Microsoft’s Africa Strategy
Microsoft speak to Mamello Masote in Johannesburg about their strategy for Africa’s mobile market
Microsoft is making aggressive inroads into capturing Africa’s growing mobile market. The global technology company recently announced a massive Africa-wide initiative (4Afrika) in an effort to accelerate the adoption of its smart phone devices and drive economic development in the region.
A report released by Matthew Reed of London-based research company, Informa Telecoms and Media in November last year, had the number of mobile subscriptions in Africa pegged at one billion by 2015.
Microsoft has partnered with Chinese manufacturer Huawei to develop a low-cost fully functional Windows 8 smart phone which will come pre-loaded with select applications designed for Africa.
The phone is expected to be rolled out in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa later this month.
According to the managing director of Microsoft South Africa, Mteto Nyathi, who has been an instrumental part of the initiative, they plan to partner with other manufacturers to produce more low cost handsets.
While it has been widely reported that the handsets would cost about $150, Nyathi said pricing would depend on negotiations with the various local mobile network operators, but he said they would try to make it as cheap as possible.
Yet Nyathi admits that access is not just dependent on affordable devices, but also on making connectivity cheaper and more accessible.
Microsoft will be looking at enabling this connectivity through white space technology, or super wi-fi, particularly bringing high speed broadband to rural areas.
“We already have this kind of technology. Right now it’s being piloted by Microsoft in Kenya. Our intention really is to significantly reduce the cost of connectivity to something like $1 a month, that is a significant reduction from where it is now,” said Nyathi.
Nyathi added that the super wi-fi technology was light in infrastructure and uses solar panels and that is why the cost to use it will be low.
Also as part of the three-year investment plan into Africa, Microsoft will bring about one million African small and medium enterprises online, taking a page out of rival Google’s book, which has been doing this for quite some time.
Microsoft will also be looking at developing the skills of 100 000 recent graduates and help place 75 per cent of them in jobs.
To make the smart phones more locally relevant as well as to reach their skills development objectives, Microsoft has smartly introduced an App factory.
The factory has already been running for three months with 15 interns, but Nyathi said they were definitely going to increase this number as they have set themselves the target of producing 700 high quality applications a year.
“We want to scale this project through universities of technology, getting people in various universities participating in this program, skill them up so that when they come out of university they are able to be employed or they are able to go to go and start up their own businesses. In the beginning when they are starting up they will be contributing to the app factory, but also being skilled in relevant technology,” said Nyathi.
But while app development in Africa has steadily been growing, monetisation of the apps is a problem for many developers looking to build their own businesses.
Nyathi said different models of monetisation needed to be explored.
“Initially, we are starting to see apps that largely link government to business but there are many other ways of monetising the apps. For example, if you have a very good app that links citizens to government for example, you may not get the monetisation through the download but through advertising within the application, that’s where the money lies for the person who has developed the app,” Nyathi said.
Clifford de Wit, lead developer at Microsoft SA, said monetising apps in Africa was about solving problems and providing a service that affects people’s lives
“I don’t think it’s that different to any other kind of business. If you provide apps that add real value and provide real solutions I don’t think people will mind paying for them,” he said.
To support the growth of small businesses, Microsoft will also have a new online hub where African small businesses will have access to relevant products and services from Microsoft and other partners.
By Mamello Masote in Johannesburg