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The Transformational Impact of Digital Communications: East Africa Com Interview With Safaricom’s Muhalia Allan

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With only a few days to go until East Africa Com 2017 kicks off in Nairobi, we've been gaining insight and opinion of some of event’s most prominent speakers.

We chatted to the senior manager of wholesale service at Safaricom, Muhalia Allan, about what first drew him to the telecom sector, the changes he has seen in the region since starting at Safaricom nearly 20 years ago and the future of cloud computing and data centers in Africa.

Connecting Africa: We look forward to welcoming you to East Africa Com, which will be focusing on the transformational impact of digital communications in the region. What first drew you to telecommunications and, in particular, regulatory policy within this space?

Muhalia Allan: In the early days, I thought it was amazing to communicate via mobile phone -- think Ericsson T9/Nokia 3310 -- with the long antennas and to witness the impact of delivering information when required. Now it's incredible to watch MPesa come into play and the transformation it has had on the Kenyan economy. I also have an interest the impact of regulatory policy on creating fair ground for all players and the twin role it plays in supporting innovation. I find spectrum access even more interesting, especially considering what the access to this resource means to investors in the telecommunications industry.

CA: You took up your first position with Safaricom in 2001, as a BSS implementation engineer. East African telecommunications has changed considerably since then -- what do you consider the sector's, and Safaricom's, greatest achievement?

MA: The Industry has indeed changed a lot, looking back at SMS, MMS, GPRS -- the growth has been tremendous, technology has become more modular and miniaturized. Sending an MMS was such a big thing but now with all the OTTs and fast backbone networks everything happens at tremendous speeds. The telecommunication sector has fully converged, both in services and infrastructure, and technology changes are more rapid than before -- hardly five years have passed on 4G and we are now thinking of 5G. Also, I believe customers are more informed and demanding now and they actually know what they need and a there is a wide choice open to them.

CA: At this year's event, you will be speaking in the panel discussion "To Invest or Not to Invest – What the Future Indicates for Data Centers and the Role of Cloud Computing in Africa." What can delegates expect from this session?

MA: We'll be discussing how Africa is experiencing a digital explosion defined by the uptake and rollout of 3G/4G/data centers and how there is opportunity for collaboration in complimentary investment. Something that will most definitely be covered is the fact that telecoms operators play a critical role in connectivity and access to bulk telecom service users, and people and businesses need access to information with less latency, hence the hosting of services on the continent is key. A key topic will be the multiple investments being witnessed in submarine cables, cloud computing and data centers become the natural glue between these investments, Africa and the rest of the world.

CA: In your opinion, what does the outlook for investment in cloud data centers and services expertise in Africa look like?

MA: Previously most of this investment has been resident in South Africa and Nigeria and Safaricom has invested in a modern data center in Thika, so have some other telecom players. iColo is also a new investor in this area and we see an increased focus by the global markets to trade with Africa. In addition, eCommerce is an emerging trend in Africa and we can only expect this to grow: Most small/medium enterprise businesses are preferring cloud environments, including governments, and hence this is an area to watch.

CA: Has East Africa been investing enough in domestic data centers or should we be investing more in this area?

MA: There is room for more collaborative investment to address both private and public needs; we saw this well demonstrated recently with the government of Uganda putting up a tender for cloud services, as well as a data center upgrade.

CA: What are the trends in cloud computing that should drive operator investment decisions?

MA: Global players are showing interest in Africa and as mentioned eCommerce, health and telecommuting trends give credence to these opportunities.

CA: How do you envision the cloud and big data ecosystems in East Africa evolving, especially in line with consumer demand, in the next two years?

MA: A lot of information about customers exists and with every market this will be appropriated more, based on existing laws on privacy, in terms of how the same can be used with data analytics. This information will be heavily used in lifestyle trends like shopping, health, spending habits etc. Consequently, more information is available to predict and plan for consumers.

CA: Looking at the key theme of this year's event, what does the transformational impact of digital communication mean for you?

MA: The impact of digital communication has been tremendous, especially in the way we communicate, the way we live and our general way of life -- think of mobile financial systems, live streaming, live chats, telecommuting and news on the go. I think of a phone as a portal that is providing access to services like health, education or financial services. This enhanced access is what increasingly democratizing access to various critical services and equalizing societies.

See Muhalia Speak

Safaricom's senior manager, wholesale service, will be speaking at East Africa Com on Wednesday May 17 on: To Invest or Not to Invest – What the Future Indicates for Data Centers and the Role of Cloud Computing in Africa.

East Africa Com is the premier strategic event for telecoms, media, broadcasting and technology executives in East Africa, with over 600 attendees and 50 expert speakers. The 14th annual event will be taking place at the Radisson Blu, Upper Hill, Nairobi, May 17-18 2017. Find out more about the event here.

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

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