Of Orange’s Free Calls App And Africa’s Mobile Phone Market

Libon

VENTURES AFRICA – The mobile phone market in sub-Saharan Africa – where some of the continent’s fastest growing economies are situate d – is facing an amazing explosion in mobile phone usage.

So says trade group GSMA and audit firm Deloitte, adding that the number of mobile connections in the region has shot up 44 percent this year.

“The number of mobile connections in sub Saharan Africa has grown much more than the average 34 percent for developing regions, and 10 percent for developed regions,” the two organisations said in their latest report released this week.

“Investment in expanding network capacity has led operators to increase the number of base stations in Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana by 250 percent from 2007 to 2012.”

Mobile broadband provides sole access to the Internet for most consumers in the region. Not many people in the region have state-of-the-art computers like laptops and Mac books.

It is in view of this that in this region mobile web browsing is the highest in the world. Countries like Zimbabwe are reporting that 58.1 percent of web traffic is from mobile devices.

Experts believe that mobile-enabled Internet access can provide many opportunities to people in the region.

This means Orange’s newly-launched global free calling and texting application - ‘Libon ‘ for Orange- will enhance this access and the take up will be amazing in sub-Saharan Africa.

Orange, the mobile brand of France Telecom, this week said it had launched a global free calling and texting application. This was in direct competition with services such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.

According to Reuters, Telecom operators around the world have suffered as free calling and texting services have proliferated over the past few years.

The apps allow users to communicate without using their voice or text allotments, leading some operators like KPN to complain about the hit to their bottom line.

Giles Corbett, who developed the application called ‘Libon’ for Orange, told Reuters that telecom operators needed to come up with equivalent services.

“The situation is really simple – either you deliver the most compelling service or your users switch to something else. What’s the alternative? We want to be in there,” he said in an interview with Reuters.

The application can be used by any iPhone user for free, while the company charges for some premium features like transcripts of voicemail or email copies of voicemails.

Libon will be available for smartphones using Google’s Android software in the first quarter of 2013.

Telefonica also launched a similar app, called Tu Me, in May, while Deutsche Telekom has one known as Bobsled.

With other European operators, Orange has also been working on a new technology known as rich communications suite (RCS), which is supposed to update traditional mobile calls by adding chat functions, live video and file sharing across all devices.

Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T and China Mobile are working on deploying RCS to their customers.

Orange said it was preparing a launch of RCS, which has been branded ‘Joyn’ by operators to give it a more consumer-friendly moniker, in June 2013.

But there are numerous problems to mobile broadband development in sub-Saharan Africa. For one, the amount of spectrum allocated to mobile is among the lowest worldwide.

Some countries allocate as little as 80 megahertz. Allocations in developed markets typically exceed 500 megahertz, with Europe aiming to allocate 1000 megahertz.

In addition, GSMA and Deloitte argue that Africa has the highest taxation as a proportion of the total cost of mobile ownership among developing regions worldwide.

Taxes on mobile devices are much higher than in any other region and sector-specific taxes on mobile terminals and usage have increased in recent years. For example, Kenya, a hotbed of innovation for mobile banking services, announced a 10 percent tax on money transaction services.