especially in Africa.

“The prevalence of mobility and the lack of legacy IT infrastructure make Africa an ideal launching pad for innovative Cloud-based services,” he said.

Currently regarded as the second largest and fastest growing regional mobile phone market in the world, with more than 650m subscribers, Africa has created large, loyal customer bases for numerous CSPs.

Those customers, already more comfortable than many developed market consumers in using mobility for commerce, offer CSPs opportunities to develop new services and  revenue streams that can match the desires and preferences of increasingly-sophisticated mobile users, Brown noted.

Citing Airtel, which has a presence in 18 African countries where it is rapidly deploying new services, he said in 2013 Airtel Madagascar and Movirtu agreed to offer “cloud phone” services – including mobile payment and information features – to rural residents who would otherwise not have access to advanced communications.

“These consumers may never own a PC – or even have regular access to electricity – but can access vital commercial and informational services via rechargeable mobile devices.

”The buzz in Africa is that leading CSPs may soon apply for banking and other licences – and why not? With Cloud-centric capabilities, CSPs can deal directly with consumers rather than merely serving as the ‘pipe’ for financial and other institutions.

“Smart CSPs will be exploring and entering adjacent markets – retail e-commerce, healthcare, Machine-to-Machine, farming information – that Cloud can facilitate much more easily than individualized data centres, which are typically expensive to maintain and service in most parts of Africa,” Brown said.

According to the expert, some service providers seemed destined to go it alone, forsaking partners to try their own hand at mobile banking and healthcare.

“But based on our experience in helping other companies adapt and exploit new market opportunities, we believe a better route would involve CSPs integrating with like-minded experts in relevant, related industries (such as banking, healthcare and utilities) as a way to smooth the route and provide faster development of new revenue streams,” said Brown.

Less aggressive CSPs also run the risk of losing market share and adjacent market opportunities to traditional competitors as well as the over-the-top players (such as those that provide streaming movies and videos and various social channels), who are eager to leverage their global brands and cavalierly pursue new revenue sources – like mobility in Africa.

“What is clear,” Brown added, “is that the fog has lifted on Cloud, shining a light of profitable hope that is likely to invigorate the telecom industry in Africa  – and beyond.”

Meanwhile search engine giant Google has launched the first TV white space trial in South Africa, providing wireless broadband over a “white space” network to 10 schools in Cape Town in a test project that aims to help establish a new model for internet connectivity in developing countries.

Google has been a strong advocate of using white spaces – unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum – to democratise broadband internet access.

Announcing the launch of the South Africa trial in late March, Google said that TV white space technology “offers the potential to improve internet connectivity where it is most needed – in the developing world.

“TV white space’s lower frequencies can travel longer distances, making the technology well suited to provide low-cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure. It is also used for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.”

The service will be broadcast to the 10 Cape Town schools from three base stations located at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Tygerberg. The trial will seek to demonstrate that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders.

Luke Mckend, Google South Africa’s country manager, said Google was looking forward “to opening discussions with policy makers around a regulatory framework that will support the wider use of TV white space to deliver wireless broadband internet across the country.”

Other partners in the trial include e-Schools Network, the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (Tenet), and US wireless communication solutions provider Carlson Wireless, reports.

Arno Hart, project manager at Tenet, said the trial “brings South Africa to the cutting edge of innovation in terms of improving internet connectivity, and is a very positive step towards bringing many more South Africans online. This trial will also be used to inform the regulatory process in South Africa.”

Google is not the only major IT player exploring the new technology. In February, Microsoft announced a pilot project with the Kenyan government and local internet service provider Indigo Telecom to provide low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband there. According to Microsoft, the initiative – called Mawingu, which means cloud in Kiswahili  – would involve the first deployment of solar-powered base stations working together with TV white spaces to deliver high-speed internet access to areas lacking even electricity.

Microsoft said it hoped to implement similar pilots in east and southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of TV white space technology.

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