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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

BIG BLUE TAKES THE RED: AIRTEL IT MOVES TO IBM


There was much trepidation today at Parkside Towers as Airtel (formerly Zain) IT department trooped to HR to pick up their new contracts.

In its true red colours, Airtel has outsourced almost everything starting with its engineers who were farmed out to Nokia-Siemens.

The IT guys who basically keep all the business intelligence data, configure new tariffs and keep track of new activations, ARPU spend etc etc are next.

Just like in India, they have been moved to IBM Business Services Kenya which set up shop in the country a couple of months back.

Effective, Jan 1, 2011, they will be employees of IBM not Airtel. While most are happy to be working for the Dow Jones featured company, there are fears as to the contract terms. Will they get the same benefits?

The Nokia-Siemens lot was lucky. When they moved, they capitalized on a clause in the contract calling for a two-month notice or compensation for the same period if either party (Zain or its employees) terminated the contract early.

So the engineers were given two month compensation.

According to sources, IT were told at a meeting that "terms would be comparable to what they were at Airtel."

The lot will however continue to operate from Parkside until further notice.

Airtel is trying to replicate its minutes factory model from India where it outsources everything except customer care.

The Kenyan outfit has so far managed to push subscriber numbers to just over 3million.

CALLING DEVELOPERS - MICROSOFT FIND MY PHONE


Many of the cool features on Microsoft's latest software releases have not yet been configured to Kenya. That figures because North America, Europe and Asia usually get new stuff in that order before Middle East and Africa versions are rolled out.

But there is one glaring one on Microsoft's Live Essentials that even prompted the local office to issue a challenge to Kenyan developers to come up with the application themselves.

It is called Locate My Phone. On Live Essentials, a personal computer cloud where you can back up stuff and files from your PC onto the internet and work on them elsewhere, there is also the provision of adding your phone so that your contacts and other stuff on your phone can be backed up on the cloud.

For North America users, this feature also has a Locate My Phone link where you click if you can't find your phone or if it is stolen.

Since it is disabled for Kenya, Louis Otieno (pictured), Microsoft East and Southern Africa General Manager, challenged local developers to come up with code that can achieve this and they can have it uploaded onto the Microsoft online portal, Marketplace and make money from it.

Essentially, it would probably be a simple program that uses a phone's GPS and interfaces with say Google Maps to point you to the exact position of the device.

The program could have additional features for disabling the phone or erasing sensitive information and all that.

This is not unlike vehicle tracking systems with mapping software like Geofence. In fact this software could easily be tinkered with to do achieve the same effect for the phone.

"We can port the application onto the cloud," Louis said.

To follow up developers can seek out Emmanuel Birech or Vincent at Microsoft Offices.

MICROSOFT GETS SEXY


Microsoft Open Door, the software giant's road show, rolled into town this week after making stops in Mauritius and Nigeria.

In an era where the headlines are now hogged by Facebook, Google and Apple, the world's largest software maker feels it is no longer cool and to dent the myth, Louis Otieno and team broke out the fanciworks.

At the entrance to Onami restaurant at Westgate, Microsoft's much ballyhooed video game console Xbox Kinect was on display. Scribe Larry Madowo gave it a go and by the look of it, he would have been sweating bullets had he chosen to continue playing. The player has a sensor that takes in a persons dimensions when they stand in front of the TV screen and from there you control the game by moving your body, jumping, swaying, moving your arms and so on. The folks don't seem to have settled on a retail price but they are coming in from Dubai at about Sh30,000.

Inside the presentation area, Microsoft which seems to have woken up from monopoly induced arrogant slumber with the release of Windows 7 had some serious products.

First, there is Lync previously Office Communications Server.

This is proprietary software for business to integrate its communications. It's touted as a PBX replacement because you can make voice or video calls from PC to PC and even include people in the conversation by clicking on them from your contacts.

The software can work within companies, between different organizations and with individuals and is also available on Windows Mobile.

Windows Live Essentials a freely available download is an exciting piece of software for individual use. It's basically your own personal cloud. You get 25GB in the cloud where you can mirror your PC such that you can even work on it from anywhere with any browser.

You get to also include your various emails, office and personal such as gmail, yahoo and hotmail as well as connecting to all your social networks and you have it all on one screen. You can see who is logging in via LinkedIn or Facebook and also keep up with Messenger.

You can also upload your phone contacts and synchronize them automatically. For example if you have two phones you don't have to keep updating each with a new contact. As long as you add it to one phone it Live Essentials synchronizes it on your Skydrive (the 25GB) and also on your other phone.

There is also a feature on it called Locate my phone. It is only live in the US but Louis Otieno the CEO Microsoft East Africa issued a challenge to local developers to come up with an application to make it work here.

All in all, this was a great start for Microsoft and it looks like they have stuff you can use. Live Essentials especially is worth a try since its a free download although it works best with Windows Vista and above.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

KDN FACES WIND UP OVER SH1BILLION DEBT



Tuesday night's cable cut near Museum Hill disrupted Safaricom's phone services for quite a while. But the industry is worried it has not seen the last of such outtages. You see, Kenya Data Networks the largest cable operator in the country is locked in a row with Soliton Telmec, the company that lays, maintains and supports its cable.

Soliton Telmec, headed by Abdirahman Sheikh, has been with KDN since 2004 when the latter started laying cable and has done most of its network. It also maintains and supports the network.

But with the latest dispute, the relationship seems headed for the rocks. The two firms are locked in dispute over amounts owed to Soliton for work done on the Garissa to Mombasa fiber optic line, the line meant to offer redundancy for the oft-sabotaged Nairobi - Mombasa line.

Sheikh is calm and collected on the phone when speaking about the issue but there is a hint of steel.

"We have been with KDN for six years, and it has been a fruitful relationship. But if it doesn't work out, am sure they have a plan B isn't it?"

Plan B was put to test Tuesday by the China Wu Yi construction company which inadvertently, at we would want to believe so, cut KDN's cable near Museum Hill thereby throwing Safaricom's services into disarray.

Now typically, such faults should take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours to fix depending on the nature of the damage, JTL guys told us some time back.

But that is if you have support and in this case it seems the fall out with Soliton Telmec has left KDN exposed.

A Safaricom insider had this to say, "You see these guys may not be able to offer clients the SLAs (Service Level Agreements) if they don't have Soliton to do their support."

KDN in Nairobitech's opinion, reflects too much of Naushad Merali's mish-mash business ventures although it is majority owned by Alltech of SA.

Like Sameer Group, KDN is in every sort of business and really comes off as a master of none.

Sameer where Merali also has an interest embraces businesses ranging from tyre making, to real estate (Sameer Industrial Park).

KDN also besides its fiber cable offers WiMax, VoIP, Wi-Fi, Butterfly services, Eazzytalk, CCTV cameras, data warehousing, internet portal, payment systems etc etc.

Its corresponding customer service is abysmal to say the least and both vendors and clients have a hell of a time trying to get their problems fixed.

The company is in need of a major reorganization to refocus it on key core business goals and shed off unnecessary baggage.

Although I don't see it happening, one way would be for the big telcos to take it over say Bharti Airtel or even Safaricom and incorporate it into their larger vision.

KDN says it is willing to settle the issue with Soliton through some reconciliation measures but Sheikh says he is yet to hear anything concrete and is leaving the matter to his lawyers, Ahmednasir and Company Advocates.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

UNLOVED? VODAFONE DELAY MJ'S CONTRACT


Scribes trooped to the Carnivore grounds Wednesday night to bid farewell to outgoing Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph.

MJ has been on the farewell circuit this past month including meeting with corporate CEOS, his staff at Safaricom, journalists and editors ahead of his handover to Bob Collymore.

Collymore officially starts duty on Monday, November 1st.

By and large it has been a happy affair but also with a bit of anxiety for Joseph.

You see, while he is leaving Safaricom, Joseph will remain with the Vodafone Group and will handle various issues for Safaricom's parent company.

But Joseph may be forgiven for thinking that Vodafone were a bit insensitive after the work and the results he has produced in the 10 years he has run Safaricom.

It was not until a few days ago that Vodafone actually gave Joseph his contract for his new duties. It is quite nerve wrecking when your last day as Safaricom CEO is nigh and the new contract is yet to appear.

That and the fact that the Joseph's have mostly been feted by colleagues and partners and not by Vodafone despite the fact that Joseph ran that Group's most profitable company in terms of margins would dent your feelings.

But, come Monday, Joseph will take on his new duties and Collymore will assume the 7th floor office facing Waiyaki Way as CEO. Being that Collymore is already a director on Safaricom's board, the assumption is that he will also take on the title of Managing Director.
Some Quick notes:

Incoming CEO Bob Collymore is looking at doing things a bit differently.

For starters, he is going to be big on Social Media. Not just him tweeting and facebooking, but moving the ENTIRE SAFARICOM onto the social media space.

Secondly, Collymore is going to go after the youth in a big way. One of the ideas floating around is the introduction of different tariffs for the 18-25 bracket through targeted social media campaigns.

Structured interviews: Joseph was good for a soundbite anytime, anywhere and sometimes his handlers wrung their hands dry in anxiety not knowing what the CEO was going to say.

Collymore is going to be having slots for media interviews booked in advance.

As an example starting Monday, he has slotted in some media houses including Larry Madowo of NTV and O'Brien Kimani of KBC.

After the half-year results announcement on 10 November 2010, instead of a press conference, Collymore will schedule interview slots for the 11th with each journalist getting their one one one slot.

After that Collymore will be off to investor roadshows.

Which side of your bread is buttered?

Last year during the media bash, Gina Din Kariuki and her daughter sat at the same table with Michael Joseph. This time, she sat on Bob Collymore's table.

The Sh5million journalist award scheme

Initially announced by Michael Joseph at last year's media bash, the Sh5million award scheme for business journalists was meant to award the Business Journalist of the Year at this year's media party.

Unfortunately, it didn't happen but MJ said Bob would take it up and by next year April or May, the winner should be known.

The award is supposed to be handled by a panel of independent judges who will track articles written by the different journalists. Ideally, it should be an award for a body of work not just one article or broadcast feature.

Monday, October 25, 2010

THE RETURN OF MOTOROLA



At its height, Motorola was King in Kenya.

From its talkabout, to its RAZR platform, its kabambe phones and the like, Motorola was the market leader in Kenya. It particularly excelled at pushing low-cost handsets that grew wildly popular but returned very low margins.

An ex-motorola man now at Samsung East Africa says the move to push these cheap phones eventually proved to be Motorola's undoing and by 2007 its fortunes had dwindled badly.

The inventor of the mobile phone is back again though: One Wednesday, 27 October, Motorola will hold a media roundtable to unveil its line of products.

The handset maker comes remade and comes to a market that has itself been remade by the rise of the smartphone industry and the penetration of mobile internet with the rise in popularity of social networking and other data consuming online activities.

During that time, it caught the Android bug and has unveiled its popular Droid line of phones. It will hope to ride on both the affluence of a budding middle-class, its Android platform and the availability of a range of applications on the Android Store, and its brand name recognizability to recapture market share.

In the meantime, Nokia remains runaway leader with 40 per cent of the pie, Samsung second at 8 per cent, and the others bring up the rear.

Just last month, another pioneer in these parts, Sony Ericsonn announced its return to the Kenyan market.

'HANDS OFF BOB': COLLYMORE TO ADOPT DIFFERENT STYLE


Three quick things to note: Bob Collymore will not micromanage Safaricom - His own words. Two - People will be fired at Safaricom -too many highly-paid redundant chaps who add little value it seems. Three - Look for Bob Collymore at a social networking site near you. He is going to be tweeting, facebooking and all that every Friday!

There is a new era dawning at the green house on the hill. The indefatigable Michael Joseph, ubiquitous face of the money-minting machine these last 10 years, does his last tour of duty this week. Come Monday morning 1 November 2010, Safaricom will officially have a new CEO, Bob Collymore.

Joseph who jokes that he was thrown into the then wasteland that was the Kenyan mobile market because some guys didn't like him too much at Vodafone, now retires as a dyed-in-the-wool Kenyan who is in no hurry to go anywhere.

Out with him however, is his iron-fist control of Kenya's most profitable company. Under Joseph's reign, no one was allowed to purport to speak for Safaricom except the CEO. Those who tried like Fred Mburu found themselves on the tarmac faster than you could say MJ. Only Les Baillie, former CFO and now investor relations head seemed immune from such restrictions and could speak at will.

With Collymore, such shackles are set to be taken off. The incoming CEO describes himself as a collaborative person who prefers to get people involved and come to a consensus rather than issue top-down directives. Joseph on the other hand has said he is not democratic. He demands, it is done.

Collymore has also been horrified at the number of titles that report to him. This is set to be changed. He wants to have fewer managers but with defined roles and the greenlight to make decisions. While, some of these managers will be glad to have latitude, some of them may face the axe or be redeployed altogether to have fewer distinct chains of command.

As for issues raised by the press, business partners, customers and so on, Collymore who has a passion for social media will reportedly be using a lot of tweeter, Facebook and the like to communicate both internally to staff and externally to stakeholders. Externally, Collymore will schedule to communicate every Friday via these social engines.

Collymore will also have his first investor briefing on November 8 when the company reports its half-year profits.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NOKIA BARES TEETH AT RIVALS UNLEASHES THE N8


Everything does rise and fall with leadership. Nokia's senior executives at this year's Nokia World and Developer Summit in London are issuing bold challenges to their glamorized North American rivals Apple and Google just days after their incoming CEO, Stephen Elop said he would take the battle to the only continent Nokia isn't the market leader in smartphones or mobile phones for that matter.


Today at the Nokia event held at the ExCEl in the London Docklands, the Nokia vice presidents were positively jumping with exuberance and relishing the challenge ahead.


Signs that the Finnish giant was issuing a call to battle began with Niklas Savander, VP markets who while acknowledging that Nokia was going through some tough times nonetheless issued a defiant statement of identity.


"We are not going to apologize for the fact that we are not Apple, or Google, or Samsung. We are Nokia!" Savander said. "Today we shift gear in Nokia's fightback!"


Taking a dig at Apple, the Nokia VP in clear reference to the iPhone said, "One product is not going satisfy everybody."


Nokia was ready with numbers to underline its position.


"People on average buy 260,000 Nokia smartphones a day, thats more than Apple and Android combined. It's more smartphones than any other company period!"


Nokia unleashed four new phones in total : The flagship N8, the C6 and the C7 and its modern day version of the communicator, the E7.


All will run on Symbian 3.


"We aremoving from legacy to leading!" a triumphant Savander said. The 55 million N8's that Nokia intends to ship this year is a "conservative" figure, Savander said.


Anssi Vanjoki, VP for markets, who followed the irrepressible Savander on stage, was no less bullish.


Of the N8, which comes with a 12megapixel camera. Vanjoki said: "It's not really fair to compare a regular handheld camera with shot from the N8."


The E7, Vanjoki said, was "hands down the best business phone out there.


The C6's display marks it out as it features CBD Clear Black Display!


Overall, the Nokia World and Developer Summit kicked off in a bullish mood.
Off to the Experience Lounge to see if these phones are actually deliver on the promise.



Sunday, September 12, 2010

JIMMY THE MAN! KIBAKI'S AND MOBICOM

THE first family's hand has not been seen much in business as have their two predecessors save for the traditional businesses such as the Silver Springs Hotel but that can be claimed to discretion.

Nairobitech has established that the much touted Mobicom, lately a dealer of Safaricom and now in the Telkom Kenya camp has no less a personage than Jimmy Kibaki, son of Kenya's current president, behind it.

Speculation has been rife about the publicity-shy Paul Ndung'u, the chairman of Mobicom who also owns sizeable stakes in many listed companies on the Nairobi Stock Exchange but it would appear that he may be merely the front-man for Jimmy.

At their Gigiri premises, it turns out, Ndung'u plays second fiddle to Jimmy who is the effective chairman of a group called Lucia Enterprises.

Lucia Enterprises is the mother of two companies: Mobicom and BMK a company that runs a fleet of forex bureaus.

Those who know Ndung'u will recall he used to run a forex bureau along Kimathi Street together with an Indian businessman.

Before that he was at Uchumi Supermarkets.

Ndung'u and Jimmy are distant relatives.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

AARGHH! ROAD CONTRACTORS AND SAFCOM'S CABLE

The last thing Safaricom wants at a time when it is locked in a vicious price war primarily with original foe Zain as well as the other two mobile operators in the market, is a failing network.

Which is what happened today. Internet services were down.

The most dialled number by IT guys in different companies today was 0722 002222. That is the internet support service line for Safaricom. For a company that buys bandwidth from Safaricom, those are the guys you deal with.

For most part today (Sunday, 29th August 2010), calls to this line went to recorded instructions as Safaricom guys worked to get their services back on track.

From early morning to early afternoon, internet services, mobile phone calls as well as M-PESA services were down on Safaricom's networks.

It transpired that some road contractor working in the Upper Hill area, near Britak, bulldozed through optic-fiber cables laid alongside the road and in the process severed lines belonging to at least three cable operators.

Maximum impact was felt by Safaricom subscribers because Jamii Telecom, on whose metro-fiber Safaricom rides, was one of the casualties.

John Kamau of JTL said it took them almost until 2 O'Clock to fix the problem. In the meantime, Safaricom's services like corporate internet in offices, mobile internet service, GSM calls and even M-PESA were affected.

Kenya Data Networks (KDN) was also affected. In fact, KDN suffered two cuts, at Upper Hill and at Museum Hill where China Wu-Yi are putting up that interchange to link Uhuru Highway with Thika Road.

Vincent Wang'ombe, KDN's marketing manager said the company was working to fix the problem by end of the day today which should see all customers back online.

Both JTL and KDN complained that contractors have been haphazardly cutting their cables and now want government to recognize fiber cables as crucial infrastructure.

Water and power lines, they said, are usually given ample time to shift from the construction area.

Safaricom in the meantime was back in service shortly after 2PM. Media Houses had hitherto had a hard time reaching key personnel to get the official line perhaps making the case for even dyed-in-the-wool Safaricom staff to also maintain another operator's line in case of such disruptions.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

YOUR CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED: MEZA CALLS JOSEPH

The following conversation took place Wednesday night between Zain MD Rene Meza from his Blackberry and Michael Joseph from his iPhone.

IT Starts with Rene Meza writing to Joseph. Note the times...

On 18 Aug 2010, at 21:53, "Rene Meza" wrote:

Dear Michael;

I hope this email finds you well, it’s been a while.

Not sure if you’re aware of the fact that we started to experience congestion in our route to Safaricom and have escalated to your team, who came back to us mentioning the fact that they need to go through an internal approval process, which is perfectly understandable.

I’d appreciate if you could intervene in our capacity increase request as soon as possible.

Furthermore, I understand we have an overdue payment for interconnect charges with Safaricom which we plan to pay 100% tomorrow.

Thanks for your understanding and look forward to a positive response.

Kind regards,

Joseph then responded:

From: Michael Joseph
To: Rene Meza
Cc: Clare Ruto ; John Barorot
Sent: Wed Aug 18 22:00:14 2010
Subject: Re: Congestion Zain-Safaricom Route
Rene

I will check tomorrow. Did not know about this. Should not be sn issue

Regards
Michael Joseph
CEO Safaricom

Sent from my iPhone


To which Rene responded:

From: "Rene Meza"
Date: 18 August 2010 22:04:49 GMT+03:00
To: "Michael Joseph"
Cc: "Clare Ruto" , "John Barorot"
Subject: Re: Congestion Zain-Safaricom Route

Thanks Michael, really appreciate it.

Kind regards,


----------------------------------------
Rene Meza

Managing Director

Zain Kenya


---------------------------------------

Powered by BlackBerry on Zain.

ANALYSIS AND DEVELOPMENTS UPDATE:

So as at 10 O'Clock Wednesday night, the agreement was that Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph would look into the issue Thursday morning.

When he woke up Thursday, Joseph found that Zain had issued a press release accusing Safaricom of sabotaging their new tariff.

At Safaricom House, they were furious. After steaming over the issue, the consensus that emerged was that Zain had not formally made a request for increased capacity and that if and when they did that, it would be granted under the agreed upon procedures laid out in the two companies interconnection agreement.

At this point suffice it to say that Rene Meza dropped the ball on this one. Having gotten the CEOs word he should not have sanctioned the alarmist press release crying sabotage before getting word back from Michael Joseph.

Even as the publicity war escalated, the engineers at Zain were desperately trying to get their counterparts at SafCom to resolve the issue.

Central to this are Alec Mulonga, the Network Director, Zain Kenya and John Barorot, Chief Technical Officer, Safaricom.

Clearly after the morning attack, Barorot was not taking calls from Alec, but then again, it depends on whether Alec was calling from a Zain line. Frustrated he sent Barorot this email.

From: Alec Mulonga
Sent: Thursday, August 19, 2010 10:25 AM
To: John Barorot
Subject: Request for Zain-Safaricom Interconnect Route Expansion

Dear Sir,

I tried to call but I presume you were busy.

I would like to request your support to grant approval for Zain’s request to expand the Zain-Safaricom interconnect routes. We have been in contact with Mr. Odera regarding this request and he indicated to us that he is seeking approval for the request. We appreciate his support so far at very short notice, but would like to request your intervention for possible acceleration of the necessary approvals.

In summary, the expansion request is two phased as follows:

· Phase1: to give us immediate interim relief, we propose to optimize the existing capacity by declaring more devices in the Zain -> Safaricom direction

· Phase2: for a long term plan, we are working on the ideal capacity requirements with sufficient headroom and will share with your Core Planning team in the course of today.

Looking forward to your feedback.

Regards,

Alec Mulonga,

Network Director,

Zain – Kenya.


THE STATE OF PLAY

Safaricom as of now says it is yet to receive a formal request for increased capacity from Zain. The email from the MD Zain Kenya apparently does not constitute a formal request.

Zain is not backing down though. They have embarked on building their own link which should be ready in a week's time.

The mood is bullish at Parkside Towers.

"This is just the first card we've dealt," a senior manager at Zain said. "We have four more cards to play. We are just waiting for the reaction from the market."

Reaction has been astonishing. Users have flocked Zain shops to get Zain lines and some savvy operators have taken to selling people SIM cards on the lines snaking out of such shops.

In Mombasa, the dealer there was cleverer. As residents awoke to Zain's full-page ads on the new tariff, the dealer opted to hand out lines to everyone who bought a newspaper.

Manoj Kohli, the Bharti Airtel CEO for international operations had this to say about the Kenyan market.

"We are not saying that we will succeed 100 per cent in capturing market leadership. But we will make it extremely difficult for our competitor to operate."

Friday, July 30, 2010

TYCOONS ON THE MOVE! MOBICOM'S PLAN


Reclusive Kenyan billionaire Paul Ndung'u (left in the picture) came to the limelight this week still protesting that he doesn't like people to know him.

The man who holds the single largest individual stakes in many listed NSE companies also happens to be founder and chairman of Safaricom's largest dealer, Mobicom Ltd. That at least was the case until Mobicom terminated the deal last week.

The move to ditch Safaricom came as a surprise to many but even more astonishing was the announcement that Mobicom would now be dealing for Telkom Orange, the consensus sleeping giant of the Telecom sector.

Just what does Ndung'u and his equally rich partner and MD of Mobicom Joel Kibe see in Telkom?

The simple answer is CAPACITY! More on that later but first ruminate on the size of business that Mobicom will be giving up.

As Safaricom's largest dealer doing just about 10 per cent of its business, Mobicom moved Sh450million monthly or roughly Sh5.5billion in turnover annually.

They had 42 Safaricom shops which in turn fed sub-dealers and agents across the country.

By size they dwarfed Samchi and Capital Real Time, two other well known SafCom dealers.

So why move to Safaricom.

For starters this was a deal three months in the making. It was negotiated not just with Telkom Kenya but with France Telecom.

Secondly, Mobicom stands to have Superdealer status as it is the only among the other 56 Telkopm Dealers that has a national presence. The others are regional and will likely have to deal with Mobicom.

But as Joel Kibe put it, the silver lining is in capacity.

"Telkom has a lot of idle capacity," Kibe said.

Apparently, Mobicom is confident it can sell this capacity and make more money than it was making in Safaricom.

Starting August the company will spend about Sh30million to rebrand all its shops with Orange colours.

It then plans to stock a wide range of products including modems, telecommunication equipment, WiMax radios, CDMA gadgets among others. It will also sell fixed lines to customers.

So this is where matters stand, Mobicom believes it has the footprint to take Telkom's products to places where the latter does not reach. Particularly, it hopes to sell the enormous capacity on TEAMS/Eassy that TKL has as well as on Telkom's terrestrial fiber optic network and the Telkom managed government owned National Optic Fiber Backbone (NOFBI).

Kibe 's parting shot: We could do up to Sh20billion in revenues.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

SLEEK BROTHER! MAD MANOUVRES MICHAEL OKWIRI


I first heard it from the inside, that as jostling and positioning continues within the Zain fraternity following the acquisition of the African operations by Bharti Airtel, one fellow who would probably emerge in a stronger position would be Michael Okwiri, currently in charge of communications, Zain-Kenya office.

"This guy went to school in India, that's the first thing," the Zain employee said. "Secondly, he knows how to read a script, if you don't surprise him and tell him these are the questions that will be asked, he will shine."

Ostensibly, Okwiri knows how to make a presentation and without getting into Ervin Goffman's analysis of "Presentation of the Self" suffice it to say that he has impressed the new big cajunas at Parkside to warrant a promotion.

Nairobitech has learnt that Okwiri will now go to head Zain Africa Communications Office putting him in charge of communications in 15 African countries.

Not bad brother. One person who might be left feeling lonely is Rene Meza. These two were thick as thieves and practically ran Zain Kenya together.

As for Meza, let us hope he learns from his sidekick and makes all the right noises to keep his seat.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BREAKER, BREAKER! CLEAR THE LINE:ARMY VS 4G



Who is more important? Security Forces secret communication or your mobile internet experience? This is not a theoretical question, it is one that the Communications Commission of Kenya will have to confront soon.

It is emerging that the next step in mobile communication technology, the so-called 4G or Long Term Evolution LTE faces a major hurdle in Kenya. The frequencies at which 4G operates, 2.4GHz - 2.6GHz, are held by Kenya's Armed Forces.

Now that is a problem!

So although Huawei Technologies are ready to deploy the technology for their client Safaricom, they cannot because the frequencies are not available.

I don't see the Army just giving up its frequencies and I wouldn't even want to imagine how much of is tied to these frequencies much in the same way most handsets are only second generation and cannot work with say 3G.

You see, mobile technology is now at what we call third generation 3G stage in Kenya -Safaricom has 3G, Telkom and Zain are rolling it out.

Previously, we were at 1G Analog, then we moved to 2G digital (voice, SMS) where most Kenyans are today. The bulk of mobile phone subscribers have 2G handsets and only now are more and more people on 3G (Multi Media, video etc) enabled handsets.

But there is talk of moving to the next stage, 4G where speeds are seen to be truly blazing.

Which is why the Communications Commission of Kenya needs to step up and reorganize spectrum management in the country.

For example, Safaricom because of the current situation where Armed Forces occupy the frequencies which should be used for 4G had said they would consider using the 2G space to deploy this superior technology.

But the bulk of their subscribers have 2G handsets so they can't do away with 2G or risk cutting them off and it will be sometime before majority of handset makers have affordable 3G handsets.

The situation is further compounded by the fact that the space within our Radio Frequencies that mobile operators have been allocated are similar in size. But Safaricom has 14million subscribers while others have a combined total of less than 5million.

So congestion is all too likely to be an issue. CCK however, needs to come out boldly and say what it is doing about the Spectrum issue and not be a hindrance to development of technology.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

FINALLY KCB GETS A GRIP ON THE CASH! T24


If you don't know why KCB keeps talking about its new core banking system T24 that it has deployed across its 212 branches in the region, picture this.

Before, you could go to your ATM withdraw all the cash there, then walk into the banking hall and do the same all over again and walk out with double the green you had in your account.

Reason? The bank has been running a separate ATM system from the one running inside the banks.

In fact, the banking platform KCB was using was so inadequate that it could serve a maximum of 99 branches. This means, the additional 100 plus branches had to be connected to these others as some sort of extension office.

To run an ATM system, the bank now had to get a separate platform from the already overstretched banking system and this created the gigantic loophole that I mentioned above.

Reconciliation was not instant. Therefore, transactions on the ATM network would not automatically reflect on the main banking system meaning even if you had cleared your account, you could walk into the banking hall and do an over-the-counter withdrawal without the bank suspecting.

Truth would dawn on them much later.

The versatile T24 system solves that and ensures the bank is on top of every transaction carried out within its system.

It also means you do not have to be attached to one branch, any of the 212 branches of KCB that you walk into, be it Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Zanzibar etc, will act like your local branch.

The bank is now installing new intelligent ATMs and upgrading from KCB Quickserve to Visa Electron.

Kudos!

Monday, June 21, 2010

TELKOM VERSUS SAFARICOM ROUND TWO: TEAMS CABLE!



"We were caught napping," a Safaricom insider told me when controversial new regulations were published. "Guys have been strategizing while we think everything is being played above board."

The strategists, in this case were none other than Telkom Kenya, the former state monopoly provider of telecommunications services.

While SafCom was content to ride its dominant position, TKL was plotting how to bring that dominance to a halt and had roped in the government with various tactics.

Stephen Kiptiness, the suave and ultra-confident head of regulatory affairs at Telkom had sounded the warning shot a few days prior to the explosion over the regulations.

Safaricom, he said should be declared a dominant player. Signs that that was a live wire came when Safaricom immediately protested demanding to tell its side of the story even though the regulations were yet to come out.

When the dust settled down, Safaricom got its reprieve after government decided to invite lawyers from Brussels to look at the regulations and the law of competition in general.

Michael Joseph, the combative CEO of Safaricom, speaking to investors during the annual briefing later said that he had kind of "enjoyed" the bruising battle during the two weeks it took for government to back down somewhat.

It would now appear that he spoke to soon for latest developments now indicate that the two Telecom giants are headed for yet another round of battle - this time over the control of Kenya's undersea fiber optic cable, TEAMS.

Currently, SafCom and Telkom are the two largest shareholders of TEAMS with a stake of 22.5 per cent each. The next biggest stake is owned by Essar at 10 per cent.

But if reports are to be believed, Telkom Kenya is about to ramp up that stake to 42.5 per cent and assume significant dominance over the running of the same including representation on the TEAMS board.

Jaindi Kisero of NMG or Senior as he is known in the business press circles claims in the East African that the Government of Kenya has succumbed to pressure from France Telecom and ceded its 20 per cent stake in TEAMS to Telkom Kenya. This along with a free 3G license, and control of the national fiber optic backbone cable (NOFBI) as well as settlement of outstanding bills owed by Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and other government entities, are some of the concessions that France Telecom has managed to wring out of government for allegedly being cheated in the privatization deal where they paid Sh26billion for a 51 per cent stake in Telkom Kenya.

But Communications Commission of Kenya Director General Charles Njoroge says he is not privy to some of those claims. "They will have to pay me whatever the arrangement is for the license," Njoroge said of TKL.

A Telkom Kenya insider, who admitted that the deal was at extremely high-level (Indeed according to Senior the deal was inked between Treasury Permanent Secretary Joseph Kinyua and France Telecom CEO Michel Barre), it could be that the 3G license fee deal (the license should cost TKL Sh800million) will be a matter of accounting across the books.

On some of the concessions government is giving TKL, he reckons it is to cover for all the plundering and stealing that some GoK people did just before they sold it to France Telecom.

It is however on the TEAMS shareholding deal that trouble seems to be brewing. A senior Safaricom insider told Nairobitech that by no means would they accept the deal. SafCom boss Michael Joseph is the chairman of the TEAMS board.

With Safaricom vowing to block the deal, the stage is set for another round of battle between these two giants for whom the bad blood seems to get worse by the day.

But France Telecom is not backing down. The same insider said FT has taken a bare knuckles approach to the fight. "The French are ruthless!" he said.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

IS CFC BANK BONKERS? GIVE ME MY MONEY!


CFC Stanbic's immediate past chairman Charles Njonjo at 90-years of age is still lucid and articulate. No sign of senility or alzheimer's there-- but then again his father the late Senior Chief Josiah Njonjo died at 103-years of age.

Such sprightly health cannot be claimed for the CFC Stanbic, the bank that Sir Charles founded along with PK Jani and Jeremiah Kiereini.

Customers of the bank last month started getting strange deficits or deductions in their accounts and some could not withdraw any money at all because apparently, it had been held.

Who issued the order to hold my money? Apparently, no one at the bank could explain it. In fact customers have had to be referred to CFC Stanbic's card center where one is asked to check back after an hour when the problem will have been fixed. But nothing doing.

It is now emerging that it all has to do with IT. You see when CFC Bank and Stanbic bank merged, they operated different banking platforms.

CFC, the bride in this marriage, operated the far superior Temenos 24 (T24) system while Stanbic's operations ran on Bankmaster.

A decision was made to adopt T24 for the new bank, and the process of migrating data onto the system begun.

Apparently, this integration is what caused the problems that many had with their ATM cards the whole of last month and for some people as far back as April.

Now what is scary about this whole thing is how long it is taking the bank to fix the problem. Firstly, even the amounts its showing for some accounts are wrong. It would appear that crucial data is not being accessed from the original database and in the end if this is the case, unless a scan of the old records is done, the bank could wind up either losing a lot of money or stiffing customers for a lot of money.

Insiders will tell you this whole marriage has been a rocky ride. Ex-CFC employees have always felt slighted even though they believe they are more knowledgeable than the guys who came from Stanbic.

And then to make matter worse, Stanbic which is a South African outfit, appears to have jobbed CFC alumni by making sure it raised the salaries of its employees just two months before the merger. So pay has been skewed in favour of Stanbic guys compared to CFC guys a matter than does nothing for staff morale.

Then South Africans behaving badly. One senior SA chap had the temerity to bring his wife to head a department in the new entity and when she couldn't perform, created a previously non-existent post for her to occupy.

CFC guys were promised salaries would be harmonized but that has not happened and they now feel that they are deliberately being pushed to make the decision to quit.

If this latest glitch with the IT system has anything to do with ex-Stanbic databases, expect little help from ex-CFC IT guys in solving it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

WHO'S BOSS? TELECOM WARS EXPLODE!



Les Baillie was confident, even cocky. No, the green giant of Waiyaki Way aka Safaricom was not worried about new upcoming regulations - it was rivals who couldn't up their commercial game who were pining for protection Baillie said Thursday. Safaricom would continue to give customers what customers asked for, exuding confidence, Baillie, the chief investor relations officer at Safaricom told scribes after chairing a charity event.

Come Friday, Baillie's world fell apart! From Baillie, to CEO Michael Joseph to Legal Affairs Chief Nzioka Waita and communications head Washington Akumu, everybody was livid! New draconian and specifically targeted sanctions that will have far reaching ramifications in the telcom sector and possibly corral Safaricom's dominance had just been unveiled by the Ministry of Information with instructions to the Communications Commission of Kenya to implement to the letter.

That they had been expecting new regulations is not in doubt, but when they actually eye-balled the new regulations released by the Communications Commission of Kenya, there was a feeling of having been duped.

Hardly able to restrain themselves, the green machine fired off press releases to media houses that were in fact a carbon copy of full-page ads that would run on Monday but unable to wait they sent copies out to newsrooms on Sunday.

Michael Joseph came out roaring in the week following. Scribes were granted interviews at will and the craggly CEO signaled he is squatting on his haunches for a fight.

I will not take this lying down, Joseph said. I will fight this both publicly, politically and legally.

Meantime, rivals operators rubbed their hands with glee. During the week they issued full-page ads in the dailies congratulating the government for coming up with the regulations.

CCK director-general called Nzioka Waita who was then in Uganda to berate him for overreacting and even spoke with Joseph on Tuesday.

Clearly unsatisfied, the CEO then met with Samuel Poghisio, information minister on Wednesday at the Tribe hotel. Details of that discussion are yet to emerge.

Safaricom's beef is with two of five regulations that were unveiled. One, it is apprehensive about the issue of domant operator where once so declared, it will be forced to submit tariff changes to CCK with 90-days notice for approval.

It says regulations should only target it if it abuses its dominance. Unless that is done, it says, it will automatically be subject to price control which will impact it negatively.

Going forward, Safaricom will definitely awaken its public relations machine and advertising to keep the fire going. Newspapers and TV stations will clearly benefit.

But this fight is far from over.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

MANDARINS FIND ICT HARD GOING


A section of government fat cats gathered at the Norfolk yesterday on invitation by the World Bank and Treasury, ostensibly to showcase strides they have made in the past year in reforming the way business is done in Kenya.

As you can imagine, most of it dwelt on use of information and communication technologies to streamline government operations. Bureaucracy in the people's government is usually the first and most frustrating barrier to doing business.

The taxman was there as well as Kenya Ports Authority. Newly-crowned champion of ministries, the AG's office was there to showcase their progress in computerizing company registration. Lands and the Nairobi City Council made up the remaining numbers.

KRA had some interesting proposals. For starters they want big companies to start filing their corporate taxes online. Uptake has been slow but training is ongoing to show firms how to pay Ceasar's dues via internet. The KRA officer did not say if they have also automated the VAT refund claim process.

For mom and pop-type businesses known by the cliche SMEs, KRA wants them to pay their taxes by M-PESA/ZAP. SMEs have to pay a turnover tax at 3 per cent of their gross revenues.

Another is the single billing system for clients who pay multiple taxes. Traditionally, companies have to physically visit different windows sometimes on different floors to file their taxes. With a new single billing system, a taxpayer can file at one point and get their balance thus saving time.

Still on automation, STate Law Office has digitized company records so the process of doing a company search will no longer require assistance from the broker-types who normally hover around Sheria House.

KPA on the other hand talked of what it calls the National Single Window System to allow importers to clear their goods at one place. Typically, you have to invest in a motorbike to run your documents from KPA to Kenya Bureau of Standards to KEPHIS, Port Health etc etc. Cabinet approval will see the software to integrate all these bodies into one system.

Lands was in for a hiding. After the lands officer presented a paper showing that Ardhi House was now digitizing records to make it easier for filing of applications, a lawyer present protested loudly.

"Practically nothing has changed," charged the lawyer. To renew a lease on land, he said, one needed to start three years before the actual expiry otherwise the process takes so long that you risk finding yourself a squatter on your own land.

Apparently, corruption is so rife that when you ask for your application, you are always told that the file is on the minister's desk.

Also coming in for berating was the City Council. Again it was noted that once a building permit is given, planning officers rarely follow up to inspect the works progress and when complaints about a builder are raised with City Hall, the complainant is asked to bring the name of the culprit.

City Hall was asked to style up and reduce the approval process time from 30 days to about 3 days.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

THICK AS THIEVES:THIEVING TELECOMS


It is said that birds of a feather flock together. It should be added that they tend to sing the same song. The song that Kenyan telecom operators have been singing to internet customers is that despite the arrival of two sub-marine cables at the Port of Mombasa, internet costs will not come down.

The maddening line they have been feeding us is that: "We are giving you more capacity for the same cost!"

Laurent Giraud is the man who runs Telkom Kenya's carrier business. This means he sells capacity to other carriers: telecom operators and internet service providers. TKL has a stake in both TEAMS cable and EASSy. It also runs to national terrestrial fiber optic networks. It's own and the state-owned National Optic Fiber Backbone (NOFBI).

It is his day job to engage with operators eager to negotiate the lowest rates on his network.

I asked him whether telecom operators who were buying capacity before at US$2000 per MB would still continue to buy at that price if he offered to double the capacity he gives them. He said absolutely not.

Operators have insisted on an absolute lowering of rates and now buy capacity on average at US$400 per MB. By MB I mean the size of the pipe that carries the data as opposed to Mb/s which denotes the speed of transfer of data.

You see if you have a water pipe, you can either talk of its diameter or you can talk about the rate at which water flows in the pipe.

The bigger the pipe the more the water that can pass. Fiber is seen as a much bigger pipe than copper cable because no matter what speed you pass data through a small pipe, there is a limit.

Anyway, so telecom operators are not willing to be fed the same line they've been feeding customers. They have insisted on lower rates.

So why is it that when it comes to onward selling of that same capacity, they insist on maintaining their old prices ostensibly because they are giving you double the capacity?

Clearly, prices are about 25 per cent of what they were before. It is time that the Ministry of Information or the Ministry of Trade stepped in to reign in these rogue operators. Clearly, they are engaged in fleecing clients and they are doing so because there exists an asymmetric information structure in the Industry.

The consumer is not aware of the wholesale prices that is why they are getting jacked by these crooks.

CCK should step in and force the publication of applicable prices at every juncture.

The ministry should also call for the creation of a fiber operator to run the national backbone and distribute capacity at proper prices so as to undercut these pirates of the superhighway.

It should be able to sell capacity to anyone who wants it including small ISPs that can then give us bandwidth at good prices.

Let this skullduggery stop fortwith!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CAN CISCO BECOME A VISUAL NETWORK CARRIER? TELEPRESENCE


Yesterday, Scribes were summoned to Cisco's seventh floor office suites at Landmark Plaze opposite The Nairobi Hospital to witness Cisco Tele Presence technology.

"It's not video-conferencing," Shahab, the Cisco GM here said. "It's TelePresence!" Now, the facilities that Cisco has at their place are of course top of the range. In a custom made room with three giant plasma screens with three cameras all branded Cisco we were sat to hook up with peeps from Sao Paulo, London and Jo'Burg.

The screens, Cisco guys pointed out to us, were High Definition, the audio was spatial. So we clicked start program on a touch screen PABX like phone in front of us and voila! we were connected to three time zones.

The audio I must say was excellent with no delay and the images were really good quality. The question is to what effect?

A good article written last week pointed out how companies fail by misreading their competition. For example, the competition for airlines is not other airlines, the piece sagaciously noted, but videoconferencing that cuts out the need to travel.

For Cisco, this ability to communicate seamlessly say for a bank with multiple branches without the need to travel will be a big selling point. But this in no way makes it a world beater because already other players are testing video conferencing solutions that are getting better and better.

What struck me was the next phase of this thing. Currently, Cisco TP works on intranets that is within one company's network. You can't for example connect on Cisco TP and connect to another company out there.

But it is on the way. The company is coming up with what it calls Cisco TP Exchange Point which will allow companies with TP technology to communicate.

With an intercompany TP exchange, Cisco could be well on its way to being a sort of carrier for high-definition video and audio conferencing. For if this was to take off it could be a way of companies to do business without the hassle of travel or too many back and forth emails.

Companies like Cisco for example, could carry out corporate training for top CIO/CTOs at major firms from their regional HQs if they all have TP deployed.

Locally, it will take time for this technology to be deployed as it is quite expensive ranging from US$100,000 - US$500,000 (Sh7-35m). Further, it still needs heavy bandwidth and as the Cisco guys noted, TP over 3G would be a stretch. 4G maybe.

However, government is a good candidate to pilot this technology both for its own use and for leasing to others to use.

DEpartment of Defence could also deploy this to its regional commands and allow top brass to communicate with commanders.

Universities can also establish this if they have the money for distance learning for example collabos with other universities around the world or for their satellite campuses when faculty is stretched.

For smaller scale businesses, it will take entrepreneurs such as cyber-cafes, network operators or even hotels to deploy this technology and then charge for its use. Much in the same way, Hotels offer conference facilities or even boardrooms for meetings, they can offer this service for say a small NGO wishing to have face to face like meetings with their head offices.

Nairobitech cannot part without mentioning the issue of mobility. This would seem to be a far cry for now but it would seem to be the next natural development. However, it will require far higher capacities.

Monday, April 19, 2010

DEBUG THOSE PROGRAMS!


One of the agonies of programming whether in college computer labs late into the night or working on software development at work, is debugging. Programming is mathematical and methodical as any code-writer will tell you. But even semantics can drive you nuts. Take C programming for example. One of the commonest errors you'll inevitably face working with this iconic language is pointers where particularly in iterations, referencing goes beyond the bound of the array so that on the next iteration it returns an error and it can drive you nuts before you figure it out. But so can a missing semi-colon. All C commands are supposed to end with a semi-colon but it is quite common to forget it and write lines and lines of codes but when the program is compiled it returns errors.
These are some of the basic but very frustrating aspects of writing code but they get more complex particularly when you lose touch with what the library files that you include in your program or even super classes from which you inherit provided for or even variables change in one function affecting the operations of another separate but related function and so on and so forth.

So when somebody asks you to examine a program for errors as a career, those of us who turned away from writing code would shudder. But apparently, this is a lucrative career and more so now that multinationals are outsourcing software testing to places like India.

The Kenya Software Quality Testing Board (KSQTB) is a nascent group that has just been constituted and it is seeking to train Kenyan developers to become certified software testers.

This area, they reckon has jobs. Jobs that are currently being handled in India. By their reckoning if we have enough internationally certified testers, we could begin to bid for big contracts and could eventually see this area surpass business process outsourcing.

The board will work in a not-for-profit basis with membership free to all those interested but there will be charges for exams and training.

Because it will constitute software developers, nerds essentially, who care little for petty politics, luminaries like Agosta Liko of PesaPal see it taking off.

A number of guys attended a training last week at Jacaranda Hotel in Westlands and drew from such entities as KQ, Kenya Ports Authority, Virtual City, Kenya Revenue Authority etc.

Nairobitech will keep an eye on the nascent group to see how it navigates the terrain.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

OF 4G, NETBOOKS, ENGINEERING SCHOOLS, SAFCOM


Safaricom's CEO Michael Joseph is notoriously impatient with inefficiencies.

Being main sponsor of this year's connected government conference in Diani at the Coast, Joseph took to podium and rattled a few issues that have apparently been on his mind.

1. Kenyan engineers like most technical support people are doing a crappy job of meeting client's expectations. If a gadget blows for example, the technician goes and gets another and if it blows again he gets another. If the third doesn't blow then he says. A-hah..it works!

Basically, Joseph put it across that the level of standards in service provision in technical areas needed to be raised. To this end, Safaricom has partnered with Huawei Technologies to establish a finishing school of sorts for trained engineers where additional skill sets will be imparted.

The school will be hosted at Moi University.

Huawei will provide support while Safaricom through its HR department will provide the resource persons.

2. Joseph spoke about rolling out 4G later this year in Kenya. 4G or Long Term Evolution is seen as the successor to 3G technology and has already been tested in such areas as Stockholm, Sweden. LTE is gaining momentum as the next generation technology beating out WiMax.

To Joseph, nowhere in the world do we need 4G like in Kenya. Joseph had said last year that Huawei was testing 4G for Safaricom but had given no timeline.

Industry regulator CCK had at that time no idea what 4G was so it will be interesting what the event timeline on this including CCK's licensing and fee charged will be.

3. Net books...Safaricom is apparently searching for vendors of cheap but quality netbooks in the region of about US$200 (Sh15,000). This he feels will finally allow the push of internet into the lower echelon households which currently cannot afford the laptops in the market.

Joseph said he had spoken with numerous vendors and currently the main barrier was the licenses for the software that the netbooks would run. Licensing typically adds to the cost of a device.

The connected government conference continues. Will update more as discussions and presentations continue.

Monday, March 29, 2010

SEE NO EVIL? GOOGLE PLEASE!



Do you know what a US military or NSA intelligence guy would love? To be able to monitor real time conversations held anywhere in the world and particularly these days on the net. Only you need to know hundreds if not thousands of languages to do that.


Not for long it might seem. Google Translate presents in my opinion one of the giant leap for such snoopers and an inconsequential nitwit ranting in vernacular on the web may well find himself hauled in for questioning.


Consider this.


Google's Motto is "See no evil." It's mission: To organize the world's information. It's working environment? Employees spend 80 per cent of their time working on company stuff and 20 per cent working on their own innovative stuff which if brilliant or innovative enough can make it through the vetting teams of top engineers and become the next cool thing from Google.


The company is admired though suffice to say its above reproach image took a battering when it pandered to the whims of the Chinese Communist government and allowed its content to be censored on the mainland so that offending images such as the 1989 Tiananmen Riots during which thousands of demonstrating students are thought to have been massacred could be blocked from innocent civilians eyes.


Anyway, recently, a Google dude was in town. His mission? To meet with scribes and show them cool things you can do with Google's applications such as search (Did you know you can multiply numbers and do other mathematical calculations on the Google Search bar?) as well as convert currency on it? Such is the definition of cool.


Some time back at the Mobile World Congress CEO Eric Schmidt trotted a German techie who works for Google to demonstrate image and voice search along with translate technology.


Basically you can take a string of words from one language enter them into Google Translate and they come out in the language you wish them to. Useful for interpreting a Chinese menu perhaps.


Anyway, this Lan fellow for that is his name demonstrated both Google Translate and Google Books.


Curiously, he let slip that Google is very interested in local language books such as those written in Luhya and Luo as well as Kikuyu and Kamba and so on.


Why? Apparently its all part of the effort to organize the world information.


True it would put our literature out there but Mr. Lan did not mention that it is also a very useful way of helping out Google's Translate application.


For you see unlike other translation programs, Google Translate relies on thousands and thousands of scanned texts which it cross references to make sense of things in different languages.


It works best when it has bi-lingual texts to compare.


So when Google says it is interested in scanning Luhya or Kikuyu texts it is not just to archive such literature but also to help its translation program.


From there you can see that anything typed in Facebook or blogged online in any language can be quickly translated. US Military intelligence guys must be following the project keenly.


It is going to take sometime although with Kiswahili Google has done quite a lot and in Uganda it has been working with Literature scholars and other Academicians to translate some of the dialects.


Of course if they spent enough time on the ground they would also realize that you can simply stand at a religious rally in Kenya especially the pentecostals and evangelicals and tape the preacher plus his translator. Outsource the transcription work to Kencall and you can grow your bilingual texts by multiples every Sunday!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

ON THE DOUBLE! SCRIBES GET ON NOKIA'S OVI

Trust Dorothy Ooko to come up with a way to leverage Nokia's products with the media. THe Nokia Communications Manager, East and Southern Africa last week held what she said would be a monthly Ovi cocktail.

Now scribes will show up at the mere promise of booze but last Wednesday's event held at Blanco's restaurant had a different spin to it.

For starters, there were phones to be won and not just any phone but smartphones. On the winners menu was the Nokia X6, the Nokia E72 and the Nokia E52.

All one had to do was to make a pitch about any Nokia Ovi application to the judging panel consisting of Agatha Gikunda, Nokia's regional head of solutions and a Nokia intern whose name slips my mind.

This of course means that the scribes had to actually explore the Ovi Store and try different applications and in the process learn more about them than a Nokia workshop could teach.

This being the first such Ovi cocktail, attendance though decent was not overwhelming but also participants knowledge of the apps that run on Nokia's Ovi store was quite limited.

The Standard's James Ratemo who also is President, Kenya ICT Reporters Association (KIRA) jazzed the audience with his pitch of F-Secure which he said he used when he forgot his handset in his house on his way to work. Recalling that his girlfriend was in the house he got on to F-
Secure and shut down his phone from another handset. Don't ask me what he was hiding from her. For his pitch Ratemo went home with the Nokia X3.

The Star's James Mbugua another KIRA member took second prize and opted for a Nokia E72 for his pitch of foursquare while a lady named Maureen who spoke about watching CNN on her phone took home the E52.

There were Bluetooth earpieces for all other attendants who braved rain and traffic to make it to Blanco's to attend the cocktail.

All in all it was a great event but more importantly, it got scribes to seriously start exploring Ovi Apps.

I'm sure by the next event, we will have Ovi Apps gurus in the house.

ACCESS METRO-FIBER MAKES IT A MUST BUY STOCK







If
you live on King'ara road just next to the Gitanga road and James Gichuru intersection, you might be among the first people to experience true fiber optic to the home speeds courtesy of AccessKenya. The firm which recently launched its metro fiber network mostly relies on WiMax radios to transmit to homes but that may all change.

The company will attempt to use a technology called GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) basically where you derive a line from one point on the fiber optic network to serve multiple points such as different apartments in an apartment block. Access will also try out IPTV and will make a decision in three months time.

The recent developments make Access a must buy for the coming few years. AccessKenya's profits dipped this past year perhaps explaining the tepid performance by its stock on the NSE even as other stocks rocket from last year's lows.

But of the shares showing promise on the bourse, it is Access that I would recommend anyone to buy now. At Sh20 it is not only cheap but following the launch of its metro-fiber network two weeks ago, this is a company that is poised for incredible growth.

Now, Jonathan Stichbury the CEO of AIG Investments EA, privately feels Access will sell itself to Safaricom in two years time but the times I have spoken to Jonathan Somen, (above R) Access CEO, he has outrightly denied that he would be looking to sell.

AccessKenya's most low profile investment of the last few years may yet turn out to be its best. Those guys in yellow coveralls that had become ubiquitous along Nairobi roads digging trenches were actually laying out a simple strategy: to connect four parts of Nairobi with underground cable and then use the resultant ring to launch into buildings and homes across Nairobi.

At each of those four locations is a sort of hub or node. Four nodes anchor the network. There is a node at Barclay's Plaza, CBD, one at Rahimtulla Towers, Upper Hill, Bandari Plaza, Westlands and Yaya Towers, Yaya.

Simply put, AccessKenya is the best placed company to dominate the data market in the coming years especially with the launch of its metro fiber.

Its goal is to first of all pipe 250 buildings within Nairobi from where tenants can tap into its capacity. It envisages about 100Mg per building. (I use Mg here to mean the size of the pipe that will be dedicated to each building as opposed to the speed at which data flows in it).

BY using its relative advantage in the data market (Jonathan Somen's favourite refrain is: "We know DATA!") the company will seek to beat back a strong push by the other listed ISP in Kenya, that venerable green giant, Safaricom which has been seeking to extend its voice dominance to the data market.

Unfortunately for Safaricom which has a legacy of voice technology infrastructure, clients have been less than impressed. Its millions of users have been straining its network and dropped connections are common. Last month, I&M attempted to demo its new Visa International partner status by taking scribes through a transaction. Four attempts to go online via Safaricom's modem failed and we had to settle for a powerpoint demo.

Access is also experimenting with fiber to the home and other technology that can rope in residential clients.

AIG Stichbury feels as an investor you can always bet on good management and certainly Access has that.

Jonathan Somen is an astute businessman and takes no prisoners as witnessed last year when he fell out with Henry Njoroge the head of OpenView, a subsidiary of AccessKenya.

Somen felt the OpenView, where he had not only bought 70 per cent shareholding from Njoroge, but also retained him as MD, was not pulling its weight. Testy board meetings were held back in February 2009 where Jonathan pushed to buy the remaining 30 per cent of the business from Njoroge.

By August Njoroge and a few other managers were out and the business has been renamed Access IT. Somen blamed it for the hit in profitability his firm took but he also pointed to the heavy capital expenditure his firm laid out in the metrofiber network.

Now it remains to be seen how Access goes after the data market.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NOKIA COULD SIGN KENYAN ARTISTS IN TWO YEARS



Nokia set up a research center in Kenya two years ago as part of its 11 world research centers. Nokia Research Africa held its first progress update yesterday to talk about its work in Africa so far.

Of course due to competition they could not talk about what precisely they were doing but NRC Africa team leader did say that typically, 10 per cent of its research findings in Western research centers ends up being incorporated in their phones.

One interesting thing did emerge though. Nokia has been trying to set up a Kenyan online music store where Kenyans can download local music without much success so far because of too many hands in the pot.

Essentially, there are too many people with whom it needs to sign licenses with unlike in some Western countries where it merely needs to sign a deal with one record label and the artists under that label with have their music available on its Comes With Music online store.

Dorothy Ooko the Nokia Communications Manager for East & Central Africa said only one artist, Eric Wainaina was a one-stop shop with whom they could sign with. All other jokers had like a retinue of 5-people with whom the company had to sign contracts with, a tedious process to say the least.

But Jussi Impio, Nokia Research Center Africa team leader, did hint that we could have an online music store here in the next two years.

And get this: NOT ONE of these so-called celebs makes any money from the records they do. Piracy and other associated costs coupled with forgettable actual sales ensures that nothing remains to talk about.

Their money comes from Gigs at concerts and clubs. The only reason many of them are doing records at all is for promotion purposes. So it beats reason why they should make it so hard to sign with an online music store unless someone in these so-called record labels is fleecing them and doesnt want to lose the gravy train when artists move online.

Actually this is a long overdue move. For Nokia which has moved into solutions in a big way with its Online Shop Ovi Store, Ovi Maps, and Comes With Music store, Kenya would have been a quick adopter if it could come up with a deal that artists can sign to.

This is because Kenya has prolific users of internet both on PC and on mobile phones and two, the transactional ability using mobile money is deeply entrenched to pay for online downloads.

Comes With Music could work in Kenya by following the Ovi Store model. On Ovi, developers of mobile phone applications upload their apps onto Ovi which then distributes it to thousands of mobile phone users. The developer gets 70 per cent of revenue while Nokia keeps 30 per cent.

If Kenyan artists were to upload their music on Comes With Music and have users download it, they could similarly be paid for songs sold which potentially could be paid for with M-PESA.

In recent years local and regional music has taken Kenya by storm and gradually reduced the influence of Western Music. Kenyans could for example appreciate a local portal where they could download unique Congolose, Cameroonian or Mozambiqan music.

For up and coming artists who do not have record deals with local outfits, Comes With Music could offer a quick and effective way to put their music out there and combined with other social media such as Facebook, marketing themselves would be a much cheaper exercise.

So really, the Kenyan music industry needs to rethink its stand and make the process of signing with online music stores much easier.

EASSY LANDING

Finally, the third submarine cable to call at the Port of Mombasa, is here albeit 4 years late. Those in the know will remember this was the first cable that was meant to connect the Eastern Africa seaboard but boardroom wrangles and ulterior moves by South Africans who wanted to control the cable set it back.

In fact, Kenya's own cable TEAMS was conceived when during a meeting of countries in SA to discuss the cable, Information PS Bitange Ndemo stood up and issued an ultimatum from the Kenyan government.

"If the next meeting does not resolve when we start laying this cable, Kenya will go on its own," the then new PS told a stunned but disbelieving audience. The rest as they say is history.

This weekend, the East frica Submarine System (EASSY) a project spearheaded by the Western Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC) will land in Mombasa.

The WIOCC guys have promised that internet costs will drastically come down. But more interestingly, is the cost of calling between African countries which is still higher than the rates at which we call the UK and US.

EASSY has a unique model that brings together African landline operators who will serve as the cable's backhaul and provide redundancy.

Basically by ensuring these African operators are all interconnected, it will cut off Europe as an exchange point for phone calls originating from Africa and destined for other African countries.

Currently to call another African country for example requires routing of traffic to Europe and then back to Africa.

EASSY will now join TEAMS (Kenyan owned) and SEACOM (Aga Khan Fund, Cyril Ramaphosa and American investors) and will provide diversity.

WIOCC CEO Chris Wood and GM James Wekesa have said this is the first fully connected cable because it goes straight to Europe whereas TEAMS connects to Fujairah in Dubai for onward connectivity and SEACOM connects through Mumbai from where it can connect to I-ME-WE (India Middle East and Western Europ) cable.

THe other unique feature of this cable is that it will allow for monthly contracts and sell bandwidth at lower quantities than the other two.

It will be interesting to see how Kenyan telecoms who have stubbornly refused to bring down bandwidth costs (some say its because they had entered into expensive Satellite Bandwidth contracts which they want to first pay off) will react.

Wananchi Group which has spoken of doing 1000KM of terrestrial fiber optic cable looks to be the wildcard here. For, although the Ministry of Information has threatened to crack down on price collusion amongst operators, it is only the market per se which can bring prices down. Wananchi can for example decide it doesnt have the number of clients Safaricom or Orange have and opt to slash prices precipitously to gain clientele.

If this happens, others are bound to follow.

Countries covered by EASSY:
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Ethiopia
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Rwanda
  • Swaziland
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Friday, March 5, 2010

KENYANS ARE CHATTERS AREN'T THEY?



Kenyans are a chattering lot. On the web that is. Data from a research commissioned from Telposta towers (that is where the Kenya ICT Board and the Ministry of Information) shows that majority of Kenyans go online to gab.

It is not alas, and to the chagrin of marketers to check out products to shop online for.

89 per cent of respondents surveyed said they mostly go online to chat while another huge chunk said it was mostly to Facebook. Most would like to surf on their mobile phone but are restricted by small screens and pages that are not formatted for the mobile web.

Kenya ICT Board (CEO Paul Kukubo pictured) commissioned TNS International to research internet usage by Kenyans within the borders with a view to creating a useful baseline report that firms and marketers can use to position themselves more appropriately on the net.

In a nutshell, companies need to know a couple of things about the potential Kenyan internet customer.

ONE: Facebook is the most popular destination for Kenyans with 90 per cent dropping in on the popular social networking site.

Hi5 (38%), Twitter (37%), LinkedIn (30%) and Youtube (30%) follow in that order. Tagged (23%) is it even used here?, Yahoo360 (20%), MySpace (20%) and others trail.

SECOND: While most Kenyans do not buy online (mostly because of the cost of delivery and the lpoor of credit card penetration), they do research products online. Apparently, while 78 per cent of users have researched a product online such as a mobile phone, only 51 per cent subsequently went to buy it and this they did directly from a shop and not an online store.

However, 88 per cent said they would be willing to pay for such goods using mobile money services like M-PESA and ZAP.

And they don't like what they are seeing of Kenyan websites - too little information is available and the most important, cost, as Kenyans are price conscious, is usually lacking.

ADVICE TO FIRMS: Have an internet presence, make sure your site shows up quite high on the search engine results and have the information people need.

THIRD: and confirming a suspicion I've long held that Kenyan college students do too much copy pasting from the net, the TNS report shows that knowledge led surfing rules the Kenyan networld.

Wikipedia ( I admit I use it often) ranks high on usage and again this confirms a feeling I've had that there is too little unique Kenyan information being generated by Kenyans. While researches and oral literature reviews of Western writing abounds on the net, you'd be hard pressed to find any meaningful takes on Kenyan books online.

FOURTH: Kenyans prefer to do their surfing on their mobile phones than in cybercafes ( I think I should do a cost comparison for this) .

FIFTH: 92 per cent have seen online ads and 45 per cent admitted to being influenced by them. However, 44 per cent said they trusted product reviews made by people who used the same product.

Some companies are doing something about their net presence.

Nation Media Group whose website is among the top visited Kenyan sites has an active Facebook group which draws on average 30 comments per each posted story. No word yet on how to monetize on FB but clearly it does no harm for DN's brand endurance.

"Internet is dominated by knowledge seeking behavior," Melissa Baker (pictured) who ran the research said when she presented the findings at Hotel Intercontinental.

Interest clearly was high. I came across some guys from Barclay's, Segeni Ng'ethe the guy who started Mama Mikes Online and now has a venture called Hapa TV was also present along with marketers from different firms.

Segeni would have been glad to learn that 66 per cent of Kenyan internet users link with their families outside Kenya. Those who may remember Segeni made his bones right after he left Georgetown University and started Mama Mikes a service that used to link with Nakumatt and Uchumi to get guys in the US to purchase Supermarket vouchers for their families back home.

Mama Mikes would deliver the vouchers to the address given by the sender.

But for guys selling products on the internet, there is still a ways to go.