This issue of Africa Telecoms is looking at back at the high and low points of the Telecoms Industry in Africa for 2010 and what’s in store for 2011. As a whole, what do you think the most positive and negative events were for the year? What were the highlights for Qualcomm specifically in Africa for 2010?
The highlight for us this year came from the ‘leap frog’ technology jumps we saw with the launch of UMTS900 networks in Ghana and South Africa and the introduction of HSPA+, which is leading-edge 3G technology. UMTS900 for Africa makes a great deal of sense because it addresses all the key criteria for operators, namely capacity, coverage and the ability to provide data at a lower cost. The FIFA World Cup helped the region tremendously in accelerating telecoms, primarily through the deployment of new deep sea cables and fiber rings which to the end user translated to faster and cheaper data, South Africa being the most positively effected.
2010 was a milestone year for Qualcomm celebrating 25 years of growth and innovation. To what do you attribute this tremendous success?
Twenty-five years ago, our co-founder Dr. Irwin M. Jacobs declared that whatever the endeavour, Qualcomm should always strive to “do the right thing.” That opportunity to make a difference in the world is a principle that continues to guide us today. Qualcomm’s pioneering mobile technologies, coupled with our strong commitment to global citizenship, is making life more connected and more productive for mobile subscribers. It’s been an exciting quarter century for us, for our partners, and for people all around the world who have made mobile a part of their everyday lives.
2010 was also a milestone for South Africa due to the Fifa World Cup. How do you think South Africa faired from a communications perspective?
The FIFA World Cup was a significant catalyst for growth of South Africa’s ICT and mobile telecoms sector. Operators have made substantial infrastructure investments and service upgrades that will benefit subscribers for years to come. In particular, HSPA+ has given consumers significant improvements in data speeds.
Qualcomm has become an Associate Member of the Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU). Could you inform us of what the rationale behind Qualcomm joining the ATU? Do you think that the ATU is currently active enough in the regulation or assistance of regulators in Africa and where could the ATU have more of an influence?
We joined the ATU as part of Qualcomm’s commitment to growth and development of the regional telecoms sector. As many people know, ATU is the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) recognized regional telecommunications organization for Africa. Partnering with operators and government entities is an important element of Qualcomm’s operations in Africa. Our associate membership in ATU provides us another channel to maintain close proximity to the people, governments and important industry events that are driving the African telecommunications industry forward. Africa is a large region and there is currently much emphasis on the harmonization of policies and regulations. ATU, as the specialized agency of the African Union (AU) in the field of telecommunications, is expected to become increasingly more involved in ICT policy issues. We look forward to participating in these policy discussions and working with private sector and government authorities to build awareness of development issues.
Qualcomm, through its Wireless Reach Program recently announced a Mobile Health Information System in the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Could you tell us more about this project and how active is Wireless Reach in Africa?
In South Africa, where access to relevant health literature and broadband Internet access is limited, nurses at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex are using 3G wireless technology to provide better care to their patients. The project, called Mobile Health Information System (MHIS), uses commercially available smartphones pre-loaded with an electronic library of professional development materials to help build nurses’ build their knowledge and skills. The library includes digitized medical guidelines, protocols, diagnostic tools and other clinical content drawn from publicly available information sources. It’s designed to enable nurses to deliver comprehensive patient care. The MHIS pilot project was funded by the Henry E. Niles Foundation, John M. Lloyd Foundation, and Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative. MTN provided smartphones, discounted connectivity and technical support. AEDSATELLIFE was the lead implementing agency, developed the Mobile Content Library and trained the nurses and SA Partners provided logistical support. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University carried out the initial needs assessment and the final evaluation research study. We just completed the MHIS pilot. Now that the concept is proven, we’re optimistic that the interest it has generated will provide opportunities to expand the program. In Africa, Wireless Reach has also launched projects in Tanzania and Kenya and is in discussions to implement other projects in the coming year.
One of the more exciting technologies that Africa Telecoms came across in 2010 was that of Augmented Reality (AR). Qualcomm has made its AR extension available to Unity for the development of AR games for Android. Are any games or applications using AR available on the market place as yet? If so could you describe them to us? Finally when can we expect to see AR applications in Africa?
We’ve received a very positive response to Qualcomm’s Augmented Reality platform. As the name suggests, augmented reality is the concept of superimposing digital graphics on top of a view of the real world. Qualcomm’s technology uses a vision-based approach whereby the mobile device processes data captured by the camera in order to recognize what the user is pointing at. Many existing GPS-based Augmented Reality technologies do not use camera data, resulting in graphics that “bounce” or do not appear anchored to the environment. Qualcomm is offering an AR software development kit to developers free of charge, opening the door for them to create a variety of potential application types: games for mobile devices, AR-based advertisements and marketing pieces, instructional applications and much more. The world’s largest toy company, Mattel, has announced plans to commercialize an application based on Qualcomm’s AR platform, a game called “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.” Qualcomm is also in discussions with other companies about similar collaborations. It’s not clear when applications based on Qualcomm’s AR platform will be available in Africa, but we’d certainly like to see developers create products for the African market sooner rather than later.
Multichoice recently announced that it will be using the Qualcomm Services Labs Magic Link TM service for its mobile TV offering. Could you describe what benefit this will be to Multichoice and then to the end user?
Delivering content to consumers on their handheld devices is often challenging due to wide variability in devices’ screen sizes, screen resolution and even differences in content formats. The Magic Link service eliminates these hurdles and allows consumers to discover and enjoy multimedia content directly from their social networks through their devices. We are very excitited about the value proposition of Magic Link. The collaboration with Multichoice enables them to promote content across Africa through the most valuable piece of realestate, namely the mobile device.
2010 also saw a lot of hype around 4G. LTE seems to be winning ground worldwide with many operators announcing intentions to move to LTE. From a technology perspective do you think that the shift from GSM/CDMA to LTE is going to be a difficult move? Has Qualcomm started working on product offerings in the LTE arena?
Qualcomm is LTE-ready and has already announced multimode 3G/LTE chipsets, and there is considerable interest globally in LTE to meet anticipated data demand. With that said, Africa still has a long road to travel with 3G as it starts to pick up pace. 3G still offers very compelling data speeds with single-carrier HSPA+ peak download rates of 21 Mpbs and dual-carrier HSPA+ rates of 42 Mbps. The fastest mobile network in the world right now — Telstra’s Next G network in Australia — is based on 3G HSPA+ technology. This is the same technology used by MTN, Cell C and others for their high-speed 3G services. Certainly, mobile operators in Africa will look to implement new networks in the years ahead. While they are making these plans, though, they will continue to use and upgrade their existing networks, making them faster and faster using the latest 3G technologies. This is good for consumers because it means they don’t need to wait for LTE to enjoy high-speed mobile services.
With that being said, Qualcomm has always been a supporter of the CDMA ecosystem with what seems to be the merging of CDMA and GSM networks in to LTE, how will this affect Qualcomm’s business model moving forward?
Qualcomm’s aim has always been to meet the needs of its partners regardless of which technology path they choose. We provide a variety of products, technologies and services based on CDMA, WCDMA/UMTS, LTE and evolutions of these technologies. Qualcomm is not a systems vendor so we have a unique position in advising and helping our operator partners enhance their networks and deploy new technologies. We also work with an extensive ecosystem of device manufacturers. This flexability has enabled us to function as a trusted advisor to companies across the industry, precisely because Qualcomm’s success depends on the success of its partners.
In your opinion, when can Africa expect to see its first LTE network and which market do you think will be an earlier adopter in Africa of LTE technologies?
I couldn’t speculate on a time or location for the first LTE network, but East Africa and South Africa could well be jump off points. We’ll have to wait and see.