Monday, February 17, 2014

Mobile East Africa 2014, Day 1

#mea2014 is a cool annual event that has since 2010, strived to showcase a lot of mobile phone developments in Africa. 

Some highlights of Day on February 12, in Nairobi

Host of the morning session, Mark Kaigwa, started off with a comment that there's been a lot of hope, but  also a lot of hype around the whole silicon savannah story, and that the event was about hearing some stories of actualization of developments

Veronica Ogeto-Tchoketch Head Of Innovation at Safaricom spoke about recent innovations the company that aimed to transform lives and these included: 

- iCow: A partnership with Green Dreams that offers dairy and poultry farmers information by SMS to maximize their yields, and now has 12,800 farmers.
- Shupavu291: In partnership with Eneza education, is a study tool for primary school students  that now has 170,000 users on monthly or weekly subscriptions.
- JamiiSmart is a maternity app that aims to reduce mortality rates of mothers and children from childbirth to 5 years by sending alerts on immunization, medical visits, medication etc.
- Lindajamii aims to counter a low 3% insurance penetration rate in Kenya - and so Safaricom partnered with Changamka and BritAm to come up with a basic in & out patient medical cover for families that also includes funeral benefit and maternity cover with monthly m-pesa payments staggered.
- Refugees United: In partnership with Ericsson and UNHCR, they developed a tool that refugees could use to track relatives they’ve lost track of through a platform that provides confidentiality and security.
- M-Kopa: Is a solar panel solution that is able to light 3 rooms in a home, and also charge mobile phones. 40,000 customers have signed up for this, and payments can be via m-pesa.
- Vuma online  they equipped select matatus/PSV's (now 3,000) with 3G modems - and now some youth ask if a matatu has vuma before boarding. They plan to extend the data penetration services to restaurants, train stations, barbers etc.
- M-pesa  has now been extended to M-Shwari (loans to individuals) and M-Pesa online (pay for goods bought online via m-pesa)

The partnerships have been developed with Safaricom's valued business partners including Huawei, BritAm, iLabAfrica, Commercial Bank of Africa, Seven Seas, among others.

In the Q&A session she mentioned that they want to work in agriculture, health, fishing in 2014 and people can send suggestions to - but that app proposals were not enough to get one access to Safaricom assets like USSD, API, and research. She also appealed  to the government to open up spectrum to mobile operators. 

Dr. Bitange Ndemo, who’s the honorary chairperson, Alliance For Affordable Internet said that Africa has the most inefficiencies of any continent and said that the release of information by broadband / mobile as one way of sorting these. He said African government make a mistake by auctioning spectrums – and said the 700, 800, 2600 MHz spectrum ones should be given at the lowest prices or even free as they will spur commerce that will generate more than enough taxes to pay these  back.

Mark Redman the CTIO of Smile Tanzania which launched 4G last year in Uganda and Tanzania that uses 800mhz and offers excellent broadband to on the move mobile devices. He said 4G has more possibility that  3G as one can share many connections over Wi-Fi, can tether, stream HD, do FaceTime, Skype, all with no buffering.

They are see seeing behavior change – and also some bill shock with their customers as 13MB/second download to a mobile service leads to an  average consumption that is greater than 10 gigabytes per month

They now cover Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Entebbe and Ibadan and soon Lagos and also into the DRC – giving them a presence in 4 large African markets.

in Tanzania they are using national backbone, metro fiber in TZ - - and have to lease capacity which is not great as they want to be a carrier. Google offer an interesting proposition in Uganda so may work with them and talking with Google and IBM on other ways of reducing costs including delivering internet without telcos. Smile is a service provider, not an infrastructure company. they lease towers (from Airtel, Helios) but see that  monopolization of towers is becoming a problem. 

They are aiming for 5G next, and want to deliver all that was promised to Africa on 3G and he predicted that by next year it will be hard to sell an android smartphone that is not 4G capable.
Tomi Ahonen who Forbes magazine called one of the world's most influential expert in mobile gave a special address -  The Near Future Of Mobile: Where Is The Opportunity?. This was his 62nd country to visit and 99th city to speak in about mobile stories. 


- The convergence of mobile – many companies are now interested in mobile including PC giants  who now think the future is mobile   - such as HP (who regret abandoning mobile, and are now coming back), Lenovo (buying Motorola from Google), Sony (sold laptops biz to focus on mobile) and Microsoft spent $7b to buy Nokia

- Prevalence - There are as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are people in the world. This is unprecedented, and even pen & paper, and wrist watches never got this reach

- Grand convergence - 15 global industries will fully migrate into mobile (if not completely) movies, music, advertising, telecom, Internet, computer, credit, bank, insurance, watch, camera, map, print, broadcast, and social media. Some are already on the way there with  camera already gone 90% mobile, and music at 40% - but there is a lot of opportunity in the others to enable this transformation. Also any of these industries, can cross over and capture customers in another segment – as was seen with camera phones, introduced in 2001, but which have now wiped up traditional analog camera companies (today Nokia is the most used camera brand, and Samsung is best selling camera – while Kodak, Polaroid Minolta have all gone,. Also unfathomable in 2000 was that computers would enter the music business, but today  iTunes is the world biggest music store.

- Mobile is the 7th mass media - 1st Print (1500)  2nd Records (1890s), then Cinema (1910) Radio (1920) TV (1950) Internet (1995) Mobile (2000s). Also mobile is different from the internet and while it is difficult to make money on the internet, it is easier to make money on mobile. …He said that 8th mass media will be augmented reality.
Mobile has 9 unique abilities
-  mobile is personal mass medium
- Users are permanently connected
- Always carried
- Built in payment channel;
- Available at creative impulse
- Has very accurate audience info
- Captures social context of consumption
- Enable augmented reality
- Offers a digital interface to the real world 

Ood features like SMS are still very powerful as seen by corporates like Omo, Carrefour, Finnair- who through various campaigns are able to generate paid customer responses that range from 30% to 300%

- He cited Alan Moore by saying that said mobile user data is the new black gold for the 21st century, and it's possible that by year 2030, the Fortune 500 companies will be topped by companies that drill for data, not for oil. 

- $10 iPhone Android is the future, but in future based on Moore law, in which the processing power doubles and the costs halve every 18 months, there will be a $10 iPhone (or an equivalent of that) by year 2019.

- What can Kenya learn from his Finland? Developers was not to be afraid to fail, but to learn and try again – noting that Rovio (of Angry Birds)  failed 51 times before they had the hit game.

Tim Legg CEO Ole! Media Group spoke of the challenges of delivering media digitally in Africa. He said mobile is not internet – and that since the advent of the internet, very few digital publishers make money from digital media and that is not sustainable - whereas mobile media is sustainable.

 -  - Independent mobile media businesses need to be self funded
- Even next year there will still be 1 smart phone for every 5,6 feature phone in south Africa -  so forget about the super apps. It is still a feature phone media world where USSD and SMS work perfectly ok, and  they see increase in unique growers on all digital platforms. 
- Their growth is predominantly through the mobile channels but the durations have dropped,  as have average number of visits have dropped.
-- Mobile can compliment traditional media - allow interaction and enable payments - something which internet has never done
-  - Move away from the old newspapers model of charging readers a monthly subscription paid by credit card to one pay per use billed to a mobile phone
-Publishers can't make enough money from advertising to pay for content creation - and advertising in Africa has been driven down by Google and is heading to zero.
- Mobile growth is also found in what are considered dying markets like the UK
- Start with feature phone (SMS) move to smart phones, touch phones, then tablets to grow the media ad network

Jonathan Endersby Head of Special Projects, at Praekelt

Praekelt works with Guinness Smirnoff Johnny Walker and banks and insurance. They also have a Parekelft Foundation when realized some of tech work done for big brands was really cool and could also make a difference in the world
He spoke of developing universal tech that anyone can access and use it to make their lives better  - and they do it on open source tools like vumi
They have worked in 17 countries across Africa on initiatives that revolves around the base of the pyramid – where  60% of people are (earning less than $2.5 per day) and 50% of these have internet access, but 99% have access to mobile phones

Some of these include
- a text alert to remind people to go get doctor check-ups - people can now send message back (2 weeks old)
- Guinness you’re the boss – a fantasy football game that 5 people can play at the same time, al on USSD. It’s in 5 countries and got 200,000 users in 4 months.
- Wikipedia text -100,000 users in 3 months, 400,000 searches. He  pleads with Safaricom to make Wikipedia free  (*515#)

Robert Lamptey, the CEO of Saya spoke about preparing his company for international expansion. The company started as a way for students who could not afford expensive SMS to send messages through installing an app on their feature phones, access the phone books and  mimic SMS messages

They wanted to experiment with 2,000 people but instead got 400,000 downloads in 3 months – and 86,000 users (they realized they had an issued converting downloads to users) – and in turn 86,000 people invited 9 million people to join in a few months and their servers were crashing – and they got scared when they noticed some Arabic messages flowing through their systems which turned out to be people in Syria using their network to communicate early in the Syria uprising.

Early on they plugged some analytics tools into their systems and were able to decipher trends and what as happening e.g. that android devices are the next device people buy after feature phones. And data tells you how to make money, and based on their analytics, they are going o move into the dating platform space

One of their coolest features street chat – which people in one location can use to start chatting – and he said that they can see that Namibians talk about sex, Nigerians are always trying to sell anything, Indians like to flirt, and Kenyans love politics.
as a founder, be on the front-line and solve the problem that you have and not what other people have e.g. telcos were blocking their systems that was eating away their revenue, but they managed to find a way around that. There are many new opportunities e.g. Google want to deliver the internet while offline, and without telcos.

He said there’s nothing new in Africa, nothing we are investing has not been done elsewhere - so ask people send email out, they will help you -as people who know stuff are always willing to help.

Other quotes of the day

- Cory Wiegert Director Of Product Management, Software Group – Africa, IBM  IBM has a $20 billion software business – and is trying to address the challenge of a 4 screen world   (laptop desktop mobile and tablet) - how to sync that make that experience consistent, and secure in a bring your own device world - e.g. at IBM that has over 400,000 organization

John Waibochi CEO, Virtual City - Users have transformed e.g. in tea, coffee, alcohol sectors. Cooperatives in central Kenya want to do shocking things with mobile. Also distributors who are 65% cash less want to be 85% cash less and make these more demands from tech companies as they believe that the mobile is the way to go and tell their tech partners they are moving too slowly. Also no two groups want the same system/features. so his company has gone from having more developers, to having more business analysts

Laban Okune - Founder, Ma3Route - what holds people back? Money..SMS short codes are not cheap, and though people here are saying develop things around SMS, he also appealed to operators to make this cheaper

Taha Jiwaji Founder & CEO, Bongo Live spoke of bootstrapping with consultancy services to build your products and company

Jonathan Endersby  even American developers are shocked that USSD exists 

Jose Henriques Group VP Data, Airtel Africa - you don't pay to receive calls while roaming on Airtel in 17 African countries.

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