Africa's telecoms movers and shakers
It is hardly a surprise that three out of the five African telecom companies listed in The Forbes Global 2000 – a list of the biggest, most powerful listed companies in the world - are mobile operators. This is, after all, the continent that took to the mobile phone like the proverbial duck to water. Indeed, the remaining two operators, both fixed-line monopolies, have made moves in the mobile direction posthaste: Telkom SA with the launch of 8ta and Telecom Egypt with its stake in Vodafone Egypt and an MVNO application.
1. MTN Group: Suited to the single-life
After a couple of years of furiously courting India’s Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, and then most recently Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, MTN’s outgoing CEO Phuthuma Nhleko has made it clear that it is the single-life for the South African-based mobile operator for now. Telecoms analysts have generally greeted the announcement as good news. And with voice revenues flattening, a 116 million-strong subscriber base and operations in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East it is unlikely that MTN is going to be sitting at home at night, twiddling its thumbs. With its mobile wallet service, MTN Mobile Money, MTN is stealing the lead on banking the unbanked across Africa. A successful World Cup sponsorship under its belt, MTN was also responsible, thanks to its ad campaign, for one of the tournament’s most distinguishing vuvuzela refrains, followed by the shout of “Ayoba” – meaning all is well.
2. Orascom Telecom: To Russia, with love?
Since being listed at 986 in The Forbes Global 2000 list, Orascom Telecom’s parent company, Weather Investments SpA, has announced it is in merger talks with Russia’s VimpelCom, which if successful, would catapult the group to the fifth largest telecoms company in the world. At the time of writing, the deal was looking both shaky and overly complicated, with a maze of holding companies and stakes in other companies to be navigated.
The Cairo-based company’s operations include mobile, VSAT and fixed-line payphones with its reach extending across North Africa, Asia and North America. It started restructuring as part of the $6.5 billion VimpelCom deal in November 2010 with the announced sale of its 50% stake in its Tunisian subsidiary to Qatar Telecom for $1.2 billion.
At present, Orascom’s Algerian mobile operator Djezzy could prove a massive stumbling block to the deal, as it was with MTN earlier in the year. MTN talks stalled when the Algerian government proposed an offer for the mobile company and is currently appointing an advisor to oversee the nationalisation of Djezzy. It also doesn’t help that Djezzy was caught up in a diplomatic spat between Egypt and Algeria after violence at a World Cup qualifier between the two countries in 2009.
3. Telecom Egypt: On the move
Having dipped a toe into the mobile business with a 45% stake in Vodafone Egypt and realising it liked what it found, Telecom Egypt put on a brave face when Vodafone Group Plc rejected an offer for the remaining 55% of the mobile operator. It made noises about applying for the fourth mobile licence if the government were to make one available, but has subsequently applied for mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which it expects to be granted in early 2011.
Meanwhile, the state-owned incumbent fixed line operator in Egypt offers retail and wholesale voice and data services. At the start of 2010, it achieved full ownership of TE Data, its broadband subsidiary operating in Egypt and Jordan. The company launched fibre to the home services in Cairo in August 2009, making it one of the most advanced operators on the continent.
4. Telkom SA: Headless horseman?
The semi-privatised South African incumbent has just seen its fourth CEO take the helm in five years. Acting CEO Jeffrey Hedberg will no doubt only be expected to hold a steady course until a permanent replacement for Reuben September can be found. Their job will be to mop up some of the mess after a series of bad acquisitions and a failed foray into TV undid some of the growth Telkom had achieved since the privatisation of 61% of the company. In addition, there are reports of a discordant board, and Telkom has seen voice revenues badly hit by mobile and VoIP alternatives.
There is a silver lining though with the successful launch of 8ta - pronounced “heita” - which is township slang for “hello”, and the brand used by Telkom Mobile. 8ta is set to shake up the burgeoning South African mobile market with dramatically reduced pricing and simplified talk plans.
Indeed, with local loop unbundling still delayed in the country, Telkom retains its grasp on the crucial last mile to the home.
Mobinil: The French connection
Egypt’s first mobile operator is set to launch the first high-definition voice services for mobile phones in Africa and the Middle East, in partnership with Orange, also owned by one of its shareholders, France Telecom. It also recently concluded a deal to buy LinkDotNet and Link Egypt from parent Orascom Telecom, once a custody battle between Orascom and other major shareholder, France Telecom had been settled. Incidentally, Mobinil is not part of Orascom’s deal with VimpelCom.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”