March 13, 2009
On February 16, Visafone, the leading mobile CDMA operator in Nigeria with 2.2m active subscribers at year-end 2008, complemented its mobile value-added services by launching a voice SMS service. The service allows subscribers to record a voice message and send it to another subscriber; the recipient is then notified by SMS. Sending a message is as easy as adding a star before the receiver’s phone number, while retrieving the message is done by dialing zero when reading the notification SMS.
My recent research on data service trends in Africa and the Middle East (AME), discussed in Leveraging SMS to Attract the Low End of the Income Scale, places voice SMS at the top of a new generation of SMS-based applications that target the large base of low-income subscribers in AME markets. While peer-to-peer SMS is already generating most of the data revenue in the region – about 59% in 2008 – these new SMS-based services can help operators stabilize their eroding voice revenues. SMS-based applications such as voice SMS, balance transfer and call-me can serve two major functions: Improve call completion and generate new traffic.
In Nigeria, for example, the voice SMS service is already on offer from Glo Mobile, a GSM operator, and from Starcomms, a CDMA operator. Visafone’s service, however, is more attractive, offering a longer message time (45 seconds per message, compared with only 30 seconds per message with the other operators). Unlike the other operators, Visafone also allows its subscribers to send voice SMS messages to subscribers on other networks, although for a higher rate (see Exhibit 1).
Voice SMS, SMS and voice tariffs for Visafone, Starcomms and Glo Mobile
Source: Pyramid Research, operators
Early results show substantial uptake in the markets where voice SMS has been rolled out. Etisalat, for example, said that its 6.4m subscribers in the UAE sent about half a million messages within five days of launch. I expect service adoption to be no less substantial in Nigeria, which might entice the rest of the major operators, notably MTN and Zain, to jump on the bandwagon and offer the service. The service is attractive because it is non-intrusive, cheaper than a call and easy to use. In Africa and the Middle East, there are still many people who cannot use SMS messages because they’re illiterate or unfamiliar with roman-lettered keypads. With the adult literacy rate at only 69% in Nigeria in 2005 according to UNICEF, that’s at least 30m people locked out of the P2P SMS service. I also expect adoption to be higher among Glo’s subscriber base than those of the CDMA operators, just because of the higher discount Glo offers on its voice call rates.
I don’t expect any major cannibalization of voice or peer-to-peer business. On the contrary, I believe that the service enhances the operator’s relationship with its subscribers, and that in addition to the revenue it generates directly, voice SMS will also generate voice revenue when users replay, forward and reply to their messages.
— Badii Kechiche, Associate Manager
Leveraging SMS to Attract the Low End of the Income Scale
Telecom Insider published March 2009
Over the next four years, SMS-based services will be a powerful tool that operators in Africa and the Middle East can use to target their growing base of low-income subscribers and generate higher revenues from both data and voice, adding up to a minimum of US$6bn in new annual revenue by 2013. This report looks at how operators in AME can leverage the SMS platform to boost revenue from the largest, lowest-income subscriber segments. We first examine peer-to-peer SMS in the region, a service that accounted for about 60% of total mobile data revenue in AME in 2008. We also analyze some of the latest and most successful SMS-based services, examining in detail how operators have implemented four of these services in three key markets: South Africa, Egypt and the UAE.
Communications Markets in Nigeria
Country Intelligence Report published March 2009
Nigeria is one of the most attractive markets in Africa & the Middle East — the fourth largest in the region in terms of mobile revenue. Pyramid Research expects Nigeria's total telecom revenue to increase from an estimated US$8.42bn in 2008 to $11.14bn in 2013. Resolution to the Nitel/Mtel crisis and fixed infrastructure rollout will reignite the slow growth in the fixed segment, but the bulk of service revenue will continue to come from mobile. Given Nigeria’s large, young population and low penetration of households, at about 1.7% in 2008, we also expect a significant growth in pay-TV service over the next five years. This Country Intelligence Report analyzes Nigeria’s communications, media and technology industries, including key trends, regulatory pressures and the competitive landscape, making it an excellent complement to our Forecast products.
Africa & Middle East Mobile Demand Forecast, Q4 2008
Forecasts published December 2008
Updated on a quarterly basis, our Mobile Demand Forecast products provide complete pictures of demand trends for 59 geographical markets in Africa & Middle East. The Excel output includes five years of historical data and five years of market projections for metrics such as GDP, mobile penetration, subscriptions (by operator, type of package, technology), ARPS and total mobile service revenue (data and voice). The Forecasts are based on extensive field research and use a consistent methodology across all markets, aiming to capture the total spending, from an end-user perspective, on mobile communication services in each market