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Africa Tech Festival / Africacom 2022 – Those who are not born again are busy dying

London – It is understood that this year’s Africa Technology Festival / AfricaCom 2022 was smaller than the last time it happened. But there was a clear sense of relief at being able to meet face to face again, which bodes well for the next time. Russell Southwood looks at how the industry is striving to reinvent itself.

Africa Technology Festival / AfricaCom 2022 was a unified version of itself. The main hall was filled with the same mixture of things. There were the big corporate houses in small “show” villas with rooms upstairs, the large vendors with private rooms or areas (Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson) and the usual parties of Chinese and other vendors selling the nuts and bolts of networking. Google and Meta (who were one of the sponsors) weren’t absent but didn’t seem to grab people’s attention like they did at previous events. Perhaps the question of intimacy is born.. so what is born? (In fairness, Paratus Zambia has announced a fiber partnership with Meta.) Likewise, 5G appears as a hypothetical topic rather than needing an explanation.

There were also country platforms – for example, India, Ireland and the USA – promoting their technology products. The hall across the road was packed with a mix of “other things” and start-up related shareholders. With a few exceptions, streaming and content players were absent. I was talking to a top African sports player and we were bemoaning the fact that there was not an easy market to meet the now digitally inclined mobile gamers. Companies like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Showmax weren’t conspicuously present.

MNOs have finally got the memo on how the world in general and Africa in particular are moving towards a digital future that will fundamentally reshape how business is done. Africa’s Covid-19 lockdowns (affecting some more than others) with work and education from home was almost a test exercise.

The strategy statement for both MTN and Vodacom was how to move from being a telecom company to a technology company. MTN’s Ayoba platform (more of which to come in a later issue) is a key element in its interaction with its customers. The interesting thing is that although it was designed to engage MTN users if it gained “critical mass”, customers of the other company might start using it. While Facebook is fighting many regulatory and business fires, is there a regional social platform out there?

But it’s not just carriers’ ability to handle digital content and services, but things like chat and messaging apps that will limit SMS revenue continuity. Existing apps like WhatsApp should already be cutting a bunch of audio revenue. The key question is whether these new services can provide alternative revenue to mobile operators fast enough. An old radio colleague pointed out that although there was no end to the launch of video broadcasting on the continent, few seemed to appreciate the need for the right content and subsequently failed. However, things like StarNews Mobile are the must watch.

Finally, digital technology is also reinventing the communications backroom. Datacenter, cloud and wholesale services are reshaping how enterprise customers get bandwidth and services. Enterprise bandwidth that always comes at a higher price is on its way to becoming a commodity. In the past, dialing in and across countries was a slow-moving process that often took months. Datacenters and front-ends like Console Connect make this quick and painless. Instead of going through different carriers individually, your data will travel to data centers (think airports) upon delivery

Liquid is making a $20 million bet on Software Defined Network that “provides a readily available platform for African companies and carriers looking to invest in data center fabric or international business.” I’ve had at least two conversations with other companies about similar ideas.

On a whole different level, industry veteran Yossi Barkan is now selling Israeli company TDCOMM, the base station for TECH Corporation. So for example, if you’re an outlet or a stadium, you can keep all of your communications on-site on-site. If the network goes down, it doesn’t have to affect you and your latency issues start to disappear.

Satellite operators also undergo a similar set of transitions, with greater or lesser degrees of success. Many of them focus heavily on providing bandwidth and services to mobile network operators. Rural communication operator AMN, in which Intelsat has invested, seems to be going from strength to strength. In the bigger picture, it is no longer just about selling the connection but aiming to meet the customer’s business needs.

There’s also a whole host of technical innovations that make the big satellite companies succumb to their competitors. Software-defined bandwidth on satellites will mean that customers will have more control over how much bandwidth they want.

Several competitors say they will be able to offer direct communications between customers’ cell phones and satellites outside of the communication zones. Longtime country specialist Bradley Shaw is now selling a Lynk that will do just that. Elon Musk says this will happen, so it must be true. No, but the adults seem to have figured it out.

This is before you launch LEO and MEO. SES will launch the mPower MEO constellation next year. The operators claim to have sorted out much cheaper ground equipment for customers. You know part of this is going to happen when the MEO operators start filing against the LEO operators. I remember when people used Orbit succinctly against MEO operators.

Not everything solid completely melts into air, but many of the old industry frontiers seem to be fading away and where better than Africa for this to happen.


Africa 2.0 – The Continent’s Telecom Revolution – Get the book and attend an event in Johannesburg tomorrow

RSVP NOW: Johannesburg (in person and online): How mobile phones have changed Africa – an unfinished revolution 35 years in the making

Lucy Abrahams, Director of the Wits Center, will have a personal and lively conversation and discussion with Russell Southwood, longtime African telecoms and internet analyst and author of the recently published book Africa 2.0 – Inside a Continent’s Communications Revolution.

An ambitious 35-year book, Southwood’s “first draft” of the history of the greatest technological change the continent has ever seen. It looks at the economic and social impacts that have occurred, going beyond the hype to show what has happened, what has not changed, and what will help guide future efforts.

Topics covered include:

  • How have mobile phones changed African economies and societies? Where are the new opportunities that we can take advantage of?
  • Who are the innovators and initiators?
  • What will Africa 3.0 look like and what will be needed to get there?

Time: Friday 11th November 2022, 16.30-18.00 Drinks and snacks afterward Where: Classroom 7, Wits Business School, 2 St Davids Place (at St Andrews Rd.), Parktown, Johannesburg Online: Microsoft Teams meeting: Click here to join the meeting ; Meeting ID: 048 352 280 713; Passcode: 3QJnzV RSVP NOW Registration link to attend in person or online: https://bit.ly/11Nov22EventReg

any questions? Please contact LINK Nokhanyo Yolwa Centre: thelma.yolwa@wits.ac.za, +27-71-939-8867

To buy the book:

In South Africa::

Takealot: https://www.takealot.com/africa-2-0-inside-a-continent-s-commommunications-revolution/PLID72880480

In the rest of Africa and the world (cheaper and faster):

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Africa-2-0-continents-commommunications-revolution-ebook/dp/B0B3XLFF89/ref=sr_1_1?crid=66U6ZDU73D2M&keywords=africa+2.0+inside+a+continent%27s+connections +revolution&qid=1659023345&sprefix=africa+2.0%2caps%2C165&sr=8-1

Seen and heard at AfricaCom 2021

– As one of the opening events, the session on Africa 2.0 – Inside the Etisalat Revolution attracted a large crowd in one of the large halls. Andile Ngcaba, Convergence Partners made the audience cheer and cheer when he suggested replacing regulators with enabling agencies, who would be there to help get things done.

– You’ve forgotten the joys of Mobile Monday where everyone in South Africa from anyone of a certain stature turns up and parties. The poor shepherd held the attention of about a third of the room, while the rest were drinking and talking at the top of their voices. To be fair, not many of them saw each other for two years.