Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Digital Entertainment

The OTTs Are Eating Our Lunch – Challenging the Traditional Telco Mindset

Article Image
"Telcos don't deal well with unpredictability -- the telco mindset is highly structured and process driven."

And this is coming from a telco -- one of the most prominent ones on the African continent too, with over 233 million customers. MTN's group head of digital services, Manny Teixeira, sat down with AfricaCom TV to discuss the role of African telcos in the digital era, how to build relationships with the startup community and what's in his crystal ball in terms of digital services predictions for the next two to three years.

Teixeira took part in the AfricaCom keynote panel discussion, "How to thrive as a digital telco in Africa." He noted that the key challenges drawn out from this discussion were how telco revenue streams are currently feeling the pressure as data is becoming increasingly seen as a utility, and the effects this is having on price points. Discussing how operators can participate in the broader digital ecosystem, Teixeira said: "The industry has collectively come to the realization that we can't do it ourselves anymore, we have now got to partner."

Expanding on the notion of data as a utility, Teixeira noted that traditionally telcos were "product houses and it was voice that was the product consumers bought, and we controlled the whole value chain around voice." He believes that, from the start, telcos tried to treat data in a similar fashion, yet "data is not the product, it's just an access layer." Instead, Teixeira says: "The product is the service, the content -- what people do with data," and there needs to be a more concerted move towards "the content and the services that we deliver over that data channel."

There has an ever increasing focus on operators offering digital content that is both attractive to consumers and financially viable for operators. Taking digital music as a case in point, Teixeira notes how MTN became one of the single largest digital music distributors in Africa which was "driven from a consumer need that we managed to identify and put a mechanism in place to deal with it." Such a service has been able to overcome the pervasive issues of lack of distribution methods and widespread music piracy in countries such as Nigeria, "on the back of our telco infrastructure network and our subscriber base, [which made it] viable for an artist to come directly to us, place their tune on our music platform and see revenue directly back … it was really about … how can we talk to the consumer given what we have -- monetization and distribution," says Teixeira.

Teixeira also spoke about the power of collaboration between mobile operators and startups in Africa at the AHUB powered by Ericsson. He notes that the relationship between startups and telcos is starting well and how APIs are working as an effective bridge between the two. Apart from its API developments, Teixeira said there is a lot of work being done internally at MTN "to address these journeys [and potential startup propositions] and we haven't got a proper structure in place yet, but we are very conscious of the need to do that and we are actively working towards that."

Talking about the main blockers to further cohesive relationships between startups and operators, Teixeira notes that these challenges mostly lie in the traditional telco mindset steeped in process and structure, as "telcos don't deal well with the unpredictable nature of startups, but as a telco we actually need it." Elaborating on this and the notion of OTTs eating the telcos' lunch, he explains that: "OTTs came from left field and they didn't need permission from anyone, they just did it. We need to bring a bit of that mojo into our thinking; it's about populating telcos with non telco people."

Taking a stab at what the future could hold for digital entertainment, Teixeira expects that the increasing use of smartphones on the continent will lead to more data utilization and subsequent local content production, from music to apps and gaming. "For us, as a global operator, we are looking for someone to deliver a global scale solution but with local execution and local players. It's about creating these local experiences throughout the region, we see a great role in fostering that," says Teixeira.

View the full interview below:

If you're interested in Africa's telecommunications evolution, then why not attend one of Connecting Africa's series of events?

Upcoming events:
East Africa Com 17 - 18 May, Nairobi
West Africa Com 11 - 12 July, Dakar
Nigeria Com 20 - 21 September, Lagos
AfricaCom 6 - 10 November, Cape Town

Be part of the African tech and telco conversation here:

— Chris Read, Contributing Editor, KNect365

Innovation hub


Hot startup of the month: SA's FlexClub

South African startup FlexClub has launched a managed marketplace that helps independent drivers on digital platforms become vehicle owners.


Econet and X's Project Taara join forces to connect Africa

Econet Group and Google X's Project Taara are teaming up to deploy new high-speed Internet technology to communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

More Innovation hub

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Latest video

More videos

AfricaCom perspectives


AfricaCom Interview: Onica Makwakwa on closing the digital gender gap

The Alliance for Affordable Internet's head of Africa, Onica Makwakwa, shares her views on how to narrow the digital gender gap and the challenges keeping women offline on the continent.


AfricaCom Interview: Tunde Fafunwa on how the ACIP is fighting COVID-19

Tunde Fafunwa from the UN Economic Commission for Africa explains how the Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) is helping Africa's battle against COVID-19.


AfricaCom Interview: Temidayo Oniosun on Africa's space and satellite industry

Space in Africa founder, Temidayo Oniosun, shares his views on the challenges and opportunities in the African space and satellite industry.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Partner perspectives

SD-WAN and satellite – how MNOs and telcos can enjoy the best of both worlds
By Ofer Asif, SVP BizDev, marketing and strategy at Spacecom

Africa's mobile operators need better roaming monetization for growth
By Damion Rose, product manager for Mobile Signaling and Roaming Solutions at BICS

How Africa's operators are driving socio-economic development
By Clémentine Fournier, VP Sales Africa at BICS

All Partner Perspectives

Upcoming events

Africa Green ICT Forum
December 2, 2020
Virtual Event
More Upcoming events

Flash poll

All polls

Archived webinars

AfricaCom 2020 Digital Symposium - Day 2

Session One

Mobile Money 2.0: the Bright Future of Mobile Financial Service Innovation
Date: 08/20/20 @ 11:00 A.M. SAST

Speaker: Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Africa was the birthplace of Mobile Money and while it continues to rise in popularity, the industry is quickly evolving and launching more mobile-based financial services every day. In this Connecting Africa online event, local analysts and industry stakeholders will discuss how telcos are disrupting the financial services space and what the rise of Mobile Money 2.0 will look like for Africa.

  • From cash to mobile: heading towards a cashless society
  • Expanding MFS offerings beyond mobile money transfers
  • MNOs vs banks vs fintechs: an evolving competitive landscape
  • Unconnected and unbanked: fintech to improve financial inclusion
  • The rise of micro-loans and insurance through mobile platforms

12:15 P.M. - 12:30 P.M. BREAK

Session Two

Connecting the Next Billion: Strategies for Getting Africa On-Grid
Date 08/20/20 @ 12:30 P.M. SAST

Speaker: Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Africa has the fastest growing population in the world and also the youngest, with 60% of Africans under the age of 25. It is clear that the next billion connected are going to be the mobile-only generation. This digital symposium will bring industry experts together to discuss Africa’s digital divide and how to get devices into the hands of young Africans and empower them to join the digital revolution.

  • Who’s Driving? The role of government & regulator, private tech companies, and public-private partnerships
  • Device affordability: are we reaching a tipping point?
  • Status check: Satellite vs Fiber and the enduring infrastructure gap
  • Exploring the wider societal and economic benefits of a connected, digitally literate continent

More Webinars


Safaricom Spark Fund Portfolio

Infographics archive


AfricaCom 2019 Preview

Slideshow archive

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up