The VAS Africa Conference concluded in Sandton South Africa, with the theme “Monetizing Africa’s growing telecom VAS ecosystem “, drawing from a broad interest group that comprised mobile operators, content owners, vendors, content aggregators, regulators , consultants, digital rights management specialists and marketers.
Conversations were around how to identify the value added services that will drive the next level of growth for players in the ecosystem and re-examining the business models that will support the new services that consumers are demanding with the adoption of handsets with better capabilities.
What came out strongly is that data is viewed as the next big thing across Africa, with many telcos having tinkered with different tariffs and pricing plans. It has to be said that many are yet to figure that perfect mix with not so good experiences on the “all you can eat bundles” where the many seemed to subsidize the few even with fair usage agreements in place.
What was evident in the presentations and panel sessions is that many value added service companies and mobile operators are dead focused mainly urban clientele, trying to create service mashups with the more popular web services such as Facebook and Twitter. That these service mashups are leaning towards free access, for example with Facebook zero, one wonders exactly how that strategy will pan out.
In my opinion, the rural population of Africa is the next frontier for anyone in the value added space. The key is to tap into their needs, making Facebook and Twitter accessible via sms or USSD will not make then sign up, as their social needs are met in a very different way, with more of “face time” should they need to do a status update to their friends. My gut feel is that entertainment and news type services would be an excellent bet when thinking about the local content spin to test the waters of mobile data services for rural Africa.
That said, the operators who hold first line access to the consumer must also agree to adopt different billing models and revenue share agreements to make it worthwhile for other players in value added services to create or curate the content that will drive this growth. Revenue share on data will allow for “free” content to the consumer and url based billing will allow for the creation of packages that offer billing transparency for the consumer.
The rural African consumers on mobile number in the hundreds of millions, and reaching out to them makes sense on so many levels for both networks and other industry players.