News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Friday, 21 May 2010

Vodafone to quit Egypt?

This blog is (usually) written on a Sceptred Isle whose citizens (subjects) are currently wondering what life is going to be like under a newly cobbled-together coalition government. This is rather a novel state of affairs because the our electoral system is carefully rigged designed to crown a decisive winner and deliver the 'strong government' we Brits are supposed to favour. Usually this works out fine, with a healthy majority and almost unchecked power conferred upon the winners. There's never even been the need for those 'winners' to command a majority share of the votes cast, much less the support of a majority of those eligible to vote.

During its election campaign, the senior partner in the new government issued dire warnings about the terrible consequences should the voters be unwise enough to elect a hung parliament. The markets, we were warned, would respond unfavourably, leaving our fragile economic recovery exposed to the fall out of their nervousness.

Perhaps this was not too far wide of the mark. The markets continue to be volatile in the early days of this new administration, with Nick Fletcher of the Guardian reporting another bumpy week of trading.

Bucking the current downward trend, however, writes Fletcher, is mobile behemoth Vodafone.

"The mobile phone group has had a busy week", observes Fletcher, winning an Indian 3G licence... and reporting a doubling of annual profits. Today, Fletcher reports, its shares have jumped 2p to 131.45p, making it the biggest riser in a falling FTSE, following reports it plans to sell its 55% stake in its Egyptian business.

One such report, from TeleGeography, suggests that the buyer of Vodafone's controlling stake in the Egyptian MNO may be incumbent wireline operator Telecom Egypt, already the owner of the other 45% of the business.

The article also suggests that if no agreement can be reached between Vodafone and Telecom Egypt, the fixed-line operator may seek another route into the domestic mobile sector, perhaps trying to secure its own wireless licence, should the government, as rumoured, offer a fourth mobile concession in the future.

India's cellcos to balk at mandatory switch to solar-powered equipment?

Solar power: mandatory for India's cellcos?

The green credentials of DevelopingTelecomsWatch are pretty weak - this blog has never dedicated an entire article specifically to an examination of the environmental impact of telecoms technology.

Moreover, the only time DTW has discussed 'green' technologies at length, when wind and solar-powered mobile base stations were evaulated more than a year ago, the focus was mainly on cost benefits for operators. Just a cursory mention was made how such solutions compare favourably - in terms of environmental impact - to diesel-powered generators in the vast numbers of sites where electricty distribution infrastructure is inadequate across developing countries.

Even in terms of the narrower arguments about cost control, last April's article was by no means constructed entirely of fulsome praise for wind-powered and solar-powered mobile network infrastructure. It was noted that while running costs can, of course, look very attractive, the costs of investing in new solar panels and wind turbines themselves are not trivial. DTW also reported concerns on the part of the GSM Association about the results of trials of sun and wind-powered base stations.

Mobile operators, then, mindful of these questions, could presumably be resistant to any attempt to make reliance on these green technologies mandatory.

This is precisely the situation which could be facing cellcos in India.

Writing for India's Economic Times earlier this month, Subhash Narayan asserts that the country's government "may ask telecom companies to install solar panels to generate backup power for cellphone towers, a move that could hurt the sector already troubled by a squeeze in margins."

A proposal being finalised by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), writes Narayan, "is aimed at containing the use of polluting diesel gensets to provide back-up power" and "could increase the cost of network expansion significantly"

"The green drive will prevent these engines of development (telecom towers) from becoming grave environmental hazards," said an official with MNRE. "We are discussing the proposal with various stakeholders. A cabinet note is proposed to be finalised thereafter to get the clearance for the scheme," the official said, requesting anonymity

Predicatably, the industry response, as reported by Narayan of the Economic Times, is not terrible enthusiatic. "This could significantly impact the margins of companies already under pressure due to rising spectrum cost and the cut-throat competition in the sector," said 'an executive with a large private telco'.

Narayan asserts that the Indian government is not keen on providing any subsidy for solar power equipment, but says it could offer them soft loans under refinancing schemes of Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency.

This skepticism from India notwithstanding, one can still find evidence of cellcos in developing countries going down the green power route. Chinese vendor, ZTE, for example, seems to have encouraged MTN's Cameroonian opco to take delivery of an unspecified number of solar-powered base stations.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Afrique Occidentale & Centrale Com: De retour au Sénégal par demande générale

The Zain-Bharti transaction: How will West African mobile markets be affected?

Mais non! DevelopingTelecomsWatch has not become a francophone blog. The frenchified title of today's offering is in honour of the fact that a noted West African telecoms conference is, after two years in Nigeria, to be hosted in Senegal in June.

Geopolitically, West Africa is defined by the UN as consisting of: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Of these, just four are countries where English is an official language. Of the others, two are Lusophone states and ten are French-speaking.

The organisers of the aforementioned conference have found that this linguistic diversity in the region creates certain challenges for them. Nigeria, as by far the largest market in West Africa, seemed to be the logical place in which to host the event for the last couple of years. Certainly, relocating the conference to Abuja (from its previous venue of Dakar, Senegal) two years ago paid tremendous dividends in terms of boosted attendance numbers and a good buzz of activity at the 2008 and 2009 iterations of the gathering. This was achieved, however, at the cost of making the event a tad less attractive for delegates from the numerous French-speaking markets. This effect was somewhat mitigated by ensuring that simultaneous English-French translation was available during all conference sessions, but perhaps not as much as was hoped given that this year Informa Telecoms & Media have moved the show back to Dakar again.

Given that delegates from telecoms operators attend for free, Informa monetises its Com World Series events (of which West & Central Africa Com is one) largely by selling sponsorship packages and exhibition space to the telecoms technology vendors that do business with those operators. These vendors will doubtless remain keen on the potential of the large (and fragmented) Nigerian telecoms market and might be concerned about not having a good tradeshow route-to-market to address this now the conference has headed back to Dakar.

With this in mind, I guess, Informa are also running a specifically Nigerian event in Lagos this year. This will make its debut in September.

In the meantime, what can we expect to be discussed at the Dakar gathering?

I guess one hot topic - addressed via offline chitchat if not via presentations and panel discussions - will be the effect of Zain's withdrawal from the region. The Kuwaiti group currently controls opcos in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone - as well as others in markets elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. As discussed ad nauseum in DTW posts passim., all of these are now set to be in the hands of giant Indian cellco Bharti Airtel. DTW's most recent article, mainly a brief exploration of whether India's mobile market is set to consolidate, did a little to talk up the ways in which Bharti Airtel might be able to reinvent Zain Africa by introducing the low-cost business model which it has empoyed on home turf. So let's see how much tougher sub-Saharan markets are set to become for Zain/Bharti's competitors.

This acquistion, however, may yet take a little while longer to conclude. One reason for this could be resistance from the governments of the countries in which the Zain-owned opcos are set to change hands. That said, there have been recent signs of these obstacles being overcome.

Back in March, for example, as reported by India's Economic Times, the Government of Gabon said it "disapproves" of the sale of Zain's Gabonese assets to Bharti Airtel and reserves the right to take "all necessary measures". Late last week, Reuters was reporting that this objection had been resolved.

It will be interesting, then, to see how long it takes to deal with any further problems of this kind. If the difficulties do continue into June, it should be interesting to connect with Tiemoko Coulibaly, Vice President of Zain's Western Africa operations at West & Central Africa Com in Dakar.

There will be many other reasons to attend the event - but connecting with the likes of Mr Coulibaly could be motivation enough for anyone who does business with Zain in Africa and now needs to keep on top of how the change of ownership is set to change the game.