It's undoubtedly the people and the discussions that has helped shape AfricaCom (7-9 November 2017, Cape Town) into the global gathering of 13,000 visitors it will be this year, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Bradley Shaw has been a mainstay of the African telecommunications, technology and media landscape for over a decade and will be serving as part of the judging panel at this years' AfricaCom Awards, as well as taking part in the brand new AfricaCom 20/20 track in the Technology Arena (7 November, 12:25pm).
We caught up with Bradley to talk about his background and career, the huge impact of disruptive technologies in Africa and the future of the MNO.
At AfricaCom you will be taking part in a panel discussion on Digital Transformation. What can delegates expect from this session?
I spend most of my working life with organisations that want to build networks in rural Africa, from the largest operators to NGOs. I'd like to share my experiences and insights about what's currently being deployed in rural Africa -- and what the challenges are. It would also be great to talk about OpenCellular, which NuRAN Wireless is working on with Facebook. This could certainly lead to a large reduction in the cost of the equipment needed to connect rural communities.
Can you tell us a bit about your background in telecommunications and how this has led to your current position as Regional Manager MEA at NuRAN Wireless?
I started my telecoms career as the editor of Africa Telecoms, a monthly print magazine covering the industry across the whole continent. From there, I moved to a music streaming service and then a Digital Education startup. Then I had the opportunity to work on something which I feel very strongly about -- connecting the unconnected.
In your opinion, what kinds of technology is going to be the most disruptive in Africa?
The one thing I feel strongly about is that fact that it will involve a mobile device, and that device will have to be connected. This is where it starts to get interesting. What will the form factor of that device be? Probably a phone. However, what else is possible? And what else will it be connected to? Well, a network of sorts, but will it be a mobile 2G/3G/4G/5G network, or will it be a WiFi network? Will it be a LEO satellite constellation? All good questions. Short term, device dependent, I would still say it will be predominantly 2G plus WiFi in rural Africa, with mobile broadband 3G/4G in urban areas.
Then, how does mobile banking and Fintech start to disrupt these connectivity models? There is so much happening and so much that can happen. Who will disrupt most I can't even begin to guess.
“Mobile operators are clearly the ones that have the most to gain or lose. One question currently being debated is whether, with Facebook and Google now building their own networks, the traditional MNO will be disrupted out of the market completely”
If there is one area or region of telecoms people should be keeping an eye on, what would it be?
Mobile operators are clearly the ones that have the most to gain or lose. One question currently being debated is whether, with Facebook and Google now building their own networks, the traditional MNO will be disrupted out of the market completely. My feeling is that we could be a position that, in 10 to 15 years, there will be no MNO, and that all operators will effectively be MVNOs running on shared infrastructure. This would open these operators up to differentiate using marketing, services and content rather than competing on coverage, price and QoS.
Then, of course, we have the emergence of Fintech and its effect on the traditional banking market. Certainly the banks are now suffering as the various mobile payments services continue to be extremely popular. In Kenya it is very feasible to run your entire life without a formal bank account.
And then we need to consider how a raft of new technologies can be usefully deployed in Africa, including artificial intelligence, machine Learning and IoT.
What excites you most about working in the African telecoms sector?
Impact. Everything we do in the market has such a huge impact on the communities that we touch. Bringing communication to communities for the first time changes the lives of people living and working in rural villages and towns. And it doesn't simply mean receiving or making a phone call or text message, it is so much more -- financial inclusion, government services, education, health content [and more] can be provided on even the most basic GSM network.
When I visit villages which have recently been connected, I can see and feel the change -- and that's both exciting and humbling at the same time.
“I certainly did not think in 2009 that, by 2017, we would be talking about artificial intelligence, machine learning and so many other topics that were but a pipe dream for the African market”
Which was the first AfricaCom you ever attended, and how have you seen it change and develop?
My first AfricaCom was in 2009, when we launched African Telecoms magazine.
Since then it has gone from strength to strength. It is now the premium African telecoms event and a must-attend for everyone in the industry. It was a great event in 2009 but was probably 40% of the size I expect for 2017. As far as the content, I certainly did not think in 2009 that, by 2017, we would be talking about artificial intelligence, machine learning and so many other topics that were but a pipe dream for the African market. And yet here we are. I cannot wait to see what we will be discussing in another 10 or 20 years' time. It is going to be a fascinating journey to get there.
How would you describe AfricaCom in three words?
Africa's Telecoms Home (patent pending -- if you want to use the tagline I will send you an invoice…)
“You can meet industry executives from across the globe that are working in the region, all in one place, without needing to travel across a very wide region”
Would you, or why would you, recommend AfricaCom to others in your sector here and abroad?
Anyone working in the telecoms sector with a focus on Africa or other emerging markets should attend. Africa has many similarities to south-east Asia and Latin America. So solutions that are working here have a high chance of success in those markets too. But if your focus is Africa, you really need to attend AfricaCom. You can meet companies providing practical solutions to solve problems in Africa. You can meet industry executives from across the globe that are working in the region, all in one place, without needing to travel across a very wide region.
What are you most looking forward to at the 20th anniversary AfricaCom?
I'm a proud Capetonian and love that my home city gets to host this magnificent event.
There are lots of things I look forward to.
Networking, for sure. Seeing old friends from the industry that you might not have seen in an entire year. Meeting new people and forming new relationships.
Learning. In this industry, where the technology moves so quickly, a year is a long time, so there will always be something new to learn.
And finally, I'm looking forward to participating in the discussion about digital transformation of the African market.
See Bradley Shaw speak:
This year sees the launch of the brand new Technology Arena, which will be showcasing all the latest cutting-edge technologies disrupting ‘Digital Africa.' The AfricaCom 20/20 stage will play host to some of the ecosystem's most visionary figures discussing and demonstrating future tech. Find out more about the Technology Arena at AfricaCom (7-9 November 2017) here.
Join Bradley Shaw as well as speakers from Microsoft, Uber, Airbnb, BitPesa and more at AfricaCom 20/20 by signing up for your free AfricaCom visitor pass here.
Find out more about why anyone who is anyone will be at the 20th anniversary of AfricaCom here.
Be part of the African tech and telco conversation here:
— Amy Turner, Digital Content Marketer, KNect365