Mobile networks hope to piggy back on Facebook, Google and YouTube popularity

Network chiefs are embracing the rise of the ‘over the top (OTT) players’ in Africa, so long as they remain the gateway to access them


Debating the role of ‘New Players in the Digital Ecosystem’, leaders from MTN, Cell C and Orange were questioned on whether they were happy the social media giants were receiving new customers for free through their networks.

Marc Rennard, Executive Vice President of Orange in Africa and Asia, said: “Our customers love OTT and we need to partner with them. We have to consider what our customer wants. Money does not really pass between us and the OTT players, but customers continue to give money to us. Their model is to get money from advertising.”

He added: “What is for sure is they (OTT) need our networks.”

But Mark Newman, Chief Research Officer at Informa Telecoms & Media who was moderating the discussion held at Cape Town’s CTICC for AfricaCom 2012 today (Wednesday), pointed out if the Google’s, Facebook’s and YouTube’s need the African networks why shouldn’t they pay a fee?

He said: “Outside of Africa the OTT players have a very big presence and people go straight to them. In Africa they are less visible.”

He added because African’s rely more on their mobile to access the internet, rather than laptops and tablets, the OTT players rely more on the networks here.

Alan Knott-Craig Sr, Chief Executive of Cell C, disagreed. He said: “The fact of the matter is social networks and internet are here and they are not going anywhere. Either we carry their traffic or they will carry their traffic.

“It is not just an opportunity, it is an inevitability. Data will far surpass the quantity of voice. It is not something you can avoid.”

Newman pushed on the argument further when he added the threat of instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to SMS revenues.

Zunaid Bulbulia, Chief Finance Officer and Enterprise Business Officer at MTN South Africa, admitted his network had seen some traffic move SMS to instant online messaging, but he had a positive take on it.

He said: “The flip-side is we are having new customers coming to the network who we would never have seen before.

“Three years ago any subscribers would have really thought long and hard about putting their private information out there, but today because of the advent of the OTT players people are willing to put information out there. So we can do other things like banking, shopping and MTN music.”

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