Africa Com 2014 : Mulling strategy in the Digital and Virtual World !!

Presentation1
Last nearly 7000 + Telco , ICT industry execs paid hommage to a successful close of the premier Telco Congress in Africa. For those of you who are not familiar,event management on this grand scale require almost 12 months of careful planning and synchronising to get it right.Trying to keep a multitude of speakers,exhibitors,sponsors and the audience happy on the southern tip of Africa is no easy task especially when are based in London.So kudos to Julie Rey and her team at Informa for brilliant execution. Methinks think the Telco industry can learn something from their subtle blend of project , people and logistics management skills:)

The underlying theme at the Congress was predicated on the fact that Africa’s digital market is driven by broadband developments, which enable better services to consumers, new opportunities for all stakeholders and further growth for Africa’s economies.African Internet markets are in the midst of a seminal transition, from a phase of scarce basic connectivity to one of widely available, if not necessarily abundant terrestrial bandwidth. Unfettered by outdated fixed-line infrastructure, Africa is at mobile technology’s bleeding edge believe it or not : pioneering everything from mobile payments to crowd-sourcing.

The 2014 AfricaCom Awards were fiercely contested this year with a record number of entries competing for the judge’s attention and approval.The Awards recognise and acknowledge excellence in the digital technology, ICT across Africa, have grown in stature every year.The winning projects clearly demonstrated that Africa is leading innovation in the development of the digital ecosystem. Orange won the award “Excellence in Customer Experience Management ‘ with its 100% Successful Calls’ suite of services. Customer Experience Management enables Telcos to drive loyalty and profitability by providing the best possible experience throughout the customer journey.The mantra of customer-centric companies is to develop an holistic view of individual customer’s interactions and experiences over the life of their relationship.The impact of enhanced customer experience is almost immediate on the bottom line, translating into lower churn and higher ARPU, as well as lower operational costs in terms of reduced OPEX.

The future of broadband in Africa is looking much brighter and the continent can anticipate a surge in mobile broadband growth over the next decade.The growth drivers are present :last mile competition, international gateway licensing, new submarine cables, domestic fibre backbone developments, unified licences, improvements in radio spectral efficiency, increased internet usage from a younger population and increased availability of capital.In the long term passive infrastructure may become part of a completely different multiutility business, and not part of the telecoms industry at all.Telcos that incorporate a viable data profitability model ,network sharing ,outsourcing initiatives and co-opt municipal or open access models will attract investment funding according to insiders tight fisted investors community. Rather than build duplicative competing access networks, capital has to be freed up to invest in ‘network edge’ assets. The major challenges for network operators in Africa are :

• How do we effectively plan for and reengineer the broadband business model so as to reduce costs , manage data traffic , and develop a more sophisticated approach for pricing broadband access ?

• How do we unlock new revenue streams to justify the enormous network investments over time in the context of key customer drivers and applications that generate fast ROI based on understanding the needs of target markets.

• How can we work with OTT players since LTE’s all-IP architecture will create a more open environment for Over The Top (OTT) applications, including third-party VoIP services, which threaten to further commoditize the network.

Yours truly was chairing the new stream SDN + NFV which for many engineers ( with their hardware heritage ) is really a black art. Network elements and management gone virtual still seems a Star Trek concept in Africa. Everything is going virtual..jeez..hope not my kidneys 🙂 Fortunately we had some very clear and thought provoking presentations from Orange , NEC , Juniper , Coriant.You might want to peek into an idiot’s guide on SDN/NFV on my blog post :

(https://maliksadiq13.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/deep-dive-assessing-the-utility-of-sdn-for-telcos/).

I managed to learn about ZOOM at the TM Forum Live event which was also part of AfricaCom 2014. Zero-touch, Orchestration, Operations and Management (ZOOM) project is an effort to step back and take a broader look at where operations support and billing support systems need to be in the long run as part of the adoption of network functions virtualization (NFV). ZOOM is intended to define the forum’s vision for a virtualized operations environment and to define the architecture needed to support that environment.That will include helping service providers rethink their business and operations practices, since those must change along with the systems and software. The operators driving this effort include AT&T Inc,Orange , Sprint Corp.Telecom Italia SpA.They are joined by vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.

Network virtualization requires deep cultural shifts for carriers, changes that executives, managers, and staff may find it difficult to keep up with. Network rules are changing, but carriers often don’t keep up. For example, network operators are still obsessed with achieving five nines of reliability for their equipment, when the important thing is five nines for the service. Traditional network management means managing hardware, rolling trucks and installing equipment on-site. Virtual networks requires configuring software:more precisely, managing the code that manages the networks. Managing that code requires familiarity with IT tools ,while traditional network management software relied on command-line interfaces.

Traditionally,Telcos have had strong engineering-based cultures and are rightly proud of the success those cultures have helped them deliver.Yet while Telcos are highly interested in being innovative, their current cultures aren’t aligned with attracting digital talent. As Telcos move into new areas of growth, they will need to engage new types of talent, particularly digital talent, and consider new policies that challenge their existing employee value propositions and organizational cultures. aaah Yes…Telcos its time to beef up your software engineering skills fast.

(https://maliksadiq13.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/telcos-time-to-beef-up-your-software-engineering-talent/)

The African Digital market represents a tremendous opportunity, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to go about pursuing it. A recent Accenture survey of Telco executives confirms that their primary network focus over the next three to five years will be in new network builds (LTE and FTTx).By engaging in collaborative optimization, leveraging network intelligence and evolving dumb pipes into smart ones, Telcos can pragmatically lay a foundation for a profitable and sustainable converged network—one that can support internal and externally procured services that customers will continue to demand over time.Telcos need to stop thinking about networks as discrete islands.In a converged digital world, after all, that’s no longer how they are being used.

While Telcos will always be under pressure to maintain revenue and profitability targets for core/legacy services, they will also need to find new ways of growing revenue. Much of the growth will come from noncore/new businesses such as mobile services, Big Data and cloud. However, they also will need to take several steps such as setting up a new LoB, incentivizing innovation and collaboration more effectively throughout the organization, reskilling their workforces from selling communications products and services to selling business-sensitive solutions, and developing more sophisticated pricing models in order to enable them to bundle legacy and new services.

BOTTOM LINE….. the end-users get a full set of digital services at an affordable price and Operators will not lose money through ill informed investments in technology or commercial propositions that don’t meet the subscriber needs and budget.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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