MEF Connects Cape Town 2010: “Local is lekker”

Last year’s MEF event boasted a view of the impressive new Green Point stadium which hosted the opening World Cup game in June. This year’s venue offered an alternative yet intrinsically Capetonian view – Clifton’s 4th beach – to welcome MEF members and guests to the Mira Networks-hosted MEF Connects event held in Cape Town on 10 November.

Emma Kaye, MEF EMEA board director, welcomed guests and thanked Mira Networks for sponsoring the second annual gathering in Cape Town. Gerrit Jan Konijnenberg, MEF EMEA Chairman, then confirmed the ‘tradition’ of local events would be maintained with the announcement of Vodacom’s offer to sponsor a South African event in 2011.

The topic for the panel of speakers was mobile content in Africa and ‘local is lekker’ quickly became a recurring theme in the discussion led by Konijnenberg. Google’s Nick Heller underlined the importance of relevant and local content, citing Google’s new “Baraza” service as an example – a Q&A service for Africa to encourage more people to go online and provide locally relevant information. Heller added that monetisation through mobile advertising is set to capitalise on the mobile phone functionality using interaction and location.
Vodacom’s Prins Mhlanga talked about the challenges of growing revenues at the “base of the pyramid” and taking subscription services to the next level while dealing with increasing regulatory burdens.
Sean Conde of Mira Networks highlighted the need to work with local partners when doing business in Africa: “It’s absolutely essential to use local partners but the challenge of course is how to find the right partners?” Conde stated. He also pointed out that not all African markets are regulated to the same level and encouraged companies to use MEF as a resource on regulatory matters and tap into their expertise from other regions.
DStv mobile has recently launched in South Africa offering 11 channels and video on demand on weekly or monthly subscriptions using 3G streaming as well as DVB-H trial. DStv’s Mark Rayner said: “Our speed to market has been quite frankly shocking in South Africa mainly due to regulatory challenges. However elsewhere in Africa, we’ve had a much more positive experience. The authorities in Nigeria and Kenya for example, view mobile tv as an innovative service that they want to encourage and spectrum availability has been much less of an issue.”

New mobile entrant 8ta, owned by the Telkom group, launched as a mobile network last month and has an ambitious goal of reaching 12% market share by 2015. Dawood Patel admitted: “Currently we’re focusing on text and encouraging more communication, content will become a priority later.”
Nokia’s Woon Peng highlighted how the OEM’s work is making life easier for farming communities in India, Asia and now Africa. “Ovi Life Tools has been launched in Nigeria allowing farmers to check the latest crop prices, weather forecasts and livestock information via their handsets,” stated Peng. Other ways to encourage content consumption include embedded content on new devices offering free games on a trial basis, as well as the Ovi store which profiles Nokia users to ensure they receive relevant content and information. This is in addition to Nokia’s ongoing training of coders and media providers.
An audience member asked about Nokia’s strategy for micro-payments. Peng replied: “We’ve trialled mobile payments in Senegal by partnering with the bank Societe Generale. However I think the most important goal is to work towards simple ‘1 click purchases’ and to team up with network operators to achieve this.”
Another question pointed out that content is bandwidth intensive and, given the increasing downward pressure on pricing, asked what was the answer. Google’s Heller replied that caching local content and using ever more innovative compression technology were part of the solution.
The lively panel discussion concluded and was followed by cocktails, canapes and the serious pursuit of networking late into the evening and long after the sun had set on 4th beach.

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