Microsoft has found a very lucrative opportunity in Africa that other Telecoms have not been bothered to tap into.
The continent simply needs a telecom model that focuses on giving access and affordability (low cost) of connectivity to rural areas. Microsoft wants to achieve this.
On the side-lines of Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Taarifa Chief Editor Magnus Mazimpaka held an enriching conversation with Angela Ng’ang’a Microfsoft’s Corporate Affairs Lead MEA Emerging Markets.
Often, you will find in many African countries that the telecoms operators tend to have their connectivity within the urban areas and there are a lot of limitations towards rural areas because of the amount of time it would take for them to get back their investments in rural areas.
Below is an excerpt of the interview.
Magnus Mazimpaka: Does Microsoft plan to expand this technology across Africa? Affordability and knowledge are still an issue. The users are still ignorant about this kind of technology. What does Microsoft intend to do to bridge the gap that can make doing business easier. But let us have a brief highlight of why you are here.
Angela Ng’ang’a: First and foremost, Microsoft has sponsored the agenda of Transform Africa Summit since its inception, this is why it is obviously being a company that has a key focus around enabling Africans to do more and benefit more using technology and improve their lives. We have to be at the centre of all the conversations that are happening.
Our support for Transform Africa has really been what we see as one of the most focal opportunities that enable a dialogue between the private and public sector specific to ICT. There are many forums that happen globally and at other pan African levels. You will find out that they are centred around various topics but the good thing about Transform Africa is that it is specifically looking at how ICT can be an enabler for digital transformation in Africa. That is in line with Microsoft’s philosophy and focus.
Magnus: When you look at accessibility, rolling out for large masses to increase usage. Do you factor in affordability?
Angela Ng’ang’a: I do not know if you had a chance to sit into the session earlier today with one of our general managers who was seated on the digital connectivity session that just concluded.
One of the key things that is very important for us when you talk to access, is around affordability that is definitely critical. And we have done quite a tremendous work.
We have looked at bringing together innovative technology that bridges the gap in terms of providing affordable access particularly a broad mail access in the rural communities.
Technology known as TV white basis has been deployed in a number of countries. I believe you have also tested it here, like in Kenya where we have tested it successfully and it is running within a whole constituency planned for a rollout in a wider scale in the country with skills like Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa.
There is some ongoing work on a number of African markets that we have tested. Our work as we see as sales we are not at a telecom.
We are really around trying to bring together innovative technologies. So, we partnered with a group of people and we came up with our version of TV White Basis and we have enabled entrepreneurs. We don’t own all the technology, but we have enabled entrepreneurs to set up rural access.
Magnus: When you look at the technology you are rolling out from a competitive point of view, what are you bringing that other competitors do not offer?
Angela Ng’ang’a: One of the things that is interesting is to look at the telecom model when it comes to access, majority of them will tend to put up their infrastructure within the urban areas and there are always issues of the economies of scale.
The cost of this station and for them to be able to amortise that cost over a period of time is obviously dependent on how many paying customers they have.
So a lot of times, you will find in many African countries that the telecoms operators tend to have their connectivity within the urban areas and there is a lot of limitations towards rural areas because of the amount of time it would take for them to amortise or get back their investments in there.
We know that there are initiatives such as USF (Universal Service Fund) which is aiming to provide that level of connectivity, which is one of the areas that we look at or begin to see how we can tap into it.
When we think about the TV white basis and what it is using, the technology that it is driving the idea is to look for a low cost model of providing connectivity…
Magnus: What is White Basis?
Angela Ng’ang’a: When we moved from analogue to digital space, there is that gap, frequency that was available; the low spectrum. You use that particular spectrum using a very low base type of a kit which goes onto that narrow band and then provides Wi-Fi within a radius of 70 km or so.
Because of the cost of that equipment, being relatively cheaper to that of a base station, you will be able to bring down low cost connectivity.
Magnus: Tell me, this paradigm shift of Microsoft moving from the traditional computer business and software and then going to this other area of technology. How do that come about?
Angela Ng’ang’a: Technology is transforming all of the time.
Magnus: So, Microsoft has no choice but transform as well?
Angela Ng’ang’a: All the technologies and companies have to keep with the pace of where technology is going.
Magnus: Does this leave Microsoft still relevant to its original business model?
Angela Ng’ang’a: Actually, we are more relevant now than where we ever were. Because as opposed to an era where you are enabling windows and office, if you really think about it, the value proposition at that point in time was more of IP.
That is why we would come back at the end of every year and if you had not reviewed the licences, we would come back and say and ask you why.
When you really think about where we are today, we see ourselves as a trusted advisors and partners to our customers and we are there for looking at digitally transforming those customers. We are providing solutions that are unique to each and every single customer.
In other words, like you said today, you are in media. The work we will do today is to come and identify what are the requirements and then come with solution that fits in your specific needs. I think that is more relevant.
Magnus: Do you think the market understands?
Angela Ng’ang’a: I believe so; the numbers show. You can actually see it from the growth of the organisation for the last four years. Microsoft has reached its highest level of profitability last fourteen years.
Magnus: How is the African market from your perspective?
Angela Ng’ang’a: The African market is rising. This is the most profitable if you think of the most emerging market, it is Africa. The right place to do business; a place where you can make the best impact as well is within Africa.
For us, particularly as employees of Microsoft we are Africans in nature. There is nothing that makes us feel more valuable than being able to bring home-grown solutions that are efficient and effective for our solutions.
Magnus: What value does the Transform Africa bring to your vision?
Angela Ng’ang’a: There is a couple of things. One is being able to provide the right level of networks and we are talking about networks, we are also keen on ensuring that the policy, reform process and then ICTs are also moving at the same pace.
Magnus: So, is the conversation right?
Angela Ng’ang’a: The conversation is perfect. And you have the right audience to have these conversations because at the end of the day, you need to have an enabling environment across the board. When you look at it from our policy perspective, this is the right place to have that discussion.
If you think about building the relevant skills that Africans need to be able to benefit from technology, again this is a right place to have these conversations. I can see that the universities are here.
And if you even think about the provider’s issues that is access again, the discussions and the people that are relevant to those conversations including the regulators, telecoms, ISP’s are here. So, if you think about what is really conducive, let us not forget about innovators, start-ups, SMEs which is the future of Africa’s business tomorrow, are here. If you put all that into a melting point, I do not know where else we can find this kind of meeting.
Magnus: What is your take on President Kagame’s comments about the mindset?
Angela Ng’ang’a: I have missed his comments; I left when he was half through it.
Magnus: You mentioned three statements: sleepless nights, further detail. Can you give details of what happened?
Angela Ng’ang’a: We have the reform cycle that starts in October when the World Bank Report is published and we get a sense of where we performed well and the areas that we need to improve.
What reforms might not have been recorded as implemented. And then we have just April to make sure that we resolved all those issues our deadline to have implemented all those reforms is at the end of April.
Obviously it is a very tight timeline that we working with, but also Rwanda is said to be one of the most committed economies towards implementing doing business framework to improve business environment.
So we have set up reforms which are quite ambitious where others take several years to implement, we implemented them within a single reform cycle.