MTN Group Chief Commercial Officer, in charge of Sales, Marketing, and Innovations, Christian De Faria has revealed that the governments of some of its 21 operations in Africa and the Middle-East have asked MTN to block access to social networks like Facebook and Twitter on their network to prevent detractors of the governments from taking advantage of them.
Mr. De Faria was speaking at the Mobile and Convergence Workshop at the ongoing 15th Highway Africa Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
He did not say whether the Ghanaian government was part of those who made that request, but it is no secret that various political parties in Ghana, including the ruling party have taken advantage of Facebook and Twitter as political campaign platforms.
But Mr. De Faria indicated that in spite of those requests, MTN was committed to making the convergence between mobile, internet and ICT in general more accessible and more affordable across its operations and beyond.
“MTN is primed to take its position as a dominant player in mobile driven ICT across its markets and beyond,” he said.
Mr. De Faria noted that voice is no more the biggest thing on mobile phones, saying that internet browsing and the use of other forms of application on the mobile phone have outgrown voice.
“The traditional camera makers like Kodak, Nikon, Fuji, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and the rest are no more the biggest camera makers because people now use their smartphones as cameras more than they use actual cameras,” he said.
He also noted that about 80 per cent of music in the world is now sold and bought online through downloading, saying that today’s 18-year-olds want music, chat and hanky-panky stuff on the go and they get that on their mobile phones.
“Obviously convergence is an effective tool to bridge the digital divide and today about 80 per cent of cell phones manufactured are GPRS enabled, which means they can browse the internet,” he said.
Mr. De Faria observed that mobile operators were either leveraging existing local landlines, or building their own fixed networks to deliver ICT and broadband services on mobile.
He said MTN was therefore moving towards ICT to develop and drive mobile data, deploy convergent services and lever its own fixed infrastructure such as the West African Cable Systems (WACS) fibre backbone, which MTN landed in parts of Africa, including Ghana months ago.
MTN Ghana, for instance, had said commercial services on the WACS fibre would start first quarter next year, and promises high speed data services at affordable rates.
Mr. De Faria noted that smartphones distribution challenges and poor banking infrastructure in some of MTN’s markets presented opportunities, adding “we have already taken advantage of this through MobileMoney, a novel payment gateway that is facilitating financial transactions in over in 12 of our markets.
“At 30 June 2011, there were 5.1 million registered MobileMoney subscribers in Ghana and Uganda, each accounting for 37% of the total,” he observed.
Mr. De Faria also stressed that partnerships with distribution companies and manufacturers remain a priority, and are currently proving successful.
He noted that MTN was continually seeking ways to couple device with leading technologies to improve customer’s Internet experience, through innovation that is relevant and add value to the lives of its communities.
Last month, MTN signed a global agreement with Norway’s Opera Software to boost mobile Internet services across the two regions by offering a special co-branded version of Opera Mini, the world’s most popular mobile Web browser.
Subsequently, MTN issued a challenge to the developer community from around the world to come forward with innovative applications which are inspired by the realities of Africa and the Middle East.
Senior Managing Executive for Enterprise Markets at Telkom South Africa, Brian Armstrong noted that Telkom’s own in-house research indicate that customers preferred fixed-mobile convergence services to just fixed or mobile, shared bundles between fixed and mobile; and in single wallets, in which one payment covered both fixed and mobile services.
Harry Dugmore from Rhodes University noted that the downside of convergence was that it is killing big bookshops and blockbuster movie shops across the world as people could now download whole books and movies on line, adding that to some extent it is killing television and newspapers because the entertainment and news can be obtained on the go.
“This is because the mobile phone is always on; always by you even if off or on silent; have built in payment systems so no hustle in going to payment points to pay bills, and built in alert systems among other very convenient features,” he said.
He was however said that media and journalism density for convergence was very low because very few journalists were taking advantage of convergence as a tool to address the real social, economic, political and developmental issues facing their people.
Mr. Dugmore therefore called on the about 600 journalists attending this year’s Highway Africa Conference to rise to the occasion and embrace mobile and convergence to boost their watchdog and mouthpiece roles.
The conference is focusing on media’s role in tackling the global sustainability challenge, and seeking ways to improve its understanding and coverage of climate change in Africa.
It will also serve as an opportunity for an interrogation of African journalism and media, and how they have framed issues such as climate change, food security and global sustainability.
From Samuel Nii Narku Dowuona, in Cape Town, South Africa