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    First local brand smartphone launches in Laos 17 Jan 2017

    The tiny South East Asian nation of Laos (population: 7 million) has welcomed the news that a local IT company has launched its own brand of smartphone. The new smartphone will start appearing in shops and agencies in Vientiane and around the country this month.

    The product, branded ALO!, has been launched by the Lao-owned ALO Technology Co. Ltd. The newly-launched phone, called ALO! M5, operates on Android 6.0 over a quad-core CPU offering 4G connectivity; it has a 13-megapixel camera and one gigabyte storage, dual SIM, a five-inch touchscreen display and most other features smartphones currently have, including GPS.

    At launch, the phone was advertised at 1.1 million kip; in other words, a surprisingly low US$135.

    The CEO of ALO! is Thanousone Phonamat. He is under no allusions that it will be hard to compete with the big foreign smartphone brands in Laos, notably Samsung, Huawei and Apple’s iPhone. In the initial phase the company’s strategy is to focus its marketing on students and educational institutions.

    ALO Technology is part of a larger IT group called Top Value Services (TVS). TVS is the only authorised Microsoft OEM partner in Laos and also has partnerships with Dell, Cisco, HP, Asus and other global IT companies. Thanousone noted that the company has a cooperation agreement with Microsoft to regularly update the software and programs so that students will be able to download to their devices.

    BuddeComm was able to catch up with Thanousone and put some questions to him.

    BC: What was the trigger for ALO! to start looking at introducing its own line of smartphone?

    TP: ALO’s objective is to introduce a range of ICT devices initially to Lao market and eventually to the wider ASEAN market. The smartphone launch completes our planned product range for the moment, having now added the phone to our desktop, laptop and tablet products. The immediate objective for introducing the smartphone is to help market the ALO! brand. Creating a significant smartphone penetration will help expand brand recognition to the wider population, as well as allowing us to test and understand the market better. The mid-term objective is to launch more sophisticated models that address market needs based on the feedback gathered. In other words, this would be a Proof of Concept (POC) stage. It will allow us to secure investment if the POC is a success. Then we will go for a ‘big bang’ in the Lao market and the ASEAN region.

    BC: Will there be some things in you smartphone offering that other brands do not offer?

    TP: The phone will be pre-installed with Lao settings (fonts, themes, ringtones, etc) and many useful educational and Lao apps. We will also be focusing heavily on price competitiveness.

    BC: Do you see your product being 'Lao' as giving you a competitive advantage?

    TP: Yes and No. ‘Yes’ in the way that we can attract the Lao people based on their national pride. This should also be boosted by government support through the introduction of policies and programs to promote local brands. ‘No’ in the way that many potential customers will be concerned about the quality and will worry that a Lao product will not meet the standards they expect. Also I must say that the majority of Lao people still prefer to buy international branded products!

    Clearly Thanousone and ALO have set themselves some ambitious goals.

    See also: Laos - Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media - Statistics and Analyses


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    Global telecoms at a glance for 2017 17 Jan 2017

    The global telecommunications market continues its transformation into the industry underpinning the digital, sharing and interconnected economy. This transformation is mainly driven by the ongoing innovations and technological developments that are taking place. More often than not the industry itself is struggling to keep up with these rapid changes.

    The convergence that we have been talking about for more than 20 years is now happening, but driven by disruption rather than well-considered strategies and marketing campaigns.

    The internet companies have been able to embed many of the traditional telecoms services into their offerings, often at little or no cost to their customers. Telecommunications is a way for them to offer a range of other internet services and it is from these that they make their money.

    As a consequence, the underlying infrastructure is increasingly becoming a national utility and it will soon be treated as such from a regulatory perspective.

    This, of course, is putting enormous pressure on the traditional industry. Overall the growth in this segment of the telco industry is stagnating, and often the only way to maintain profitability is through cost-cutting. On the positive side, innovations and technological developments allow these companies to be more cost-competitive. While there is still a very large cost gap between the internet companies and the traditional telcos, the telcos are certainly getting better at becoming more efficient and effective. Another outcome of these pressures is the ongoing consolidation of the industry, a process that will continue in 2017.

    Although their revenue might not be growing all that much, usage of their services is, and this allows them to maintain their pricing by offering more services for the same money. Here again, significant improvements in software and network efficiencies allow them to do so.

    Table 1 – Global telecom statistics at a glance – 2014; 2017

    telecom statistics 2014 2017
         
    Population (e) 7.2 billion 7.5 billion
    Mobile subscriptions (e)1 7.2 billion 7.7 billion
    Mobile broadband subscriptions (e) 2.7 billion 3.8 billion
    Internet users (e)2 2.9 billion 3.8 billion
    Fixed broadband subscribers (e) 730 million 933 million

    (Source: BuddeComm based on various industry data, 2017)

    Notes:

    1Includes multiple mobile subscriptions.

    2Includes mobile and fixed users.

    For related information, see separate report: Global Telecoms - The Big Picture 2017 and Key Industry Statistics.


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    Two new mobile operators have changed the Timor-Leste market 16 Jan 2017

    Timor-Leste is continuing its effort to simply maintain integrity as a nation. The country ranked number 23 in the 2011 Index of Failed States, not a promising statement on its national development status; however, this was up from 20 in the 2009 Index. And it had jumped to 31st place in 2014. (The Index is now called Fragile States) In 2014 it was rated ‘Alert.’ So in the last few years Timor Leste has moved itself out the ‘critical’ 20 category and continued with some modest but nonetheless important gains in the way it manages itself. The nation has been pressing ahead with the regeneration of its economy and the rebuilding of infrastructure. The effort to roll out telecommunications infrastructure in particular has been a key part of this. Despite the considerable energy that has been going into this rebuilding, the prevailing social and political environment continues to present major challenges to those seeking to improve the country.

    In the meantime, throughout this most difficult of political periods, the country’s telecommunications sector has been expanding with the mobile telephone sector experiencing a particularly strong and sustained surge. After recording huge annual growth rates over a number of years from 2006 onwards, by 2015 the country’s mobile subscriber base had increased rapidly in a short period of time and penetration had moved past the 100% mark. Not surprisingly the mobile sector was boosted by the launch of networks by two new operators in 2013. Telin’s Telkomcel and Viettel’s Telemor have injected fresh vigour into the market.

    Fixed-line network expansion was continuing to languish, however, with fixed teledensity down around 0.3% and seemingly stuck there. Although it was difficult to get accurate figures on the internet market, it was clear that growth in this sector remained highly constricted and there was little optimism about online activity in Timor Leste in the short term. Whilst there was a limited fixed broadband service in the country, the number of subscribers for this type of access remained extremely low. The advent of mobile broadband internet access has provided a boost to the internet sector; however, again, the initial penetration figures were not as yet having a major impact on the overall market.

    Timor Leste’s liberalisation of its telecom sector has come about relatively quickly. Two new operators were licensed in July 2012 and began competing with incumbent Timor Telecom (TT) in the first half of 2013. This ended TT’s ten year monopoly on the telecom sector, having won a tender in 2002 to build the tiny nation’s telecom infrastructure virtually from nothing. It had initially been granted an exclusive licence in the market until 2017. In March 2012, however, an agreement was reached between the government and TT to end its monopoly earlier than planned.

    While the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) does provide some statistical information on this market, the information is limited. It has continued to be a difficult task to obtain official statistics for the country’s telecom sector. Where official statistics are not available, BuddeComm has attempted to provide estimates.

    For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see:

    Timor Leste (East Timor) - Telecoms, Mobile and Internet


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    The battle for truth 16 Jan 2017

    A serious discussion is going on at present in relation to faked news and the fact that many people seem to be happy to take this as the truth, even if they actually know that it might be false, or at least only partly true.

    As a reaction to this the internet, and social media in particular, are being named as the major culprits here.

    The discussion about 'truth' is perhaps one of the most important issues of our time, but to begin solve the problem we need to ask why this is happening – and why we no longer seem to have faith in many of our institutions and the referees associated with them (eg, science).

    Over the last few decades truth has been successfully undermined by our leaders, some of whom do not shy away from lying for their own political gain. Often they have been influenced/'bought' by vested interests who are only motivated by short-term profit and personal greed. The same applies to large sections of the media – creating sensation through lies to sell more advertising.

    And our society, with its once highly regarded institutions, has allowed this to happen.

    The collision between corrupt politics, big business, and journalism in particular, affects the naive, less-educated and others such as certain religious groups who are accustomed to obeying authority without question.

    And technology is being used as a tool to trick these groups with a web of lies and half-truths. In a tribalised social media world there are some groups that only receive information from within their tribe, with little or no exposure to other news and information sources. This applies not only to the new media but to radio and TV as well, which has also become increasingly polarised. In some parts of regional USA the only public news source is their own tribalised media source, often led by shock jocks and religious groups.

    At the same time, technology is also used by those who are concerned about the truth, are better-educated, and generally have the capacity and willingness to look out for the greater and broader good of the people. But for as long as we don't have the moral leadership from politicians, corporations and the media it will be very difficult to win the battle for truth.

    There are some issues – such as those related to different cultural beliefs and customs, for instance – that cannot be classified as absolute truth. Personal emotions and popular bias play a large part here, and these can greatly influence people’s choices regarding the truth, or not, of the wildly polarised information that is available today.

    This has given rise to the emergence and increased popularity of the term ‘post-truth’ – to the extent that it has been chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016. It is defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’ and further complicates how we establish ‘true or false’ in today’s world.

    However, on the rational side there are plenty of clear-cut false or true situations and it is here that people power should be used to shame those in politics, business and media into being truthful again. Not an easy thing to do, but with so much at stake it is worth putting up a fight. While I am not in favour of more regulation we do perhaps need to start looking at the content rules that are in place in relation to public broadcasting, to make sure that social media are also abiding by those rules – not an easy thing to do but the circumstances might necessitate dramatic action here.

    Everything that is happening around us is taking place on our watch and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to solve this crisis before it is too late.

    Technology is on our side as well, and can be used by those who want a better world; but what is needed is the moral leadership to back it up in order to successfully neutralise those who are misusing it for the faked news and populism that undermines our way of life and the values that we stand for.

    Paul Budde


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    Hungary’s telcos encouraged to widen reach of super-fast broadband 11 Jan 2017

    The number of fixed-lines in Hungary has been affected by the changing consumer use of such services and by the trend for fixed-to-mobile substitution. Fixed-line operators have thus looked to fixed-line and mobile broadband services to boost revenue. The economic crisis of recent years has also affected telecom revenue, though recovery since 2013 has improved spending habits among consumers and so helped revitalise sector revenue. However, financial recovery among telcos has been rendered more difficult by the government’s telecom and utility taxes. The tax on internet data traffic was criticised by the European Commission, and the rate was reduced to 18% in early 2017. Other taxes on calls and messaging services are also in place.

    In late 2015 the government struck deals with Maygar Telekom and a number of other operators under which the telcos are extending super-fast broadband access to underserved areas. For its part, the government agreed not to provide funding to competitors in specific areas where telcos undertook to provide network upgrades.

    Hungary has high broadband penetration for the region. Infrastructure-based competition is intense, with an extensive cable network, mainly operated by UPC Hungary, competing against DSL services and a vibrant and rapidly expanding fibre sector. The regulator has introduced a number of measures aimed at promoting market competition. Competition and the demand for bandwidth are pushing the drive for higher speed platforms, and so have encouraged operators to invest in FttX and DOCSIS3.0 upgrades. Both of these technologies will be increasingly important to the market during the next few years. It is expected that UPC Hungary will begin to deploy DOCSIS3.1 technology later in 2017, providing data at 1Gb/s or higher. In addition, amendments to the Utility Tax have encouraged operators to accelerate the deployment of superfast networks (those which provide data of at least 30Mb/s).

    The dynamic mobile market is served by three mobile network operators and a growing number of MVNOs. The bundled services operator DIGI Telecommunications is building up a mobile network based on its 1800MHz concessions, supplemented by spectrum in the 3.4GHz which it secured at auction in June 2016. Mobile penetration is relatively high for the region, and there remains considerable growth in mobile broadband services delivered via upgraded networks. These upgrades have supported a rapid increase in the use of smartphones, and consequently of mobile data. Revenue growth is focused on mobile data as operators struggle with competition and regulated tariff reductions, as well as reduced MTRs.

    This report provides an overview of Hungary’s telecoms market, highlighting regulatory developments, the major operators, fixed-line network infrastructure, and a variety of insightful statistics. The report also reviews the mobile market, covering the major players, voice and data services, and regulations. In addition, the report assesses the fast-developing broadband and digital media sectors, including market analyses, statistics and scenario-based forecasts for fixed broadband to 2021.

    For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Hungary - Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media - Statistics and Analyses


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    Niger plans to merge its incumbent to form Niger Telecom 10 Jan 2017

    Niger is one of the largest countries in West Africa but also one of the poorest countries in the world. Similar to many African countries; a lack of fixed telecoms infrastructure has led to growth in mobile services. Niger’s mobile penetration sits at over 40% in 2017, while fixed broadband, in comparison has a long way to go with only around 2% penetration.

    However recent investments in improving fibre-optic infrastructure in Niger will lead to improved internet networks and access. Specifically, in late 2016 Niger received a boost when the African Development Bank (ADB) awarded €43.9 in funding to build-out the Trans-Saharan Dorsal optical fibre (SDR) network.

    In late 2016 the Niger government announced it would merge it state-owned fixed line operator, Sonitel, with its wholly owned mobile unit, Sahel-Com, to form a new entity known as Niger Telecom. The merged company hopes to be more efficient through the sharing of resources and infrastructure. It is also hoped that Niger Telecom will be able to operate more competitively as its mobile unit currently holds less than 5% market share.

    For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Niger - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses


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    Mobile market changes with Orange Group acquiring Airtel Sierra Leone 09 Jan 2017

    Having emerged from more than a decade of civil war, Sierra Leone since 2002 has enjoyed greater political stability. The exceptional economic growth seen in 2012 and 2013 has slowed but remains strong, and this has encouraged international companies to invest in the country. Nevertheless, the telecommunications infrastructure is only gradually recovering from the destruction caused during the war years, and the theft of equipment and cabling is compounded by neglect, mismanagement and underinvestment. Nevertheless, the telecom regulator continues with its efforts to improve the market, including the liberalisation of the international gateway and regulator checks on quality of services. It has not shied from fining miscreant such as Airtel for providing poor services, or for promoting packages deemed to be disadvantageous to consumers.

    Given the poor state of the fixed-line infrastructure, the mobile sector has been the main driver of overall telecom revenue. There continues to be movement in the market, with Orange Group in mid-2016 having completed its acquisition of Bharti Airtel’s local unit.

    The state-owned fixed-line incumbent Sierratel has entered the mobile market, which it uses to provide fixed-wireless access and broadband services. It briefly had a monopoly on 3G mobile services before other operators launched their own services based on HSPA technology in 2011 and 2012. More recently network operators have invested in LTE upgrades, with a view to launching commercial services by the end of 2016.

    Sierra Leone depended entirely on satellites for international connections until February 2013 when it was connected to the ACE submarine cable. This has considerably improved bandwidth capabilities, and has resulted in a welcome drop in the price of broadband. At the end of 2015 the 600km national backbone network was completed, which also links the country to Liberia and Guinea.

    For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Sierra Leone - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses


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