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Tuesday, July 25, 2017


In his first press interview in 2010 after taking over the helm of Kenyan telecommunications firm Safaricom, CEO Bob Collymore said that in the future voice services will be an add-on – will be given away free. That data services is where the money would be.

He has been proven right several times over. While revenues from mobile data have not yet outstripped revenues from voice services it is just a matter of time.

Last year data revenues grew by 46 percent compared to voice revenues which grew by just over one percent. And you are not even talking about revenues from mobile money, considered data services, which on their own grew 34 percent last year. Data and mobile money revenues came in at Kshs39b (sh1.2 trillion) and one can expect they will soon outrun voice service receipts, which stood at Ksh46b last year. The company’s total revenues came in at just under Kshs100b last year.

Compare this with the Kshs3 billion data, M-Pesa and SMS revenues brought in 2010, against a company revenue of Kshs84b then.

It is no wonder then that in our own market discussion over data services has been kicking up dust in recent weeks.

Earlier this month telecom company MTN announced a new data offer that while raising the cost expanded what subscribers could do with the service.

The regulator, The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) took issue with the rate changes arguing that all such changes must be past by them first before being offered to the public.

MTN argued however unlike a tariff – a cost of service that all mobile users are affected by, an offer is optional with subscribers taking it up if it suits their needs and therefore they had no legal obligation to inform UCC in any change it may choose to make.

As with most of such spats it is often that each has a point and a seat down around a table would bring the discussion to a happy middle ground.

"It does not take a rocket scientist to see with more and more people hooking up to the net via their mobile phones, tablets and laptops that Collymore’s prophecy will come through in our market.The fact that some telecom companies have decided to curve out a niche for themselves in data provision and not voice is another pointer....

The point too can be made, that you don’t hear the regulator complaining about similar offers on voice services which are being launched at every turn.

The context for the regulator’s concern is not misplaced, if data services are to get wider adoption.

Clarity in the sector is needed sooner than later seeing as data services are going to be a major driver of growth in coming years.

At the beginning of the month a law allowing for agency banking came into force. Under the law banks will be able to contract retailers, petrol stations and other businessmen to help the collect deposits and pay out monies from their clients’ accounts. Advancements in communication technology, more specifically data services, means this service is more easily available now than even five years ago.

The various uses to which data services can be employed are already being seen --- transport and logistics management, financial services, health and educational services.

For a society that likes to talk a lot, it may be hard to wrap our minds around the revolution that data services herald, but they will come with or without our understanding of the subject.

Think of it like the paradigm shift that came with the invention of the printing press, which took the written word out of the exclusive enclaves of royalty and the monastery to the everyday man. What this meant is that information’s storage and distribution was no longer the preserve of a select few. It actually diffused their power, led to the downfall of kings and queens and the rise of democracy and also other kinds of despots.

Data services will ensure the storage of information within easy reach of every one with access to the net, as well as the rapid transmission of that same information.

Think of it.

Small businessmen, like consultants had to saddle themselves with getting physical offices to not least of all house their telephone, fax machines, the petulant receptionist and generally look serious. 

"Data means that when you really boil it down to the bare essentials, a physical office is fast becoming redundant for certain sections of the economy...

This is important because down history wealth has accrued to people and societies that had knowledge --- distribute it and employ it for their benefit. Now with the democratization of communication things are set to change, hopefully for the better. More and more people will have a shot at social climbing than ever before.

Already The Economist magazine has already announced that data is the new oil, coupled with Collymore’s prophecy and one can see why the battle lines are already been drawn around data.

Whereas it was the UCC seeking clarification on the matter, one can expect market leader MTN, which for its own very survival needs to dominate the data space will be the target of a lot of competitive action from its market rivals above and below the table.

We can expect more of these kind of spats in coming times as competitors, both existing and yet to come jostle for position in this new market of the future.

Watch this space.

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