Archives For Interviews

jon gosier

My interview with Radio Netherlands about mobile apps, Africa, Abayima, and supporting the continent’s nascent innovators…

“A revolution is taking place in Africa,” according to the Fill the Gap organizers. And it’s “driven by mobile technology and rapidly growing access to the mobile which is the key to smart entrepreneurship and citizen participation.”

What does Gosier think about that? “I would reverse that statement to say, smart entrepreneurship is the key to mobile innovation,” he says. “The same goes for ‘citizen participation’ and ‘need’. The buzz in its current form is flawed because it assumes that innovation in itself provides solutions that can help people.”

Read it In Full

The edited footage of the talk this interview can be found here.

==
Technologie: Les Africains Prennent Leur Destin En Main

Le buzz au cours de l’événement Fill the Gap a été “une révolution se déroule en Afrique, entraînée par la technologie mobile et par l’accès de plus en plus rapide au mobile qui constitue la clé de l’esprit d’entreprise et de la participation citoyenne.”

Selon Gosier, il est essentiel de commencer par un besoin et ensuite voir si et comment la technologie mobile peut faire partie de la solution. “Je voudrais revenir sur cette déclaration pour dire qu’un astucieux esprit d’entreprise est la clé de l’innovation mobile,” explique-t-il. “Il en est de même pour la “participation citoyenne” et le “besoin”. Le buzz dans sa forme actuelle est imparfait, car elle suppose que l’innovation par elle-même fournit des solutions qui peuvent aider les gens.”

Lire l’article complet

Paul Ssengooba of the Grameen Foundation discusses the reach of mobile devices in rural settings. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala. Continue Reading…

Ugandan computer scientist Paul Bagyenda discusses how the internet has changed Uganda over the past decade and why ‘geography is history’. Recorded November 23 at TEDxKampala. Continue Reading…

TEDx Week

Jon Gosier —  November 29, 2009 — Leave a comment

This week we’ll be distributing all the talks recorded last week at TEDxKampala. What was TEDxKampala? On November 23rd, 2009, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web dropped by Kampala, Uganda for our first ever TEDx. The event was facilitated by UNICEF who graciously provided catering, snacks and the venue; and co-organized by the Uganda Linux Users Group. Simply put, the event was incredible! Stephen Boyera of the World Wide Web Foundation offered the keynote talk, while Ron Nixon from the New York Times dropped with arguably one of the most interesting talks of the day where he presented his app Ujima which tracks spending too and from African countries. Solomon King of Node Six gave a moving talk on how he became a ‘famous citizen journalist’ for simply blogging about his experiences during the Kampala riots. Paul Bagyenda of Digital Solutions offered advice for young tech entrepreneurs, while Paul Asiimwe of Sipi Law Uganda talked about the importance of intellectual property law and digital rights to protect content and content producers.

The video below shows the event introductions by Sharad Sapra, myself, Reinier Battenberg, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others…

http://www.youtube.com/v/ahA1vlEFRJk&hl=en_US&fs=1

Continue Reading…

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web visits Kampala to discuss the history of the web as well as the future of the semantic web, the mobile web, and Africa’s opportunities. Recorded at TEDxKampala on Nov 23, 2009.

Download or Stream the Podcast – MP3 | Subscribe

LINKS

Tim Berners-Lee’s TED Talk
ReadWriteWeb’s Interview with Tim
Q&A Session with Tim at TEDxKampala

Reporter Ron Nixon of the New York Times recently sat down with me to discuss the future of journalism and his own project, Ujima.

Download or Stream the Podcast – MP3 | Subscribe

Continue Reading…

Balancing Act. Russell Southwood from the Balancing Act consultancy sits down with Natalie and I to discuss consumer protection rights, the future of technology in Africa and mobile currency systems MTN Mobile Money and Safaricom’s MPesa. Russell’s group Balancing Act seeks to be the primary source for information on the telecoms, Internet and audio-visual media industries in Africa.

Also. Jon talks about Microsoft Bing, Google Wave, Google Squared and becoming a TED Fellow!

Download or Stream the Podcast – MP3 | Subscribe

Appfricast 12

Links From the Show

Balancing Act – A free weekly e-letter/web site on the state of the internet in Africa. Regular items: news, business model, new software, web sites.

mpesa – Safaricom’s massive mobile commerce service

Mtnmobile Money – Wire money with your mobile

The Backlash Against Google Wave – Google rocks the boat.

Microsoft’s Big Bing Theory – “But It’s Not Google”

Daatum.com – Crowdsourcing Structured Data

Africansignals WikiAfrican Signals is a site dedicated to finding out and showing local rates for mobile phone and internet connections around Africa

MyBroadband.co.za – Broadband Internet and Computer news website focusing on ADSL, 3G, HSDPA, iBurst, MyWireless, Gaming, Cellphone, Hardware and Software.

A few weeks ago Rafiq Phillips of MIH in South Africa and Webaddicts allowed me a chance to sneak peak a development version of the desktop social messaging Feedalizer, one which has since been released to the public and very well received. I decided to a quick Q&A with him to see how development was going and what the history of their team was.

Appfrica: What is MIH?

R: MIH focuses on Internet businesses, within the Naspers Group, in growing markets in which it has attained or hopes to attain sustainable market positions. Geographically the group is focused on the larger emerging markets with a specific focus on the BRICSA countries ( Brazil, Russia, India, China, South and sub-Saharan Africa) and the adjacent territories, which the group believes present above-average growth opportunities.

MIH’s objective is to continue sustained growth of its business with a focus on key investments and developing its technology whilst providing a quality service and maintaining a local approach.

A: How did Feedalizr come about?

R: It was inspired by the release of the Friendfeed API. We wanted to create a notifier that unobtrusively alerted you of any Friendfeed updates. This evolved to posting content, as well as implementing other services.

A: Do you feel it’s often not given the credit it deserves for being the first Adobe Air app targeting Friendfeed’s userbase?

R: No, I don’t really think that the fact that Feedalizr was the first AIR app for Friendfeed deserves credit. However, the functionality of Feedalizr hopefully makes it credit-worthy.

A: What are some of the challenges to building an Air application for so many diverse services (Flickr, Twitter, Jaiku, Friendfeed, Friendfeed Video)?

R: Not all services implement the same authentication mechanism, which means we had to write a custom authentication mechanism for each service.

We also tried to keep the look of different services as consistent and simple as possible, but because each service has its own unique functionality, a lot of time was spent finding the balance between consistency, functionality and simplicity.

A: What’s the Air Development scene like in South Africa and how are people thinking of monetizing their applications?

R: I don’t think AIR is very big in SA yet. The AIR runtime only recently came out of beta, so we should just give it some time to spread. In my opinion, I think the best way to make money out of an AIR app, is to sell it on Adobe Marketplace. Other obvious ways would be a subscription model, or advertising.

A: What’s your advice for young developers in South Africa and throughout the African continent?

R: Work hard.

A: There’s a lot of unnecessary development because so many groups don’t want to open source their platforms. For instance Microsoft has Silverlight while Adobe has Flash and the things based on it like Flex and Air while IBM has Blue Spruce. What are your thoughts on all of this? It’s like all of them are vying for the attention of developers.

R: I see it as competition, so….survival of the fittest. Different technologies influence each other, resulting in more feature robust solutions. At the end of the day though the winner needs to be the consumer, not the technologists.

Read Appfrica’s original coverage of Feedalizr here and download it here.

Erik van Veen is the Chief Commercial Officer of MTN Uganda one of the continental telco and mobile leaders in Africa. When it comes to corporate executives, he just might also be one of the most approachable, down-to-earth people ever. I emailed Erik following a discussion on Uganda’s I-Network mailing-list about the costs of bandwidth in Uganda for consumers. Erik is a member of the mailing list and offered some insight as to why things are the way they currently are from a provider’s perspective. You can read Part 1 here….

Appfrica: What’s your take on Google’s move to investment in O3b Networks, the group planning to use low orbit satellites to bring 3 billion new people online? Would that put O3b in direct competition with providers like your own or are they working to form partnerships with existing entities?

Erik van Veen: Not convinced to be honest, but they are a smart company and probably know something I don’t. If Africa is to be imminently connected via fibre to the internet I struggle to see how this is going to provide a viable alternative.

With the proliferation of ever cheaper last mile wireless technologies such as WiFi and WiMax, we are able to offer broadband to nearly anywhere at relatively low cost. In fact Uganda has an over-supply of local bandwidth – we just don’t have have a large and cheap enough pipe to get from Uganda to the Internet outside. Fibre is going to shatter that bottleneck believe me.

And don’t underestimate 3G in its various guises – HSDPA and its bigger brother HSPA are magnificently fast technologies and give you all the advantages and intelligence of mobile / GSM.

A: What’s your stance on companies like Skype that leverage P2P (peer-to-peer) and VOIP (voiceover internet protocol) technology to offer new ways to communicate?

Erik: It’s great but still quite limited in the fact that the call needs to be pre-arranged in essence – both parties need to be on-line behind a PC. It is nowhere as ubiquitous as the mobile which is anywhere, anytime of communication mode.

Skype is the opposite. VOIP, especially in Africa with its bandwidth constraints, still has quality issues. We tried to carry calls over VOIP to several international partners and our customers prefer good old circuit switched calling over VOIP any time of the day!

A: In brief can you explain some of MTN’s new service products like MTN Zone, SMS Info and Access for Life?

Erik: MTN Zone, is better explained by its technical term Dynamic Discount Tariffing. It has been without doubt our most well received product since launch – it enjoys a similar penetration into our base as SMS. Since launch in late July, over 2 million Ugandans have switched to MTN Zone. In fact after 11 days, we had over 700,000 MTN Zone customers, connecting 11 new customers per second during our busy hours. I am yet to see evidence of a product being adopted at such a rate!

How does it work?

Essentially it is a clever bit of charging software that is able to offer the customer a discount based on the amount of capacity available or ‘free’ (if there is such a thing in our industry?) on the MTN network. The software not only looks at the GSM radio network from where the customer is calling, but also assesses the amount of capacity available in the transmission network (which carries the call to the switch) and the amount of capacity available in the core network (switch, base station controllers etc..). Capacity needs to be available in all these network nodes – a network is only as strong as its weakest link! Depending on the amount of capacity available as calculated by the software, the customer is ‘awarded’ a discount at that given moment. The discount appears on the customer’s screen which makes the whole experience quite interactive. The discount, is dynamic in that it changes continuously depending on the amount of capacity available – the more capacity, the higher the discount.

The product has been an amazing success, driving up calls volumes across the network but at the same time not compromising the quality of service as the fundamental principle behind the solution is that no discounts are awarded when there is not sufficient free capacity. Customers on average are getting a 50% discount across the day, obviously higher at night when the network is more idle compared to during the day! Its a classic everyone wins product which enhances its sustainability – customers get more value, the network is better utilized, quality is maintained and MTN’s revenue losses are minimized due to traffic stimulation.

The product was initially developed by MTN in South Africa by a internal engineers. The solution has been sold to Ericsson who will commercially deploy the service globally in 2009. Till then MTN have exclusivity on the product which has proven to be a major competitive differentiator for us.

A: Can you explain to our foreign readers why ‘tariffs’ are such a big deal in Africa?

Erik: I have made several references to the issue of the low revenue per user (referred to in our industry as ARPU – Average Revenue per User) in Africa. The socio-economic dynamics in Africa are well known – low incomes means low spend, on all products, not just mobile. People have to spread their small incomes on the essentials to remain alive – that is the basic reality for over 99% of people living in Africa. Due to the low incomes, the African mobile user spends a far greater percentage of their disposable income on mobile telecoms than in any other part of the world. We see instances where people spend up to 20% of their income on mobile airtime. To a westerner that may sound crazy, but this perhaps highlights the importance that basic connectivity plays in the life of every ordinary individual – it is not a luxury but a basic utility in my opinion. But 20% spend of a small income is still a small number! ARPUs in most African countries have dipped below $10.

Another phenomena that is not always known to foreign readers is the reality of ‘daily cash flow’ maintenance. Very few African Consumers have formal employment, earning monthly salaries – the vast majority exist in the informal economy, basically existing from day to day. Also remember there is next no credit available to the African consumer – in the west the consumer is able to cover his cash flow gaps using short term credit options like credit cards. This allows he or she to make bigger, bulk purchases often matching the cycle of his income stream, usually a monthly salary. The African consumer needs to make it through to the end of the day – feed his/her family, pay for transport etc… It is for this reason that we had to provide products that align itself to the African consumer’s cash flow dynamic. Low value airtime denomination cards are critical to ensuring the customer can afford the service – the tariff itself is not the only aspect. Our lowest denomination airtime card is $0.30 – enough for 2 or 3 calls and an SMS. This is obviously a cost the Operator needs to bear in terms of the cost of the card and the cost of its distribution. Another pointer to the high cost of doing business in Africa! Nevertheless it is a critical component of the value proposition.

I hope this in an indirect way explains the central issue at play in the African telco market – it is not only the tariff but the affordability of the service in terms of cash outlay to access the service, hence the high levels of price sensitivity. Tariffs and affordability are the key to making the service available to the bottom echelons of the population pyramid.

A: How much has Africa (or just Uganda) changed since you’ve arrived?

Erik: I would need pages to give this topic justice. I want to ignore the physical changes in terms of development, infrastructure etc – that is pretty much the same in all developing, fledgling economies where we see rampant urbanization, phenomenal growth in cities and all the other growth pains associated with that – infrastructure squeeze, traffic jams, increase in crime etc… Uganda has not been spared and like in most other African countries, the government has not planned for this.

It is the social aspects of Ugandan society that has changed dramatically. Arriving here 11 years ago, the people in Uganda were an unhurried, innocent society largely satisfied with having had a decade of relative peace. In Kampala, I would describe people as being ‘provincial’ and business culture was permeated by stuffy, old fashioned, government style bureaucratic thinking tinged, where convenient by some vestiges of good old colonialism.

Wow, how that has changed in 10 years! Kampala has woken up and is coming to grips with its role in the region. People in the business world have woken up to the opportunities available to them. There is a sense of growing urgency in people and the amount of industrious and dynamic business forces emerging bears testimony to this. In 10 years, people have changed attitudes drastically – there is more openness (although we still have some way to go), politics are playing a smaller role and there is a concerted effort by young people to depoliticize business and society I think. This is very encouraging.

A: You’re a very approachable guy. Most CEO’s put up glass walls around them but you interact a lot with your customers on the web: in discussion groups and by email. What motivates that?

Erik: An open door policy costs nothing! Sharing thoughts with others also costs nothing! I know how liberating it is to myself when I have knowledge and the right facts at hand – if I can help customers and interested groups, it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction.

A: What is your advice to Ugandan and other African software developers? What areas of development is a group like MTN interested in? What should the current generations of students be focusing on? How can they help you, help them?

Erik: I cannot claim to know much about software world. It is important though that we understand what role we are going to play in the area of software. From a business perspective there is a big difference between software development and software solutions. Software development is just a sub-set thereof. I have personally seen East African companies propose software solutions to us where they are actually offering software development.

When you are supplying software to the end-user you are providing a software solution which requires many other business aspects that are critical to the end user – documentation of not only user guides but architecture, system design etc, software support, security of code etc….. Software developers in Africa need to move away from the notion of trying to provide solutions to the end user and focus on offering software development services to the bigger software solutions companies that have the capacity and depth to provide the professional support and back-up services required for commercial realisation. For corporates, the last thing they want is software that has been built and is reliant upon a few individuals who built the software sitting in some renovated compound on Bukoto street. It may be the greatest and cheapest software on earth, but that unfortunately is only one leg of providing a software solution!

And I honestly think we can play a role here because I have seen many smart software developers here who are able to compete with likes of India on price.

With regards to MTN – all our core services and key products (eg. USSD, voicemail, content portals) need to be supported and supplied by large reputable organizations for obvious reasons. The risks of going with unknown quantums, as good as they may be, is just too high. So it is in the peripheral value added space where I see the opportunities. Software applications that can be placed on the edges of our network providing innovative niched services to customers is where there are plenty of opportunities.

A: Any other closing remarks?

Erik: We have a major skills shortage, especially in management depth, in Uganda and across the continent. Even South Africa has an acute shortage in this regard. The African education system has let its people down.

This is the single biggest challenge we have in my opinion and we need to be honest about it – lets not fool ourselves and say we have all the people here that can do the job – I have heard several politicians tow this popular line. It is not true and we need to put in systems that are going to address this. Just imagine, for probably the first time in Africa’s history, we have all these opportunities upon our door step, brought about by better political systems, semblances of democracy, better governance and macro-economic stability. But where are the skills, both technical and management, going to come from to leverage these opportunities?

We need major investment in training and tertiary education institutions need to be sorted out. We must not close our markets to the inflow of foreign skills – Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong embraced open employment policies which has been the backbone to their economic success. We need to attract skills here and not take a short term view that it is taking away jobs. Injection of skills grows businesses, and in turn generates new employment. I have begun to notice many African countries, Uganda included, placing stricter rules on foreigners gaining employment. That is the last thing we need!

Mbeki may have had his faults, but his notion of an ‘African Renaissance’ was insightful and timely and needs to be taken seriously! Many of us tend to dismiss it too easily.

Erik van Veen is the Chief Commercial Officer of MTN Uganda. When it comes to corporate executives, he just might also be one of the most approachable, down-to-earth people ever. I emailed Erik following a discussion on Uganda’s I-Network mailing-list about the costs of bandwidth in Uganda for consumers. Erik is a member of the mailing list and offered some insight as to why things are the way they currently are from a provider’s perspective. Having been impressed by his willingness to engage the public, I asked him to participate in an interview….

Appfrica: What’s your background?

Erik van Veene: I was born (1967) and grew up all my life in South Africa, Pretoria to be specific. After finishing school did a BSc Engineering at University of Cape Town. Worked as an engineer in SA in early nineties while studying for a Bachelor Commerce as well. In 1993, I left SA (to avoid conscription) and spent 4 years abroad, backpacking most of that time. Returned to a democratic SA in 1996 and my first job as a Market Analyst with MTN who had just launched service in South Africa. I was part of MTN’s international business development team who secured licenses in Africa, amongst them Uganda. I then took on a Marketing Manager position as part of start-up team MTN Uganda. I was promoted to Chief Marketing Officer in 2001 (Sales & Marketing). Returned to South Africa for a year with MTN Group as General Manager in Business Development. Then I returned to Uganda in 2004 to pursue my own business interests with friend Patrick Bitature. MTN Uganda asked me to return in 2006 in my current role.

A: The world financial market is experiencing some turmoil right now. Do you think this has more potential to hurt or help Africa in the long term?

Erik: I think it will have limited to mild impact depending on how the credit crisis pans out. The credit crisis in itself will have very little affect on Africa other than the handful of more developed African countries who are connected to the world economy to a larger degree (South Africa, Morocco, Algeria etc…).

A mild impact will be felt if the credit crisis precipitates a world recession. Three economic areas will be affected. Firstly, raw commodity exports will decline if recession does become reality. This will affect mainly mineral exporting countries – Uganda should be spared. If consumer demand in US and Europe decline, it will affect manufacturing output in Asia etc.. I don’t believe the developing world has ‘economically decoupled’ from the western world as many tend to believe. The developing world has thrived on distorted trade balances over the last 2 decades driven by cheap labour and especially Asian governments who have persisted with maintaining devalued currencies.

Although I don’t believe developing world economies themselves will go into recession, their growth rates will slow significantly as a result of lower exports. The second impact is that national budgets in the West will, even without recession but just from the pressure of the national budget bail-outs needed to prop up the financial system and institutions, will be stretched in years to come. I can envision Aid budgets could be one of the first casualties as national treasuries try to shore up their reserves. Less Aif to countries such as Uganda, Tanzania will affect their economies, albeit in the short term only. The 3rd aspect that will put pressure on Africa is that with shrinking GDPs in the west, unemployment will increase and this in turn will put pressure on the tens of millions of Africans who do mainly casual labour in those countries. I can see foreign remittances from the diaspora declining. And we know what an important component remittances are to most African national economies – in Uganda it could make up as much as 20% of the annual GDP.

A: The mobile industry has grown at an incredible rate throughout Africa. Some countries boast penetration levels ranging from 30% to 100%. What is your advice for foreign groups and investors eyeing the African mobile market?

Erik: Firstly, I believe mobile opportunities for foreign companies in African countries are dwindling fast. Most African countries are well down the road of liberalizing their telecoms markets, many have in fact moved ahead of Europe / US in terms of opening up their markets. Although penetration rates may still be low, they will never reach the levels in the West due to the fundamental demographic and economic realities at play. In Uganda, 52% of the population is under the age of 17yrs, and more alarmingly only 13% are urbanized. This places major obstacles to mobile penetration increases. As markets liberalise quickly, frequency spectrum in especially the lower frequency bands which give wider signal coverage are fast running out. This is going to increase the cost of entry for foreign investors.

More importantly revenues per user, are very low in Africa by international standards, and require a low cost operating model if the Operator is to be profitable. If you look at East Africa, new customers joining the mobile category spend about $4 per month – that is not a lot! Just think of the licensing costs per subscriber for the various network nodes you need to manage a customer and you are left with only a small percentage. These are only marginally profitable customers and hence you need to make sure you have a low cost model in place to ensure profitability. Revenues per user in the west are well in excess of $25-30. Connecting sub $4 mobile consumers is not the type of business model Western operators are comfortable with. I see Asian, especially operators from the sub-continent, playing a bigger role in Africa as they have been able to survive in cut-throat, highly competitive, low tariff environments in their home markets. The downside is that it is going to be increasingly difficult to balance network quality whilst trying to operate a low cost operating model.

This has been particularly challenging for operators in the sub-continent and I am beginning to see similar trend developing in East Africa.

A: Unlike many other industries, in the mobile space there are some areas where the West seems to be playing ‘catch up’ to Africa. For instance with mobile-banking and micro-payment options. What do you feel mobile operators around the world can learn from the African market when it comes to mobile finance services?

Erik: I don’t believe the West will really learn anything. What is being rolled out in terms of mobile money / banking services in Africa was actually conceptually developed in Europe and Asia and not Africa as many seem to think.

What Western operators tend to do at times is over-complicate things which often renders their concepts unworkable in our environment. What has made mobile financial services so successful in Africa is due to the ‘technology leapfrog effect’ – the lack of banking infrastructure has allowed the mobile device to fill that void and leapfrog over more traditional banking services. M-Pesa in Kenya satisfied a major need as the banking system was too shallow in terms of distribution. Another critical fact that has allowed mobile financial services to thrive here is due to looser banking regulation. In South Africa for example, the M-Pesa concept could not be rolled out due to stricter banking regulation. Ditto Europe!

A: What are some of the challenges a mobile company faces doing business in the African market? How has MTN managed to do it so well?

Erik: I alluded to two aspects in my previous answer. Demographics, mainly young population and low urbanization present unique challenges. A flat age demographic pyramid may be inhibiting today, but presents itself as an opportunity for the future as the quantum of people entering adulthood / economic activity is set to explode in most African countries. This presents itself as a major growth opportunity in terms of penetration potential going forward.

Low cost revenue per user is a major challenge. We are continually trying to find means to ensure that we are able to attract customers further down the value pyramid at profitable levels. It is difficult!

And then you have to deal with the cost of doing business in Africa. Infrastructure and productivity remain major hurdles that add costs to the P&L. Our own success, relative to other companies in most African economies, has backfired on mobile operators in Africa, where governments see these as an easy source of tax income. In East Africa, excise tax (read luxury tax) has been institutionalized within the mindset of financial ministerial policy on tax. Uganda has the 2nd highest tax burden on mobile services in the world, Tanzania 3rd. Just think about it – in Uganda we hand over nearly a third of the cost of every call to the government. What a shame!

It is a short sighted initiative that is impeding growth of the ICT industry.

A: In general sub-Saharan African seems to have rebounded from some of it’s troubled history. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda all boast 6% per annum growth over the last decade and longer. Has MTN found that its growing with the economy? If that growth is sustained, where do you see MTN in five years?

Erik: Absolutely. Economic growth is like lubrication for the mobile industry, especially in less developed economies. We have visibly witnessed the monetization of rural Uganda. Today 63% of our base is rural – that is an amazing statistic where most industries rely on 60% of their business being derived in Kampala. I know other industries are beginning to experience similar trends.

Without giving too much away, I believe that MTN will double its customer base in the next five years if the macro-economic impetus is maintained.

A: Internet prices are notoriously expensive in sub-Saharan Africa (even for licensed ISPs). Can you offer any insight into how this can change? What needs to happen?

Erik: Very simply, we need fibre to connect us to the internet and light us up! We are suffocating and suffering being satellite locked. 2010 is not too far away. I envisage internet charges to come down by several factors. MTN Uganda has invested in the EASSy cable, which is due for completion in late 2010.

The price per Mb we will be paying for bandwidth off EASSy is a fraction of what we are currently paying via satellite. There is a perception that data providers are ripping the customer off – that is simply not true. If they were, why have we seen so many ISP closures and consolidation over the last few years? There is not exactly a flood of foreign data providers investing in the sector either. So that should prove that there just is not a lot of money to be made in the data provision business at the moment.

We are the 2nd biggest data provider in Uganda after UT (Uganda Telecom) and we can vouch that it is a low margin business at best! I know UT will vouch for that as well.

A: MTN offers a number of services for its customers. Most of them hardware and service based products. Does MTN have any interest in moving into software as a service (SAAS)?

Erik: Not really. Its not our core business and we don’t know anything about the software business. The idea of supporting Application Service Providers in partnership arrangements is a possibility, but we need to stick to our knitting which is mobile, fixed and data. We have our hands full just with that!

A: The growth of cloud-computing in developed countries offers a great model for Africa to follow when high-speed, affordable bandwidth finally arrives. What’s your stance and how do you see Africa capitalizing from it?

Erik: I think that is the way to go for Africa. The big players in the industry (Microsoft, Google etc) also understand this and believe me are not sleeping. They have an interesting vision for Africa and appreciate that a different ICT model is needed if Africa and its people are to have universal access to the digital world.