An Opening Address by Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu
President Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria at the
Mobile Web West Africa Conference, Lagos on February 2, 2011
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
This is a unique gathering and one which I feel privileged to address.
It is a gathering assembled by a guy who, my investigations reveal, is fast becoming a ‘young veteran’ in the business of putting people together to discuss. I ran into some colleagues who were at the South African edition of Mobile Web Africa and they told me it was excellent. Having been in close communication with Mr. Matthew Dawes in the past few weeks I am not surprised at the success that attended his past efforts.
It is also a honour for me to welcome you all to Nigeria because it very much epitomises the development and reach of our industry. Certainly, a market has to qualify to be ready for this kind of gathering and to take on the kind of subjects that are listed for discussion in the next two days.
All Amber is one company whose effort in this regard is considered fitting for these times and it is very well appreciated by our Association.
Our Association is also happy to align with this conference because efforts of this nature bring young entrepreneurs together to meet the established players, to stimulate interaction between them, to instigate a more rapid spread of mobile web applications and services and a plethora of opportunities and benefits that exist for the entire eco-system.
We have begun to see the mobile phone, in particular, as a device for change, a tool for closing the digital divide, an ultimate closer of the gap between the rich and the poor, and between the rural and the urban. I want to hope that delegates at this conference will see the need to include in the discussion agenda the role of legislation, regulation, and the link between government and the private sector. That interests us as an emerging market that is in a hurry to catch up.
Building the rapidly expanding mobile system to generate more business makes good sense. Yes, millions of SIM cards exist in the market and are supposed to be doing quite a lot beyond voice. Content creation is key and I am particularly concerned about how much of this can be locally targeted and locally produced.
Our Association is not only concerned about some issues but we are in a hurry about attaining set levels about them. These include attainment of more generic and stipulated levels of service and proliferation which will be brought about by a deeper understanding of our problems and how to solve them. Also up on the cards are areas of increasing productivity among young people, growing competition that handles antitrust effectively, regulating independently and fairly, understanding and getting ready to manage the frequency spectrum optimally, and of course growing mobile systems for optimum application.
For those who live in the developed economies, mobile telephony has surpassed its raison d’etre of information exchange between peoples and seamlessly moved into the socio-political realm of politics and consumption. With the unrest raging across the Northern African countries, it is irrefutable that mobile telephony is driving the mobilization and emancipation of people against many tyrannical state machines.
To many, industry associations carry on like clubs for people who have known one another for some long time. ATCON, and its present thinking and to deliver its mandate, will leverage the passion of the young and the wisdom of the old – and the expertise of all – towards building an industry that won’t only command better economic attention but one that will add to the socio-economic growth that Nigeria so desperately needs.
Mobile Network Operators in many markets are known to be making huge amounts of revenues and profits from voice and text. However as competition, penetration and innovation increases these will hit a plateau and the new area of profitability will be data usage. This is happening already – some experts are describing it as an explosion. I am told that at the weekends in South Africa, 60% of Google searches are made on a mobile telephone. For Operators to take full advantage of this they need to have content and services for their consumers to use. This is why the entire ecosystem needs to work together to enhance the development of the mobile web and applications.
Mobile advertising is a case in point – this is single biggest opportunity to monetise the mobile web and applications. Mobile marketing has created a new medium for advertisers – an entirely new way for them to reach out to and connect to consumers. Indeed, some experts consider it to be the superior way of marketing their products.
While telecommunications was a neatly defined word few years ago, so much has happened in terms of interdisciplinary shifts that when we now speak of a mobile sector, we do not speak only of telecoms – but also of other elements of its application in life, business, entertainment, and even governance. For example, many telcos will soon realise that providing a number is only the beginning, and that value added services will decide who is king. The announcement by NCC that number portability will take effect this year also adds credence to this thought.
As we speak, a lot of viewed content is imported into Africa because it is so much cheaper to do so than to produce African content. The end result of that can only be negative – loss of culture, language and people engaging content that isn’t directly relevant to them. In terms of the mobile web and applications this is a great opportunity to react early. People want local, relevant information – it is important this is produced, and there are a plethora of reasons why. That is why it is important to take this opportunity to boost the local mobile ecosystem so that companies can start producing content for the local market.
This is an opportunity to reach Nigerian mobile subscribers with Nigerian created information and services. Sports, News, Jobs, Education, Music, Film, Democracy, Finance, Social Development, Commerce – are all areas where content and services can and need to be produced.
Something tells me that our youth may just be getting an opportunity which need necessarily not come from government and which already manifests itself embedded in prevailing mobile systems. If capacity can be developed in this way, then the possibilities are endless but prevarication or worse still, inaction will be precarious. That is why this conference is most timely.
Through this forum we are able to reaffirm our vision and our commitments and pitch them against the reality of the pace of development in the industry and see how we measure up to where we are in relation to where we want to be. A lot has been done already but we still have much more to do. Now is definitely not the time for complacency.
If capacity development can be achieved then it is to the advantage of the country as a whole in relation to point on local content and services. To facilitate a thriving mobile ecosystem is an essential element of this. Having the resources of the internet at your fingertips at a reasonable cost is fantastic for all members of society, especially if a local industry has contributed significantly to the information they are consuming.
There’s an obvious gap between elderly professionals and young industry entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the industry has lost many potential bright minds to other sectors with promises of immediate large salaries. Also, the few that have chosen to pursue telecoms have not had the chance to have access to mentors with immense experience who can guide them along specific career paths. However, the onus lies on young people to take responsibility by first realising that the strength of the future mobile industry in Nigeria rests on their shoulders – and they must reach out to get all the help they need.
The role of institutions in the development of the mobile web and applications is a key one and their active support would have a considerable multiplier effect on the speed of the expansion of the ecosystem. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and NITDA come in here for special mentioning as their mandate has suddenly grown beyond what was written in the act setting them up long before mobile opportunities came into our lives.
While everyone today speaks of Google, Facebook, Skype and all, a clear difference between these companies (led by youth like Nigeria’s) and Nigerian startups is the fact that while the average young Nigerian goes his way to start something without the discipline of mentors and accountability to senior professionals, these mostly Silicon Valley-based companies know what it means to collaborate with other people to build a powerful team. And when these teams form, they have healthy competition.
I am happy many of those who have eye witness experience of what I am saying are with us here and we could not have expected a better conference at a better time than this.
I wish you a fine deliberation.
Lagos, February 2, 2011.