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Posted on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 15:48

Innovation: We don't sell technology, we sell the application - Bob Collymore

By Nicholas Norbrook

Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom. Photo©Bruno Levy for JACall them old-fashioned, but Kenyans are still using their mobile phones for talking. The head of Safaricom, Bob Collymore, however, has other plans.

The Africa Report: For the past seven or eight years people have been saying that voice will become a commodity product and data is where the money will be. Is that happening?

Bob Collymore: No. It's not happening for us. For many operators, it is – European operators and many African operators, too, are seeing voice on the decline, but we are actually seeing voice grow.

We haven't really hit something where we can say "ta-dah!"

Our half-year results showed voice revenue growing about 17%, which came about for two reasons: one is the growth in customers – we added about 8% customer growth – and second is the investment in the network. If we get fewer dropped calls people stay on the phone for longer.

Inevitably [data superseding voice] will happen, and things like Viber will start to take over. While people talk a lot about things like WhatsApp eroding the SMS revenues, we are not seeing that.

What we saw is 45% growth in revenue at the half year. People don't want to use WhatsApp, they want to use instant messaging. WhatsApp just happens to be one of the ways of doing instant messaging, but so is SMS. '

Now, it is not as rich, you can't send pictures and you can't send video, but it's perfectly good if you want to have a chat.

So what we have done is priced it so that it encourages people to use it.

So we do SMS bundles - 200 SMSs per day for KSh10 [$0.07]. If you compare that to the UK, there it is about 15p [$0.25] per SMS.

We don't sell technology, we sell the application, and the application is: "I want to chat using text."

What is working for Safaricom in terms of data?

Inevitably, for data it is social media. Social media is reasonably big in Kenya. YouTube is big.

We are trying to drive search, so for example we have just launched a free Google access, but once you click and you leave the Google page, you pay: So, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube access.

We are encouraging people to "shoot and share", so we are continuing to try a number of experiments encouraging people to upload their video and then get their friends to vote for it, then you get prizes.

Those things are still in their infancy. We haven't really hit something where we can say "ta-dah!"

So, you're looking at local content?

Local content is very important. You hear it spoken about a lot. I think it is underexploited.

I don't think anyone has really got onto the back of local content, not just for mobile phones, but for TV.

The level of generation of content is very poor. That leads me to think, is this an opportunity we can start to pursue?

The last time I made a statement like that, I think Bloomberg summarised it and people believed we were just about to jump straight into the content market.

I think it is something we could be exploring.

I don't know how yet and I don't have any firm plans but I believe, because local content is not adequately being addressed, that there might be an opportunity for us to work in partnership maybe, or even to get into content generation.

Is that a view shared across the industry?

It's not a new problem.

When I was at Vodafone 10 years ago people were still scratching their heads about content and how do you deliver content?

In the broadcasting field, the only local content of any use that is being generated in Kenya is news. The rest of it is just complete non-sense.

You look at it and you think, there has to be an opportunity here for us to be delivering local Kenyan content, which goes beyond politics. ●



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