Operators globally are looking at innovative ways to increase data revenues in their respective markets. This to a large degree has seen them embrace with open arms the app market specifically. VAS on the other hand was the starting point for operators to improve their customer experiences on their networks. This led to them offering services like MMS, Push to Talk and even Virtual Phone Lines. Moving forward, what will be the key drivers of either one of these technologies? My contention here is that user experience and how easily operators can monetize these services will be the key drivers. With VAS this is seemingly much easier as the operators themselves offer the VAS and charge for these services. Most likely this is done by way of a USSD menu so that the subscriber can choose whether to activate certain VAS offerings supplied by their operator. This makes the billing easy but the user experience is dull at best, if not at times thoroughly tedious. Moving on to the app environment, the user experience is far superior to what VAS can currently offer. The simple differentiator here is that smartphones make the difference; graphically rich applications running on smartphones simply cannot be beaten by VAS. And, for Africa, it all depends on smartphone penetration. According to Informa Telecoms & Media, in March 2011, Africa had a smartphone penetration of only 5.1%. This pales in comparison with the global figure of 13%. This number then purportedly grows to 15% for Africa by 2015. This is a substantial difference, but by no means makes the smartphone the best option for full market penetration. Facebook, the world's largest social network with over 30 million users in Africa, has taken the initiative of including an "Every Phone" app in its repertoire. This Java based app has the user experience of a full smartphone app but is capable of running on an entry level device. With the likes of these Java based apps being available to most of the market place now, does VAS stand a chance? There is no simple answer to this in the short term. Either way there is sure to be a continuous fight for consumer spend, no matter which technology triumphs in the end. In Corporate news recently Apple has overtaken Exxon as the largest market cap company in the world. In 1985 Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in an era when Microsoft-powered pc's began to dominate. When Jobs returned in 1997 the troubled Apple was only worth around 2billion USD a mere 24 years Jobs has helped guide the business to a market cap of 337billion USD. This must be one of the greatest performances by any CEO in history. Jobs also announced his retirement from the Tech firm who is replacement will be currently being hotly debated. Then in the App environment Apple's biggest rival Google with their Android ecosystem announced their plans to acquire Motorola Mobility for a price of 12,5billion USD. In a move that is expected to help Google protect IP and grow the Android ecosystem, it is also a huge risk for Google as in the long term it could cause problems with other supports of the ecosystem. A tweet from @TheRogueAnalyst asks on Twitter: "Is there an official @Google @Motorola hash-tag yet? #Gootorola doesn't sound too compelling nor does #Motoogle?"
Changes are afoot
Many of you will notice that Africa Telecoms has had a facelift for this the first issue of our new look. Having been operational and keeping you informed for nearly two years, there are some additional changes coming along with the rebrand. Africa Telecoms will be setting up an Advisory Board to guide the magazine and its editorial focus over the next 12 months. We have had some esteemed telecoms executives already accept this invitation. The full announcement of this board will come in due course. And if you have any comments on past editions or suggestions for future issues I would be delighted if you contacted me directly. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with all our readers, to whom we say a big "Thank You".