From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mali's SOTELMA to be privatised


 Sunday, July 13, 2008
In the context of the telecommunications sector reform, the Government of the Republic of Mali has decided to privatize Sotelma (Société des télécommunications du Mali) under the financial advice of the investment bank Linkstone Capital. The privatisation strategy is as follows : A 51% stake will be sold to a Strategic Partner that meets the prequalification criteria;  19% stake will be sold in a public offer ; 10% of the share capital will be reserved for the employees of Sotelma. The Government will hold a 20% share.

See Press Release

Source: Portail du Gouvernement de la République du Mali
Sunday, July 13, 2008 3:19:27 AM (W. Europe Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #     |  Related posts:
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Africa - African Association of Telecommunications Regulators created
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Africa - E-access and Usage
Algeria - mobile operators shutting down SIM cards
Algeria - 3rd Generation (3G) mobile communications licenses

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When will the National Communications Authority stand up?

The NCA is an agency of the government with oversight to, in effect, regulate the telecommunications sector and implement terms of Ghana’s National Telecommunications Policy. According to the policy (2004) that can be downloaded from the Internet, while the Ministry of Communications is “responsible for the definition and elaboration of Government policy regarding telecommunications”, the NCA has a number of roles that it plays in implementing the policy, which include: “regulation of competition, including interconnection; tariff regulation consistent with Ministry policies; monitoring of operator activity, performance, and compliance”, and last but not least “consumer protection.”

Reading the policy itself is enlightening, for the policy sounds robust. There is a section on “Principles of Transparent regulation” that explains that NCA “shall promote public participation in and awareness of its activities and ensure that the public has adequate access to sector information.” Only last week, I checked to see whether the website of the NCA that is still under construction, and with some limited information about the sector, has managed to offer some new information. There is still nothing. Neither is there what there ought to be--as stipulated in the policy: an Annual Report in collaboration with the Ministry of Communication publishing “up-to-date industry information…” made available “for public review.”

Protection for Whom?
In what would prove to be an unprecedented move last year, the Authority not only threatened ONETOUCH and MTN to stop selling re-charge cards, but that they should also improve the quality of their service, otherwise huge fines would be slapped on them. This was a historic feat of epic proportions it appeared, for even with the psychedelic MTN plane then-still-perched at the Tetteh-Quarshie interchange and MTN flags virtually drowning any Ghanaian ones, the Authority barked. At the eleventh hour, the Authority yielded, allowing both mobile providers get away with only an agreement to improve their services.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t call that consumer protection.

Giving customer service a new life?
Then there is the recent case of Gateway Broadcasting Services (GBS) that entered the country in October last year. I do not know of anyone--and I know three official establishments around my workplace use GBS--that has been able to get through to GBS customer service. Beyond one who had given out his mobile number to subscribers (regrettably, he is no longer working for the company), no-one else can be contacted when one’s service is cut off -- either accidentally or not. When your payment has been made, the several landlines that have been given will forever put you through to a call centre operating outside Ghana in…Southern Africa, where, it stands to reason, there is a more clinical approach in dealing with you, given that the people are not in the country. As helpful and “nice” as they sound, nothing beats having Ghanaians help when I want my service re-connected , even if I have to have to lose my voice in doing so.

The anecdotes aside, such continuous practices remain an indictment of the NCA’s work. As a regulator of the telecommunications industry, it behoves it to ensure standard regulation--as stipulated in the policy. To wit: "all public telecommunications operators shall be required to establish service level agreements with their customers, which identify the minimum quality of service standards to which customers are entitled, and the remedies and compensation available when service falls below such standards."

Concrete steps
The biggest step to ensuring regulation, in my humble opinion, would seem to be a clear and necessary *adoption* of the National Telecommunications Policy as a working document for all in the first place! Another issue is of toll-free numbers. The other day, the sixth biggest bank called to inform me that they now have a toll-free number that operate 24/7. If banks can do it, why not our MDAs? And certainly, why not NCA? Just a small query: I noticed the toll-free number works on the ONETOUCH network for now. In the event of government passing through any privatisation of GT by way of a totally-unnecessary emergency bill, will Vodafone not seek to make profit by disbanding the toll-free nature that GT has a great interest in maintaining?

Nigeria’s NiTel to be Privatised…for Vodafone?
As if the attempt to privatize Ghana’s national provider Ghana Telecom is insufficient, British-based Vodafone is ready to hit the Nigerian market with the acquisition of ECOWAS neighbour Nigeria’s only landline provider. Rumours and accusations of the phone company being “beleaguered” and “inefficient” don’t wash with me. They are code-words for any excuse to privatize. An article in Nigeria’s *Punch” newspaper actually goes further arguing that: “…we can be certain about one thing: NITEL is currently bedeviled[sic] by multifaceted problems. These problems include malfunctioning lines, erratic billing system, poor customer satisfaction, infrastructural decay and a backlog of worker’s salaries…” It seems to me that chance would be a fine thing were NiTel to escape privatization.

NiTel Privatisation Not New
As far back as May 2002, then-President Obasanjo was planning a divestiture of the state-run phone company. It had been scheduled for March of that year, but had to be postponed for September 2002. It is interesting to note that still at that time, 51% was what was being offered to the so-called strategic investors!

On a more serious note, whereas the incumbent Ghanaian administration has put forth 70% of GT to be privatized, even the horror stories associated with NiTel have warranted 50% to Vodafone. Why such discrepancy one wonders? Is it that Ghana Telecom has more of these calamities at its doorstep than NiTel? Let’s examine them for a second. Last time I looked, GT was offering broadband4u (; dialup4u; ExZeed company which offers 24hour service to ONETOUCH subscribers, where MTN has not a 24-hr hotline, and Tigo’s is non-existent (exists only as a number); a mobile provider since 2000 (albeit itself bedeviled with astronomical prices when it started, with sim cards then going for around GHC150!); Ghana Telecom University; EasyFone (which enables landlines to be set up more easily than ever before).

According to the reports I’ve been reading, M-Tel, NiTel’s mobile operation that is a year younger than NiTel (having been established on October 2001), has only 176,000 subscribers. Compare that to MTN Nigeria that has 15,873,000 active lines. Switch to Ghana, and we find that where MTN Ghana is around 4 million subscribers, with ONETOUCH around 1.4m. That is subscribers over one million, yet Nigeria’s is able to attract only a fraction. Despite this, it is being sold for 50%!

Is it me, or is there something odd about the whole rationale of the GT purchase?

Still always about politics?
Then I think, and think some more, and remember how early last year, South Africa’s Standard Bank, operating under Stanbic Bank, was so keen to take over state-owned Agricultural Development Bank (ADB). One of its main motivations for the attempted sale (which incidentally, the government, according to financial papers two weeks ago have *de-prioritized*) was so that it could use the entry of Ghana as a gateway to penetrate the Nigerian market. A year ago today, Reuters reported that Standard Bank had bought a part of Nigeria’s IBTC Chartered Bank Plc, which expertise is in investment banking with 55 branches across Nigeria. Standard Bank spokeswoman Kim Howard would say that "If you are going to have a pan African strategy, you have to include Nigeria."

Looks like this time, they decided to strike Nigeria after an attempted one here in Ghana. Whether they will succeed remains moot. Whatever will happen with the sale of GT, it has become crystal-clear that the stage has certainly been set for a new revolution before our very eyes.

Forget the Industrial Revolution. We are all sitting at the cusp of a revolution that implicates a sector so critical to our lives we could never have imagined. To think that a consortium of former MTN executives are bidding—so the telecoms newsletter Balancing Act reports – for NiTel is not just a reflection of the motivation of big people with big capital, but where the next wars might be fought. Forget your Cold War. Prepare yourself for the Telecoms Wars.

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Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vodafone’s Purchase of Ghana Telecom: Matters Arising

The 70% acquisition by Vodafone of state-owned Ghana Telecom may be a done-and-dusted deal, subject only now to parliamentary approval in the august house. There are, however, serious issues arising that merit some consideration.

First of all, one would have to be from Mars not to know that this is an election year. After the announcement was made in 2006 to privatise, why is it only now that the putative sale has gone through, some five months before general elections? Secondly, despite the fact that there was a breather after France Telecom and Portugal Telecom were rejected some months back, at what point did Vodafone up and decide to make the bid, which, if we believe the opposition, was a non-starter, on account of the fact that there were other bidders ready to pay more than the $960million?

In December 2007, Kenya, where Vodafone operates as a mobile operator under Vodafone Kenya, was in the concluding stages of privatising state-owned Telkom Kenya, with the winning bidders France Telecom taking control by 21 December, 2007. The uncanny similarity of an opaque bidding process coupled with a privatisation so close to general elections makes for an explosive coincidence that is so serious it’s not funny. One might be tempted to think that this has nothing to do with Vodafone, till we read that an offshore-registered company by the name of Mobitelea was offered an opportunity to acquire 25% of Vodaphone Kenya Limited at the same price Vodafone had acquired them. This prompted civil society groups in Kenya to argue that “the privatisation of Telkom Kenya cannot…be deemed regular until the true picture of its ceding of [mobile provider] Safaricom shares to Vodafone Kenya is unravelled and rectified.”

Here, there is little proof that anything irregular has gone on despite the manner in which the sale went through so quickly, but reading the *Financial Times* account of the sale was sufficient to prompt speculation that given that the country is experiencing a budget deficit, the government might have seen a sale so close to the election as an opportunity to make amends around the economy.

Practices elsewhere
Still, whilst Kenya can talk about Vodafone Kenya bidding for a part of Safaricom, Ghana cannot even talk about a Ghanaian consortium ready to buy GT. This is one of the unique things about this privatisation. The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia tells us that Vodafone has three networks in the Middle East and Africa that are majority-owned: Egypt, Qatar and now Ghana. In the first case, state-owned Telecom Egypt owns 45% of Vodafone Egypt. In the Qatari case, Vodafone went in as a mobile operator, securing a 45% stake in Qatar Telecom, the Middle Eastern country’s second mobile licence provider. When we come to Ghana, a significant 70% was not only at stake, but also of our state-owned provider, prompting one to wonder why such a high figure, and why the land-line provider? Reports in the Ghanaian media indicate that Globacom had also made a bid, but had to settle for second best through a mobile service.

Questions Unanswered
Those are not the only questions. Reports in the media suggest that the minority’s concern was that Vodafone comes in as a strategic investor with little experience in landline provision. That it is setting up new services in New Zealand, where Vodafone also operates, that look like landlines and mobile lines combined should not be sufficient to assuage our fears of how it will manage our broadband services, national fibre optic system, and others. What of our national security? There is anecdotal evidence of our state security – BNI -- monitoring landlines; how far will the security services go in allowing a mobile provider with plenty of capital to share the monitoring of our landlines? Thirdly, all mobile providers have had to pass through GT for their operations. Now that Vodafone’s acquisition is semi-complete, will Vodafone’s supreme interest be in the regulation of the other providers, or a rough-and-ready competitor alongside them? Will the lines be indefinitely blurred on all these issues?

Making Gmail Safer
The London-based Guardian newspaper reports that Google is out to make life easier for all of us—at least those using Though the service has not been wholly rolled out yet, the new feature aims to make using sending and receiving emails through gmail a safe experience, especially for those using Firefox and Internet Explorer 7. The official Gmail blog says that “at the bottom of your inbox, you’ll see information about the time of the last activity on your account and whether it’s still open in another location.” There is also a link that will show “Recent activity”, indicating when and how you logged on (either POP3 or Mobile), as well as your IP address. It will also enable you sign out of all sessions remotely.

I can say from personal experience that many a time, I’ve been able to simultaneously access my gmail account through the computer at work; through my mobile phone through ONETOUCH’s GPRS; as well as through an external device that can connect to the internet. It’s even possible to open two pages in gmail, where you can compose a message in one, and view incoming mails in another. This new system might clearly put paid to such practices which can only be the boon to a potential scammer.

I can say for Yahoo that when you log into messenger online, it indicates to all of your friends that you are “mobile”. Anytime I have tried to access it on my work computer, I’ve had a prompt warning that I am logged in elsewhere. Such 2.5G services of GPRS enable us do more than we could ever dreamt of…

…including MMS on ONETOUCH
Given the discussions over the acquisition of Ghana Telecom, it was very easy for one to speculate that the bad service that ONETOUCH was providing was due to sabotage. That calls to the 24/7 hotline produced a degree of mendacity or ignorance by the call-service people that there was nothing wrong with the network only went to fuel speculation that sabotage was in the works. We may never know what caused ONETOUCH to provide customers with irregular service from the beginning of July up to a few days ago until they tell us. What I can say, though, is that despite the irregular service, which included the signals being at their very lowest, and beeps from phones that there was “no service”, the multi-media messaging service seemed to start working at that same time!

I know only because when I took my sim card from my phone to put in another one, I received a message asking me to accept “multimedia settings”, which I reluctantly did. Deciding to test the waters, I sent my other GPRS-enabled ONETOUCH number an MMS. Within minutes, it had been sent, and I had received it on the other number. This was rather ironic, considering the ONETOUCH network itself was working poorly. Still, not one to complain too much, I tried again, and again. The MMS does work now. Contrary to the promotions that had gone out a couple of months ago about free MMS, which spun mendacity to its highest when it claimed that the servers were down, when in actual fact, the system had not been set up properly, the promotions that came with July have revealed a promising ONETOUCH user experience—provided we can make those calls!

US airports lose more than 12,000 laptops a week
Whether you believe this information to be hyped up by computer manufacturer Dell or not, bottom line is that according to a survey by the Ponemon Institute, around 637,000 laptops are lost every year at US airports. The report maintains that “close to 10,278 laptops are reported lost every week at 36 of the largest US airports, and 65% of those lost are not reclaimed.”

Dell has used this data to launch a security service that uses technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to recover lost laptops. Furthermore, the US Federal Trade Commission has produced a leaflet “Keeping Laptops From Getting Lost or Stolen”. A website is also available to this effect:


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